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The Underrated GameCube RPG You Likely Never Played

In 2000, the original Skies of Arcadia, a Japanese, pirate-themed role-playing game, was released for the Sega Dreamcast. It was well-received by many critics, though its overall reception was lackluster (Eurogamer called the original game "tragically overlooked"). Unfortunately, Skies of Arcadia lost what little audience it had when the Dreamcast failed in 2001. Enter Skies of Arcadia Legends, the Nintendo GameCube port of the game that arrived in 2002.


Developer Overworks added a few upgrades to Skies of Arcadia Legends, but the story-driven spirit of the original stayed very much intact. Unfortunately, while no official sales numbers appear to be available publicly from that era, sales of the GameCube version apparently did even worse than the original, according to a report from Unseen64. This probably made a sequel impossible, so circumstances conspired to relegate this title to cult classic status. 

These days, gamers wax lyrical about the way Skies of Arcadia and Skies of Arcadia Legends influenced their lives, and a desire to see the franchise return pops up occasionally in video game media outlets. In January 2020, a programmer for the original game even got on Twitter to express his desire to work on a sequel.


That's unlikely, unfortunately, as it's now been 18 years since Skies of Arcadia Legends was released. Still, the game is a fond footnote in video game history for many people, and is worth knowing about even if you never had the chance to play either version.

What was Skies of Arcadia Legends about?

The world of Skies of Arcadia and Skies of Arcadia Legends is a colorful, fantastical one in which citizens live on islands that float in an endless sky. They get magical powers from the various moons, and they travel between islands in ships. Naturally, having a ship-based transportation system means there are pirates afoot. The main protagonist, a young Robin Hood-like Sky Pirate named Vyse, travels on his father's ship as a member of the Blue Rogues, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. One fateful day, they rescue a damsel in distress, Fina, who has been captured Princess Leia-style by the Valuan Empire. 


The adventure that follows has Vyse and his friends going on a quest: specifically, they must find the five crystals that control the giant war machines out to destroy the world. The game features uncovering hidden secrets, meeting new people from distant places, exploring and solving puzzles in dungeons, taking on side quests, and engaging in turn-based magical combat with a massive variety of bosses and enemies, including demi-gods from lost civilizations.

Of course, these are all the things you expect from a traditional JRPG with a typical, save-the-world style plotline. Skies of Arcadia was not revolutionary for its time.

What makes Skies of Arcadia Legends such a cult classic?

What was so great about this title, anyway? Reviewers say it offered storytelling with exciting twists, fun and likable characters, and detailed world-building. In other words, Skies of Arcadia got the basics right. 


When many games were simply getting edgier, it was lighter, bolder, and more upbeat. In fact, it had more in common with The Legend of Zelda than other games from the era. Skies of Arcadia had an overabundance of creativity, too, with its airy ship battles, indigenous populations and cultures based on the real world, true character development, and unforeseen plot twists. The game even featured magical hand-to-hand combat moves like the one in which you drop an entire moon on your opponent. Seriously.  

Skies of Arcadia Legends also improved upon Skies of Arcadia in better balancing the rate of random encounters players faced. However, there was apparently no real difference in art, negligible additional content, and a slight decrease in sound quality from the original, according to fans.


Because of these elements, numerous gamers still consider Skies of Arcadia (and by extension, Skies of Arcadia Legends) one of the best RPGs in video game history. In 2015, Segabits noted that the original was a game-changer. The reviewer compared it favorably to more recent titles from developers like BioWare, Bethesda and others in saying, "I've never played a game that manages to balance exploration, plot, and freedom in quite the way Arcadia has."