Eternal Arcadia

Eternal Arcadia is set in a world where there aren't oceans, but instead floating islands in a world of air. You assume control of Vyse, a confident and charismatic sky pirate, his childhood friend Aika, and a mysterious girl named Fina, as they go on a quest of adventure to………..yup, save the world from an evil empire. While the whole basic story follows the same pattern as possible every RPG known to games, the fact that the world has no oceans and continents are separated by sky adds enough of a wrinkle to just make it feel relevant and unique in its own right. The game kicks off with a rather impressive cut scene involving Alfonso, the admiral of the Valuan Armada, as he attempts to kidnap a young maiden onboard a tiny vessel. The Valuans eventually trap the ship but but not before the intervention of the Blue Rogues, a Robin Hood-style group of pirates, stealing from the rich and corrupt to help the poor, who jump in to rescue the young girl, Fina. The Star Wars influence is evident and the opening sequence is a great start the adventure.
 
Artwork for the Japanese version trumps the US and Euro version
 
As you’d expect with a traditional Japanese RPG, the main staple of the gameplay is handled through visiting a number of towns while taking down the enemies which cross your path. Intrinsically, the setting can make or break a game of this genre, but luckily the world of Arcadia is magnificent. I love airships, I love the airship pirates, and I love the different cultures and the sense of grand adventure which brought me back to my Star Wars watching childhood. The quasi-steam punk technology littering the land also adds a uniqueness to the setting and transports you to a world which is so unlike our own; something which modern games often overlook.

The Blue Rogues
 
Battles are by design the traditional turn-based fare that you see in plenty of other RPGs. What is unique to this game though is the ability to switch between elemental attributes (red, blue, yellow, green and so on) and set these attributes to your weapons whilst you fight. With this system, you can build up an arsenal of magical spells to your characters depending on which element is being used and by whom. This means that strategies can be formed on the go and gives players a lot more access to how they want to play the battles. Special moves are surprisingly not permanently consumed (as in you don't need to rest in an inn to recover points) and characters are able to recover them using an action called focus. ALL characters rely on this SP bar when they perform any action (special attacks and magic) other than the standard attack option and this is itself neat because it forces the player to be careful and to be more thoughtful as to how you assign actions to your characters. To be honest though, I found the system slightly too conventional and over the course of the game I found I was simply pressing the A button without paying any mind to what was going on in the game. Moreover, once you realise that using items negate the problem of losing SP (items don’t use it) then it pretty much makes magic redundant. It is a shame, as the high encounter ratio really highlights this deficiency.

The game comes on 2 GD-roms
 
Possibly the best feature of the battle system is the ability to engage in ship battles. In these cinematic battles, you can order attacks and evasions at opportune times to optimize damage output and escape enemy fire. If the fight continues for a long enough period, a meter will fill and you gain the opportunity to unleash a brutal super attack that deals enormous amounts of damage. These battles are few and far between, typically only occurring against large monsters of other ships. You can outfit your ship with different decks, armor, cannons, torpedoes, etc. Each change will greatly affect how your ship performs in combat. More powerful cannons can typically only fire once, while smaller, less powerful cannons can fire multiple times in one turn, and torpedoes fire once with a delayed damage burst. Who is crewing your vessel also affects your ships performance, as well upgrading your ship grants different bonuses to the ship’s offensive, defensive, or healing abilities so it becomes an important part of the game to upgrade your vessel.

The sense of exploration is well conveyed
 
Adding to the sense of exploration is your ability to explore the wide world out there. This game really does encourage you to go out and explore to the best of your abilities with money being earned by the information you acquire through the discoveries you make. Some are quite minor and have superfluous payoffs, but others continue throughout the entire game and help shape its overall experience. The activity that fits most into this category is the search for Arcadia’s many discoveries.

The Blue Rogues are explorers and Vyse in particular has a strong desire to uncover all of the world’s secrets. As the characters travel the world in their big flying boat, the “investigate” button can be pressed in suspicious looking areas. Occasionally this will produce a victorious sound and a screen of information detailing the new discovery that has just been made. Some discoveries are automatic, such as when a previously unknown continent is encountered, but others are fiendishly difficult to find. Once found, the information about each discovery can be sold back to the guild master in each town. The player will be paid according to the discovery’s rarity and how new or old the information is. Other, more minor sub quests exist such as trading sequences, upgrading your airship and base, and also the collection of “Chams,” mysterious items that power up an equally mysterious weapon used by one of the characters.

Anime visuals are charming but underwhelming
 
Incidentally, your experience throughout the game will change depending on the answers you give to various questions your asked. If you answer correctly improve a “Swashbuckler Rating” which in turn gets you discounts at some stores. Unfortunately, in the English version it can be quite difficult to assert what exactly is the right answer. In the Japanese game the system is known as the Danki System, or "Manliness Ranking" and becomes easier to understand viewed through a lens of Japanese masculinity. I one can understand the difficulty in translating this concept but it makes for a frustrating exercise if you do not recognise that you are supposed to be acting more Son Goku than Arnie from the Terminator.

Visually, the graphics in Eternal Arcadia won’t get the pulses racing with the developers obviously going with a performance first attitude. The graphics are reliable, without being dazzling, but do allow for a freely movable 360 degree camera for true 3D play. It follows an anime-visual style which is reminiscent of the Dragon Quest series, with vibrant colors and exaggerated facial features. Everything in Arcadia has a very distinct look, giving the game as a whole a unique visual style. Cinematic sequences are all rendered in the same graphical resolution as normal gameplay and are again slightly uninspiring if you are used to the CGI quality of the Final Fantasy series. Particular mention must got to the flashy special moves performed by the main cast during a battle. Be thankful that effort has been put into these parts as you’ll be watching them a fair few times through the 80 hours because unlike the Western version they cannot be skipped. The tunes offered up in the game, like the graphics, won’t be sang out through the ages, but the few varied orchestral pieces do enough to get a player through the game. I did however enjoy the tribal rhythms played in the jungle town of Horteka.


Star Wars' influence is apparent in locales such as the Tatooine-inspired, Maramba
 
Eternal Arcadia sits in the rather awkward situation of being the best RPG on a system which in all honesty received less than a few decent examples of the genre. It’s obvious that the Dreamcast’s library is superior for it being there, but the rather average graphics, combined with the tiresome random battles and predictable storyline stop it from sailing in the upper echelons of that of triple AAA titles such as Shenmue or Biohazard Code: Veronica. Still, we are dealing with a product bearing the SEGA name from a time when the name still meant quality, and so what we are left with is consistency in product design, and a charming game that will keep pulling you in until the end.


@Barai version

Uniquely, a DRM version of Eternal Arcadia was also released in Japan in the form of a @Barai (literally @Pay) version, which came in a DVD case along with the exact same instruction manual as the standard version but slightly different GD-rom discs featuring the text "@Barai". I picked my version up for just a couple of hundred yen as a curio and after just under an hour into the game, around the point where Alfonso appears with his monster, the game cuts out, and asks for you to connect to the internet to pay a fee and unlock the remainder of the game. However, as the servers are no longer active it now exists as little more than a paid demo and warning for the future of DRM gaming as a whole. The DVD case is a nice addition for collectors though.

Eternal Arcadia Limited Edition

A box set was also released in Japan and includes a Skull Bracelet which features the symbol of the Blue, a Blue Sky Pirate Bandana, an art book with illustrations and conceptual work, and also a strap featuring Fina's little friend, Cupil and remains a sought after collection.

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