This week I completed Skies of Arcadia for the Dreamcast and Mass Effect 2 for the XBox 360 within 24 hours of each other. They're both very similar games, double disc RPGs set on fantasy worlds in which you manage a squad and a ship. The only real differences are turn based combat versus real-time combat and about 10 years.
So how did they leave me with such differing opinions of the experience? Was it that ME2 took me 30 hours to complete compared to SoA's 60 hours? Unlikely, as I've never been one to judge a game by its size, I rate Ocarina of Time and Portal as about equal to each other.
The graphics of Mass Effect are incredible, a full High Definition universe to explore, full of galaxies, star systems, planets, space stations and vistas. Unfortunately that means nothing when changing areas removes you from the experience with a garish loading screen. Skies of Arcadia has much chunkier graphics, but no loading screens beyond a brief black screen. I also found the Silver Temple to be much more immersive and awe inspiring than anything I experienced in ME2.
The storylines were very similar, both revolving around saving the world or the universe by gathering a team to man your ship and fight alongside you. But for all the time you spend with in conversation with (and sleeping with) your crew mates in Mass Effect, not a single one of them was as interesting as your SoA crew mates.
And that brings me to the endings. I finished Skies of Arcadia first. The death of the final boss was greeted by sorrow by the protagonists as he was the former best friend of one of them. The flight home showed them torn between staying together as a team or returning home to help their people. Some stayed, some left, some got married, some died, but every single ship mate was shown making tough decisions after such a momentous event, sometimes making the wrong ones.
The next night it was Mass Effects turn. Very Michael Bay, very impressive HD explosions, a brief celebration and a cold, hard, "Export Character/Continue" option. Maybe that was the main difference between two of the biggest RPGs of their generations.