Knave-iators of The Air Corsair Corps

Sky pirates, was what I was going for there. Though they occupy a mid-point between sea pirates and space pirates, air pirates are perhaps the most fun of any of the pirate phyla. At the very least, they seem to pop up a lot whenever a JRPG features H.G. Wells-esque airships, which is all the time. I've thrown in a few non-JRPGs too, of course, since not everyone is as fond of them as I am. I'm sure there's way more examples too: it's an enduring trope.

It's funny, but while playing Ni no Kuni I've been thinking about just how often JRPGs have drawn from Ghibli's vast library of anime features in the past, and how often I'll bump into bits and pieces of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky without even being on the lookout for them. A few items on this list in particular feel like they borrow quite a bit from Castle in the Sky's lovably incompetent band of air pirates, led by the elderly adventuress Dola (her hairstyle especially is a big giveaway).

List items

  • Since I've already mentioned Level-5's Ghibli collaboration, I'll start with Kublai Khan: the King of the Air Pirates. I'm sure I'm setting myself up here for a big spoiler, but all the locations and names in this game feel like they were cobbled together from a ten year old's limited knowledge of the world. It's all fairy tales, nursery rhymes and vaguely famous historical figures a child might've once heard about. The boisterous but ultimately benevolent Kublai has little in common with his historical counterpart, though he does have a sweet airship named the Iron Wyvern which the heroes can ride around in.

  • Perhaps the first example that comes to mind (or should) when one thinks about a video game air pirate is Vyse and his Blue Rogues. Skies of Arcadia quickly establishes that the Blue Rogues are "good" pirates, who only ever steal from heavily armed Imperial warships, which makes me wonder how there's still so many of them. The less picky Black Pirates are a bit more of a menace to the civilized folk of the world, albeit a lot goofier than the historical murderers and pillagers they're based on.

  • Can't really name your game something like "Trails in the Sky" without including another semi-humorous band of air pirates. The Capua family are dispossessed nobles who have decided to earn their fortune and status back by stealing shit and flying away while high fiving. As long-term plans go, it might need some work, but it's made fairly clear early on that the sister of the group, Josette, is perhaps the one to watch in future installments of this series. She really doesn't seem to like the heroine Estelle a whole lot.

  • Speaking of air pirate families with notable female members, the Bonnes of the Mega Man Legends series are recurring villains (of the "Saturday Morning cartoon show" kind, rather than the "actually evil" kind) who are all about getting paid and getting in Mega Man's way. Though Teisel and Bon are interesting in their own way (is there actually a baby inside Bon's robot suit?), Tron Bonne and her legion of sycophantic Servbots are the most memorable of the bunch. You don't get your own spin-off and roles in Marvel vs Capcom fighters by being a wallflower, after all.

  • Balthier is one of Final Fantasy XII's four protagonists (the player's really left to make their own mind up, I suppose) and by far the most interesting. A Han Solo-esque gentleman adventurer with his own non-human (and decidedly better-looking than Chewbacca) sidekick, Balthier joins a group containing an embittered knight, an overenthusiastic youth from the boonies and a princess who has lost her kingdom because he's got nothing better to do than to fill the gap in the Star Wars quota.

  • Homard is an air pirate captain (and another ex-noble) who has decided to staff his airship entirely with bipedal cats. I've been seeing a lot of bipedal pirate cats around lately, for whatever reason. His role in La Pucelle: Tactics is fairly minimal, but he makes an impression in the short time he's around. One wonders what happened to him in the canonical timeline where La Pucelle's evangelical main character becomes one of the most powerful demons in the universe.

  • Because Granstream Saga takes place on a group of floating islands where the only effective means to travel between them is by airship, it can only mean there's gotta be airship pirates around somewhere. It's another case of the pirates -- the Desbats -- not being all that bad and actually ferrying the protagonist around as he saves the world, though it turns out that the ship's former captain is one of the antagonists the player must face. It's all the more awkward when the captain's sister falls for the hero too. Not literally, mind, though I have to imagine it's an occupational hazard with all these flying machines.

  • Tales of Eternia has a legendary air pirate that once terrorized the shared skies of Celestia and Infernia (they're two worlds that face each other, like in that decidedly non-air pirate-related Melancholia movie). One character that eventually joins you, Chat, is actually the great granddaughter of this legendary air pirate and while Chat still has his ship, the rest of the pirates are long gone. Still, that just means a free airship for us. What's this little pipsqueak going to do about it?

  • At some point between getting beaten down in Donkey Kong Country and kidnapping the eponymous ape before Donkey Kong Country 2 begins, K. Rool lost his crown and took on the mantle of a pirate captain, which seems like a major demotion to me. DKC2 ends on his flying airship and while DK 64 switches out the airship for an enormous mechanical floating island, it's revealed that the wily croc still has an emergency airship for making a quick getaway. It somehow has its own wrestling ring too, so clearly the reptilian rapscallion had his priorities straight when building the thing.

  • Sly Cooper 2 introduced a new band of crooks named the Klaww Gang, building on the eccentric Fiendish Five of the first game to create an even more distinctive band of weirdos. Their leader, Arpeggio, remains hidden for most of the game, and it's revealed right towards the end that he lives on a giant airship co-ordinating the rest of his group. Though not strictly an air pirate, he does have an airship and does steals things, and I just need the flimsiest of excuses to put Sly Cooper 2 on another list and extol its virtues. Still my favorite 3D platformer of all time, you guys.