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Just One Calorie
By: Zachary Lewis
The window of opportunity that the PlayStation presented to 2D RPGs was all but wasted after the release of Final Fantasy VII. However, even before that RPG was promoted in Japan, there were some remarkably good 2D titles being produced. Arc the Lad, for all its flaws, is still decent enough that it could allow a direct sequel to be produced on its husk; a direct and much better sequel.
Easily the largest problem with the game is its length. In much the same fashion as Shenmue, Arc the Lad is the first chapter in a much longer story. It should come as no surprise that Arc and Arc II were originally intended to be the same game. Because of some development scheduling issue, GCraft was forced to break the title into two segments. This was not done arbitrarily at the middle of 'the game' as one might expect. The first game was given only the first chapter worth of gameplay, whereas the second was given nearly five times as much. This extreme lack of balance makes Arc the Lad something of a ripoff in terms of cost and gives the game a depressingly cliffhanger ending.
Other problem areas for the game include its antiquated graphics, which are roughly on par with those found in latter-day SNES RPGs, and a largely rehashed plot with little in the way of creativity. In essence, the plot of Arc the Lad revolves around the title character and his charming band of friends as they adventure trying to find the Ark, an artifact of immense power that was used to imprison the Dark Lord forever. The story leads directly into the second game but leaves the player hanging with a this-feels-awkwardly-unresolved feeling that could easily frustrate someone who doesn't have Arc II ready to pop in immediately after the credits roll.
Moving from the depressingly bad to the mediocre we find that the game does little to enhance the status quo of text based menus. Although this doesn't make the game hard to work with, by any means, it also doesn't make it any easier through the addition of icons or 'help' information on which menu does what. Also par-for-the-course is the game's replay value, meaning it has little if any, and its average difficulty. The trouble is that a large portion of the challenge involved in completing the title is codependent on the amount of the game’s single side-quest you attempt and the level and equipment of the title character. Needless to say, if you explore all one hundred floors of the Forbidden Ruin and max out Arc's level, the final battle should pose little threat.
Thankfully, not all of Arc is consumed by the average and the poor. The game's music and sound effects feature track after track of well-composed and emotionally driving music as well as some of the best voiced clips from the early days of the console. The title theme is especially good, featuring fully orchestrated symphony work and really encompassing the feeling that the game gives a person as they play.
Likewise, the translation of the game is nigh on amazing. Typically Working Designs does very good localization work, marred only by the inclusion of pop-culture references that sometimes seem out of place. Arc the Lad has few of these instances which should help the text in the game age less quickly and maintain a very good standard for their future localization projects, such as Growlanser.
Every RPG has a strong suit. Lately, such effort is sadly wasted on the graphics. Arc the Lad obviously has no such problem. In exchange for tolerating all the lesser aspects of the game, we were blessed with an extremely addictive tactical battle system. By moving your characters around the map grid, which is often marred by obstacles that only characters with a high jumping power can overcome, you position yourself from turn to turn to attack and defend yourself against your foes. Another fairly useful ability given to you is that of being able to fully customize your characters equipment at any time in battle to accommodate for new types of status ailments and bolster defense against physically or magically powerful foes.
Actual combat works in much the same fashion as Final Fantasy Tactics, wherein magic affects an entire area of enemies or heroes as do certain physical attacks. Basic melee combat is also a viable option when confronted with the opportunity to use it. Many of the effects of the special attacks represent the high point in the aforementioned poorly utilized graphics engine. In terms of tactical benefit, maneuvering yourself behind an opponent increases the likelihood of landing a blow, just as ending a turn facing an attacker increases your chances to defend, dodge, or counterattack.
All in all, Arc the Lad is a pale imitation of its infinitely better sequel. It has little to call a player back for more and might have died in obscurity were it not for the attention of Working Designs.
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