First Impressions: Arc the Lad

Arc the Lad was released in Japan over five years ago. With the recent burst of RPGs crossing the Pacific, it is easy to miss one game now and then. However, Arc the Lad has grown from one game to a full series. After the latest game in the series was released in Japan just over a year ago, someone on our side finally took notice. Working Designs announced that they would bring the entire series, a total of four games, to North American RPGamers all at once. Such a large collection would take months for the average RPGamer to complete. With the release only a few months away, RPGamer has managed to get its hands on the first game of the collection.

First off, we must remember that this is not a remake. While Working Designs will fix errors and make adjustments of the games they bring over, they do not overhaul games with the intent of recreating with today's methods. With that in mind, the technology of the game shows its age. One would have to think back to get a feel of what to expect. In 1995, North Americans were playing games like Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire II. For its time, Arc the Lad showed some rather advanced features making the game memorable for many.

The story starts with a girl on her way to the Flame Cion, a flame that has burned for over 3000 years. As she journeys up the mountain to the flame, she talks about her loathing of the flame, and what it means. In an act of defiance, she douses the flame. What happens next completely surprised her as a dark voice spoke to her from the void, thanking her for setting him free. In terror she flees back to the town. As thus begins the story of the end of humanity. Mankind's only savior; a young boy named Arc.

The game is sprite based, with detailed backgrounds and characters. While not very far into the game, there has already been some FMV, showing how soon the developers took advantage of the new-at-the-time PlayStation and CD format. For a sprite-based game, the graphics are not lacking at all. The characters show full movement, and are very lively, almost fluid with the moving background music. Except for the static images for dialogue, there is nothing lacking graphically for a game of this time period.

The battles were not intuitive at first. Part of the problem seems to be that the AI of the monsters is completely random. Some seem to be bent on crushing your party, and others wander aimlessly. At first I thought it was the type of monster, but later the same types of monsters would act completely different. This adds some unpredictability to an otherwise straightforward tactic battle system. The battles are turn based with overhead grid movement. Each team moves in entirety before the other side does, but there is no playing the characters out of order. Sometimes the landscape will look open, but turn out to be blocked. Planning and careful movement are key to cornering monsters. Keep cure handy, you'll need it.

The story drew me in right away, as most games from Working Designs do. My first thoughts were that this relatively short introduction into the series would be a bit drawn out, perhaps slow moving and simplistic. I am pleased to say that I my instincts were wrong. With sly foreshadowing, and really vivid characters, it took no time at all to get into the story. Arc has a tough journey, not just because of monsters, but people not believing he really has the power to save humanity· or worse, don't even understand there is danger imminent.

I hope I managed to wet your whistle at least while we all wait in anticipation for the final release date. Arc the Lad is only the first of four games coming all at once, so if this one didn't catch your eye, there's still plenty to come that is sure to get your attention.

by Mikel Tidwell    
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