In 1995, as the 16-Bit consoles faded into what would become
a Sony PlayStation-driven RPG era of highly acclaimed, seminal games, developer G-Craft helped to fill the first-generation RPG
void with Arc the Lad. The title spawned two sequels, and the series enjoyed a strong rapport
with Japanese fans even as its more primitive, old-school trimmings (with super-deformed characters and all)
ate the proverbial dust of a new, popular breed of 3-D RPG. It was because of Arc the Lad's 2-D design that Sony,
still attempting to lend its first console an air of legitimacy in a Nintendo-Sega dominated industry, was
against hosting the game to a North American audience. But now, thanks to Working Designs, we can experience
this curious piece of RPG history all in one lavish package titled, Arc the Lad Collection.
The original Arc the Lad received critical props for its vibrant, hand-drawn pixel art
and simple charm, with the caveat that its unassuming design and short quest (at about 10 hours) might
leave players hungry. Fortunately, its two sequels transcended these shortcomings with
expanded scenarios (at 40-60 hours respectively) and richer gameplay. Unlike many RPG series, all three
Arc's maintain a continuous, tightly woven storyline, and memory card data--including character stats and equipment--can
be transferred over to each sequel, marking this feature's first utilization in a PlayStation game at the time of Arc II's original release.
The story begins with a small-town boy, Arc, who journeys from Touvil to fulfill his community
service requirement of saving the world from perdition. Of course, insidious machinations are already
in play after the extinguishing of the Flame Coin, which seals an evil presence away on a mountain. The quest
demands that Arc gather the usual farrago of character types, acquire mystical items, and find out more
about his father's death 10 years prior to his exodus from Touvil.
Arc the Lad II commences where the original
leaves off, though a new hero, Elc, serves as the story's focus (but rest assured, Arc is still present and playable). Elc belongs to a tribe skilled with fire
elemental powers and must journey to overcome his own faded memory and discover his troubled past. As Elc, the player encounters
heroes from the first game, thereby forming a powerful new force. The narrative gradually fragments to show the perspectives of separated characters
before the party reassembles near the scenario's end. The third installment takes place years after Arc II and offers
players the role of Alec and a cast of fellow bounty hunters, who, naturally, stumble into an epic plot bigger
than they ever imagined. And again, characters from the previous games re-appear in playable form.
The turn-based strategy battles featured in all three games play out on traversable, 2-D,
chess-like grids, akin to Sega's Shining Force series. In practice, however, there are multiple elevations
that characters can occupy. Arc's I and II are entirely hand-drawn, whereas the third entry aspires
to polygonal environments while its characters remain 2-D. Battles typically unfold at an aggressive, brisk pace, without becoming bogged down by
an exceedingly timid enemy AI or tedious menu navigation. Arc III also spices things up with Theo, a Cardist whose
ability to turn monsters into cards makes for an interesting summons system; over 100 monsters can be accumulated.
In the audio department, players can expect a pleasing experience with suitably epic music from
composer Masahiro Andoh. A few tracks are performed by the London Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra, thus imbuing the score with an occasional symphonic flourish. Each game also employs individual voices
for characters during battle scenes.
Arc the Lad Collection comes to North America as one monstrous anthology package. The
set features all three games plus Arc the Lad Monster Arena, a bonus disc where players
can battle captured beasts for prizes. A "making of" disc and hard-cover manual are also included.
A top-notch translation replete with extensive in-game text and Working Designs' often quirky, sometimes
too-hip-for-the-room humor, should be expected. Working Designs also promises a polished gameplay experience with a more
balanced difficulty level than exhibited in the original editions.
After much delay, Arc the Lad Collection hits shelves on April 16. The PlayStation console
may not be as chic as in its prime, and the anthology's $74.99 price tag is enough
to make anyone cringe, but Working Designs' commitment to quality localizations always warrants attention. It's also rare
that North American gamers are given the royal treatment in terms of bonus packaging, and Arc the Lad
Collection, by all accounts, will not disappoint.