Ridiculously over-sized sword? Check! Hot-headed, brash and unnaturally skilled protagonist? Check! Unlikely group of youths rising to overcome insurmountable odds? Check! With the release of Image Epoch and Marvelous Entertainment’s Arc Rise Fantasia, Wii owners can finally set out on a traditional, turn-based adventure! But is this a battle worth fighting until the end? Or is this an encounter from which gamers should flee?
In Arc Rise Fantasia, players take on the role of L’Arc Bright Lagoon, a brash 17-year old mercenary fighting alongside the Meridian Imperial Army against the plague of noxious Feldgraons whose most recent attack is aimed at the very heart of the Empire itself. Amid the conflict, L’Arc suddenly finds himself in the company of Ryfia, a naïve and sheltered Diva from the Turemilian republic charged with guiding the Children of Eesa. The Diva explains that her mother’s dying wish was for Ryfia to visit the city of Jada which houses the Dragon Prison – A kind of power plant which draws Ray, the Empire’s primary source of energy, from demigods known as Rogress.
"If only someone visually distinct from the rest of us could -- Oh, good!"
Eventually joined by Prince Alfonse, L’Arc’s regal childhood friend, the trio reaches Jada just before it falls under the attack by a mysterious necromancer. In desperation, they seal themselves inside the Dragon Prison and stumble upon the mighty being known as Simmah. The Rogress identifies L’Arc as a child of Eesa and chooses to devote itself to our hero’s as-of-yet unknown cause. From there, Arc Rise Fantasia weaves a tale of international war, conspiracy, betrayal, and friendship.
However, while there are some interesting twists and turns along the way, Arc Rise Fantasia’s cliché characters and rudimentary story never exceed the expectations one would place on a campy Saturday morning anime. The painful voice acting is a black hole of emotion and drama that will leave you wishing for the Japanese dub, but because character dialogue is vapid and corny anyway, you can’t help but wonder if professional actors would have mattered at all. Fortunately, Image Epoch was gracious enough to allow players to silence voices altogether. They didn’t bother me initially, but hearing the characters spout-off comments such as, “Piece of cake” six or seven times in a single battle was more than I could handle.
The majority of the soundtrack is just as uninspired as the vocals and with the exception of a few stand-outs, entirely forgettable. It’s a shame considering industry veteran Yasunori Mitsuda was involved in composing the score. Battle music, which you’ll naturally hear most out of any track, is appropriately paced and sufficiently fits the action on the screen. The music isn’t necessarily bad; it’s just too generic to establish its own identity and some of the more dramatic moments fall flat as a result.
Graphically, Arc Rise Fantasia is solid. There are some very impressive locales that are a marvel of scale and the world itself is very strikingly detailed from wildernesses rife with flowers and trees right down to the stylish character and weapon designs. There are some aliasing issues and the framerate occasionally suffers to accommodate heavy action or significantly populated areas. At times, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was playing a PlayStation 2 port.
Excel Acts and summons are impressive and fluidly animated.
Arc Rise Fantasia’s pacing is a standard and straight-forward affair that can become monotonous at times. Characters traverse the world to reach towns where they gather information before heading to dungeons to do battle with bosses who tip them off to new locations where they can gather information. Rinse, repeat. Fortunately, this stale formula is somewhat alleviated with the addition of Guilds.
Located in towns throughout the world, Guilds offer optional missions which fall into various categories and objectives. For example, Hunt quests require you to slay a set number of a particular enemy type and Collect quests are all about obtaining items that enemies drop after battle. You can track your progress from the status menu and once you’ve completed the task, you can cash-in on your rewards at any Guild location. Not only are they a nice distraction, but the items and money you stand to gain from side quests can be pretty substantial.
Get used to it.
In Arc Rise Fantasia’s battle system, characters draw from a pool of Action Points (AP) displayed in the top-left corner of the screen. All functions of combat draw from this resource which replenishes slightly at the start of every new round of combat. While you won’t find yourself too concerned with this facet during standard enemy encounters, strategic and calculated use of AP is a crucial factor in the title’s challenging boss battles, as mindlessly depleting this resource in one round can leave your characters vulnerable and sometimes entirely inept in the next. Skies of Arcadia veterans will know exactly what to expect.
Some actions such as Excel Acts (character-specific special attacks) and summoning Rogress require more than just AP to execute; beneath each of your party’s status displays at the top of the screen are Special Points (SP) gauges. Unlike your Hit Points (HP), which are represented in whole numbers, the SP gauges go by percentages and increases slightly when a character attacks an enemy or suffers an enemy attack.
The battle system is fast, strategic and fun!
Rather than showcase every action character-by-character as in other traditional JRPGs, your party and their enemies will move and attack each other simultaneously – a feature that significantly increases the speed of battles and serves to alleviate the “sluggish” pace of combat many have come to associate with JRPGs. The spacing between characters and enemies plays an important role in combat as those characters within close proximity of one-another may occasionally perform extra attacks at no cost to the AP gauge. However, this also leaves them susceptible to enemies with the capability to inflict area-of-effect damage. While it doesn’t feel as fleshed-out or as smart as it could be, it’s still a welcome addition to the formula.
A row of portrait cards in the bottom-right corner of the screen indicates the order in which actions will occur between your party and their enemies. This display is altered in real-time to reflect your choices during the “planning” phase of combat and provides an extra layer of consideration in deciding on your strategy. For example, you’ll want to make sure that healing abilities can affect a wounded character before an enemy’s attack can and that you fight efficiently by eliminating gaps between character portraits.
Overall, the battle system is a traditional, tried-and-true experience with some nice touches thrown in to keep things somewhat fresh. While the normal encounters fall a little flat in terms of difficulty and impact, boss battles are lengthy, challenging, and will regularly put your abilities to the test.
One of the most surprising aspects of Arc Rise Fantasia is the level of depth and character customization its subsystems allow for on top of standard equipment. The Arm Force Frame allows you to customize weapons with Weapon Pieces, which are unlocked as your armament increases in level. Each weapon comes stock with bonus abilities such as Attack +2 or skills such as Lone Wolf, which makes the wielding character stronger when fighting alone. Once you’ve gained enough Weapon Points (WP), these abilities unlock and can be equipped on other weapons. The Arm Force Frame is an expandable grid in which you can facet the Weapon Pieces as long as there is room. It’s a great feature that essentially allows you to build your own perfect weapon.
The Arm Force Frame is a clever and addictive feature.
Orbs are separate pieces of equipment to which you will affix elemental gems in order to manipulate magic. At the start of the game, L’Arc has no magical abilities, but a quick trip to the local Workshop can change that. There, you can purchase slots to equip more gems, increase elemental bonuses, increase your maximum MP in any level, or pay to have your orb completely reset to start-over from scratch. It can get expensive quickly, but the extra coin is worth creating highly specialized magic adepts.
There are four levels of Magic in Arc Rise Fantasia and rather than the more traditional single pool of Magic Points (MP), each level has its own numerical value. Each spell costs a single point of MP, so if your character has 3 MP in the level one category of spells, then he or she may cast up to three level one spells. The value is determined by the upgrades you’ve made to a character’s Orb. Unfortunately, this change to the norm quickly becomes costly and annoying and I still can’t understand why they chose to implement it.
Rogress themselves form a level of customization exclusive to L’Arc. Up to three of these behemoths can be “synced” at any one time and each provides various stat boosts or penalties, though the system isn’t as deep as Orbs or the Arm Force Frame. Only synced Rogress can be used in combat, so you’ll have to decide on a team that coheres well both on and off the battlefield.
I think my bowels would have "synced" with my pants....
An interesting though slightly useless feature of Arc Rise Fantasia is Outfits. With outfits, you can change the appearance of your characters on the status screen and trigger extra skits. Unfortunately, this is the entire extent of the system as your party won’t look any different in or out of battle and outfits don’t provide any kind of bonuses.
Arc Rise Fantasia isn’t the sprawling role-playing epic that starved and deprived Wii owners have been waiting for, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t worth playing. It may not do anything exceptionally well or push the genre in any meaningful way, but the title’s length, layers of customization, streamlined battles, and $40 price tag make for a solid package. While fans of more western entries in the genre should probably look elsewhere to level-up their collection, JRPG veterans should feel right at home.
|Cons||Terrible voice acting, stale pacing, predictable story, cliche everything|
|Verdict||Staunch JRPG fans only|