Lord of Arcana Review

Lord of Arcana (Available exclusively on PSP)
ESRB Rating: M
Players: 1-4
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Access Games
Release Date: January 25th, 2011
Ad-Hoc Multiplayer

Parent Talk: Portable videogames usually aren’t scrutinized for offensive content, but Lord of Arcana is a rare exception.  It features explicit violence and a fair mix of blood and gore.  It’s nowhere as bad as most M-rated console offerings, but you may want to look elsewhere for your child’s next dungeon crawler.

Lord of Arcana came out of nowhere.  It arrived at the COE office a few days ago unannounced.  I love that because it makes the game all the more special.  Lord of Arcana is Square-Enix’s answer to Monster Hunter, thus it will appeal to a limited audience.   This is a niche game in a niche genre, and unfortunately happens to have its fair share of flaws.  It’s certainly not a game for most, but is it for you?

The Good:

+ A nice dungeon crawler/fetch quest game on occasion does the gamer good.  If you enjoy long quests, fighting countless enemies, grinding for hours, or creating powerful weapons from a massive assortment of scavenged items, then Lord of Arcana is for you.  It’s that simple.

+ A strong soundtrack and decent graphics.  The environments are a little bland and barren at times, but the audio-visual package is mostly what you’d expect from a somewhat lower-class RPG.  It isn’t Final Fantasy, and doesn’t pretend to be either.

The So-So:

+/- A lacking story.  Per the typical JRPG, Lord of Arcana’s protagonist has lost his memory and must overcome incredible obstacles to save the day.  He resides in the magical kingdom of Horodyn.  Magic takes the form of eight giant creatures called Arcana, and he’ll be the new Lord upon defeating them all.  It’s basic; a stepping stone to push players from one quest to the next.

+/- Quests are standard.  You either must eliminate a certain number of enemies or acquire an item that a specific enemy holds.  Sometimes this is as simple as slaughtering a hoard of goblins, or tedious as you search everywhere for a missing feather which happens to be randomly attached to a skeleton.  Quests are fun when executed well, but the pacing drops to a snail’s pace otherwise.

+/- Traditional experience system.  You grow stronger while defeating foes, and they keep up all the same.  A level 20 character will struggle with early enemies.  This is because Lord of Arcana is designed for multiplayer.  Four players fighting together is much more enjoyable than going alone.  It’s as though the combat and experience system is suddenly balanced.  Remove your friends, and it’s a mess.

+/- While playing with friends certainly fixes a large portion of the game’s problems, the lack of online multiplayer dramatically decreases the usefulness of this mode.  In Japan an Ad Hoc mode makes sense given the heavy use of trains, but in North America most people will either play alone, or online.  Its exclusion is painful, and show poor execution.  As it is players need to find at least one other person who continues to use their PSP and own a copy of the game.  While there is Game Sharing, its features are limited.

+/- The customization options are quite surprising and deep, but not perfect.  While it’s wonderful being able to create powerful weapons that cause massive damage, it’s something else entirely when the item drops are so random that it takes you three days of playing just to make one item.  You might have to look for a super rare item just to create a medium-level weapon, which doesn’t seem to add up.  If you put in enough time and effort the customization mode certainly pays out, it just doesn’t do it early and often enough.

+/- Fighting is a chore, but boss battles are great.  While fighting your everyday enemies you have to continuously hold the L button to lock-on to the enemy that’s closest to you.  This becomes highly problematic as you can’t switch between enemies on the fly.  The combat system itself is extremely basic forcing players to repeat the same combinations over and over again.  That said boss battles are interesting and thought provoking.  They’re difficult and require several playthroughs in order to figure out what strategy to use in order to beat them.  A typical boss battle can last up to thirty minutes though, if you’re playing alone.  It’s yet another example of why it’s so important you don’t play alone.

The Bad:

– Too long.  Battles take forever!  The game doesn’t scale, so enemies have the same HP if you fight alone or with others.  If you’re a lone level 20, it might require eight minutes to down a grunt, but said foe doesn’t stand a chance with allies.  Imagine boss battles late in the game.  Fetch quests also drag because of the random nature of items.  It’s frustrating to seek a specific enemy for hours for one item, only to discover that you need another three for your weapon project.

– Broken multiplayer.  There is no online support, and ad-hoc is extremely problematic.  The most aggravating element is the inability to join another player’s battles if they’re too far away.  While logical in the physical sense, it doesn’t work in a videogame setting.  If this arises, your friend has three choices: fight alone, try to flee, or die and end the co-op session for all involved.

– Battles don’t take place on the same field as quests do.  This is the most perplexing design choice.  The landscape is more than large enough to house all the fighting, but instead players are sucked into a new arena.  It works like the classic FF games, and really hinders the flow.

The Ugly:

Repetition.  I know some people love these types of games, and they’ll likely love Arcana.   However, the genre has become too archaic for its own good.  Monster Hunter does it right, helping the player feel accomplished, but even it is extremely mundane.  You never get that here, especially when playing alone.  At least with local multiplayer you can talk to battlemates and enemies don’t appear as strong.  Even the fetch quests work much better.  The problem is, once again, no online support.  As such, you repeat the same quests, combat and customization processes and wonder what the reward is.

The Lowdown:

What type of gamer are you?  Do you love dungeon crawlers, fetch quests, or Monster Hunter?  If so, by all means play Lord of Arcana, but you’ve been warned.  Rent it if you’re unsure of the genre.  As I said at the beginning, LoA is aimed at a very small group of people.  If you’re not part of the club, you won’t enjoy this game.  That’s why Square-Enix develops Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy and bought Eidos for Tomb Raider.  Those franchises appeal to a much wider audience, and would likely be more in line with your interests.

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