Arc is the second game to be reviewed this month where the word old skool, will pop up. Castlevania was true to its action/platform roots, and Arc is an RPG that in many ways is true to the old skool RPG formula. For those of you who played the any SNES RPG's in the mid 90's you'll know pretty much what i mean. The mid 90's were golden times for RPG's, games such as Breath of Fire, Secret of Mana, various Final Fantasy games, Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger were well polished and extremely popular games. Most of the games released were centred around a turn based mechanic, where players and enemies would take turns at executing moves, using items, special moves or magic until one party was dead. Generally experience points were gained and a characters party would receive improved stats by gaining levels. This formula is clearly still used in games like the Final Fantasy series, though these games have added a lot to character development, and have added many side quests and more open game play. Arc on the other hand stays remarkably close to the old formula. This is a mixture of good and bad news. The game is pretty solid in many respects, though it can feel bland in places.
The game is split into six chapters, each chapter is played from two perspectives, one as a human and one as a humanoid creature known as a Deimos. Quite soon in the game it becomes apparent that the two are brothers (i'm not spoiling anything here as it states this on the back of the game box), and you become embroiled in the standard Good v Evil plot, with each of the brothers swearing to lead their race to victory by destroying the other. Playing the game from two different perspectives has given the developers some leaway in script, gameplay and locations. Both characters have plots with very different feels. Overall this works very well and is quite a nice idea. You do get a feel of the different personalities of the games characters, though at times this can be a touch Cliched
As i mentioned earlier the game is a turn based affair. The main difference between this and other games is how your characters move once in a battle. When its your characters turn, you can move them within an area based on your characters movement ability. Then you can attack an enemy or use a special move. This adds an extra layer of strategy that is not seen in many games, granted movement isn't as important as it is in a game like Final Fantasy Tactics, but it does play a role. For example, ranged weapons can pass through an enemy and continue on their journey till their maximum range is reached, this allows you to force enemies into a line and then put an arrow through several of them at once. Also movement allows you to get behind your enemies to do additional damage.
You enter combat by travelling around the world map. Instead of being able to roam the map, discovering new places, you can only move between set locations. Also there are no random battles during the game, when you travel between two locations, there are a number of locations between where you must enter combat. This can become quite boring as often you'll have to frequently travel between two different locations and you'll end up in pretty much identical battles on every occassion.
One main point that lets the game down is the linear character development. Your character stats improve at a set rate and so their is no class system, so no matter who plays the game their parties will be very, very similar. This is compounded by the poor weapon upgrade system. Instead of buying different weapons you can only upgrade the weapons you start with. Each character can only equip three accessories. All of this stunts what could have been a great game.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically the game is quite nice. It's not as awe inspiring as the Final Fantasy games, but there are no graphical let downs either. The main characters in the game are fairly detailed and facial expressions can be very convincing at times. Enemy models are let down as they are constantly repeated, it would have been nice if opponents had been mixed up a little. The graphical differences between the levels works quite well, especially between the two main characters at the start of the game, Khargs levels are rich colourful and vibrant whereas Darcs levels are dim and foreboding. These differences really help draw you into the game. As i mentioned earlier there are no real graphical issues with the game. In many ways I do prefer a game of this type, by that I mean a game that isn' t graphically over-ambitious but delivers everything it promises. I'm frequently seeing games that promise some new fantastic graphical effect in their game, but when you come to play the game other elements of the graphics have neglected and are unpolished.
The sound also comes together quite well, the music is particularly well done. There is a range of different sound tracks used in the game with lots of guitar music. Voice acintg is of a relatively high quality. Unfortuantely, there isn't quite enough of it. The phrases that your characters cry out during combat do begin to wear thin pretty quickly. To be honest there would need tohave been about ten times the number of phrases for it to have worked successfully.
Overall this game is fairly mediocre and will only appeal to those with a strong interest in Role Playing Games. The game suffers most due to the remarkably linear play and character progression. Also the stop, start nature of battles can be quite annoying and can prevent you from being absorbed into the game. Battles in general are longer than standard RPG's but shorter than the more startegy oriented games (such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre), this prevents the game from making a mark in either category. Some gamers will get enjoyment out of the game (about 35-40 hours) but this is unlikely to be a game that will succeed in the mainstream.