Japanese RPG: Old school!
There are quirky Japanese RPG's across the broad spectrum of consoles these days, but the Xbox 360 was sadly lacking in content in this area. Now Ubisoft have released Enchanted Arms for the 360 which has the honour of being the first RPG on the console. It is to be followed by the likes of Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey and probably more.
Enter a young hero in typical Japanese RPG fashion, arrogant and slightly bemused - he is a student at a local magical academy for enchanters, and not a Hogwarts in sight I might add.
Together with his friends he's thrown into a typical core RPG plot that features betrayal and kidnapping.
I won't say anymore about the story, even though it's pretty much clichéd, the further you progress into the game the more interesting it becomes.
For those of you familiar with Final Fantasy and other RPG's in this vein, Enchanted Arms is not going to break any new boundaries or usher in any great technical RPG innovations. It is at its heart a totally core RPG, it follows the same conventions that the Japanese know and love and if you bear this in mind, you'll probably enjoy the game far more.
The one annoying feature of the gameplay mechanic and sadly all too prevalent in this genre of games is the blatantly obvious tutorial button presses. Yes, after about the seventh time of interacting with a button, we /know/ how to press (A) on the controller, we know that (A) interacts with something, we don't need to keep on being told that if we hit the (A) button then we will open a chest, press a button in game or operate a lever.
Once is enough for most people or perhaps twice if you were busy ogling the rather nice graphics. The game has a long tutorial that doesn't quit, it assumes you know absolutely nothing about what you've been told previously in an earlier tutorial and treats you like a total newbie. It does get on your nerves after a while and you're so glad when you finally start to make some progress and you're left to your own devices.
If you'd like to continue with this review please press the (A) button now. If you're not familiar with the function of the (A) button please press the (A) button to begin the tutorial upon the use of the (A) button.
You have pressed the (A) button.
You navigate your main character through the highly detailed 3d world, full of breakable crates - what is it with RPG's and crates? Every game has some kind of crate that you can bash open for the fun of it and some of these have items inside!
Enchanted Arms doesn't skimp on the breakable boxes and crates, nope, there are a lot of them and some of them are very well hidden.
You have your party, made up of a finite number of characters (there are a lot of characters to unlock and play in Enchanted Arms) and Golems (FF style monsters that are created by the use of Magicores) and you can switch out your characters at any time, except in the heat of battle.
The dialogue pauses each time a paragraph (or sometimes a sentence) is spoken, it waits for the (A) button before carrying on, this can be a bit jarring but I am fortunately used to doing it after clocking many hours on various PS2 RPG's.
There's a set of custom skills to buy and learn for your characters and Golems, there's a lot of items and various weapons to upgrade, typical for this kind of game and it's nice to see the conventions are still being followed.
Battles are tactical in nature and turn based, they don't follow the conventions of the Final Fantasy series (ATB - where you have a small amount of time to decide your actions) you can take as much time as you like to decide your moves. The system used is a little quirky and it often leaves you with a character that can't do anything, all attacks are based on either line or area affect markers and the battle area is a grid.
You can perform various moves, special moves and use items. The moves cost a certain amount of points to perform and they all have a different area of effect, some are lines, some are X's and some are squares (there are quite a few combinations).
You can also alter the camera to give a different view of the grid; often you'll want the top down view since that's the easiest view to see your areas of effect on. The battle system is interesting but it's also flawed, characters are often left with nothing to do or they're placed in positions where it's not easy to move them around, since you can't actually invade your opponent's side of the grid.
There are normal moves, special moves that require a certain level of combat power to activate and combo attacks that are triggered based on who attacks what and when, these gauges carry over from battle to battle until spent.
All in all the gameplay of Enchanted Arms is solid if a little flawed in the battle system as previously mentioned, your party leaps into the main character for exploration and you can save the game at any time. You gain XP, loot and heal damage and power points, mana or what ever you want to call it after every battle.
If you don't want to battle manually, you can let the AI take over and do it all for you.
It is worth mentioning that the game has various elemental properties to the weapons, characters and Golems, some are fire based, some are water based and the opposite element causes extra damage to the character hit by the attack. If you want to harm a water creature, use fire, if you want to harm darkness based creatures, use light.
It is fair to say that Enchanted Arms is the best looking RPG on the Xbox 360, but it easily wins that title since at the moment it is indeed the only 360 RPG available. It is a gorgeous looking game with a strong palette of colours and vibrant in-game graphics, it's highly detailed in terms of design and construction and the outdoors environments are quite stunning.
It also has some amazing CG cut-scenes that are very impressive.
It does have a few problems however. Environments and characters whilst being detailed and gorgeous to look at, often suffer from popping or in the cases of the game's camera - they vanish altogether off the screen when the camera gets a little too close as you look around with it.
The use of light and shade is good in Enchanted Arms and combines nicely with the rich use of colour. The first city where you attend a festival is also festooned with various tiny details and the sky is lit with fireworks, which is quite breathtaking to watch.
The models in Enchanted Arms are well defined, they have an excellent level of detail and they have been put together very well. There are a few Golems that really look bizarre but that's usually expected of this kind of game. One of my favourite characters is the Werewolf Golem, there's a superb amount of detail in that character.
The models don't degrade in quality depending on the character either, the main character, golems and environmental models as well as NPC's all have a consistent level of detail that is gorgeous.
The animations in the game are fluid and varied, the special moves are all different and they get more OTT as the game progresses. Fans of FF will love some of the bigger special moves and combination attacks; they have certainly done a good job on bringing the world, people and places of Enchanted Arms alive.
Even the backgrounds that should be static and bland are far from it, the water rolls with a fine swish of the waves and the sky rolls on by nicely as fireworks pop into it and explode with a whorl of colour and bright light.
The AI uses various tactics quite effectively, it provides a decent challenge and the Boss Battles can be pretty gruelling depending on if you decided to spend time running around a particular area and levelling up (a typical RPG tactic) - some of the AI's special moves are repeated a little too often but that's a minor gripe and doesn't damage the gameplay.
It has crate smashing physics and the physics engine is tied in with the animations, especially on things like the Werewolf Golem, where it has long white hair and a long white tail, these flow and swish quite nicely. But it's not a game heavy on the physics.
Enchanted Arms has a good audio set. The game's packed with spot audio and the usual battle sounds, they're clear and crisp and they bring the world/battles and game to life quite nicely.
The game features a nicely done musical score that's not intrusive and it dramatically flares when appropriate. It reminds me in many ways of the FF games and that's not a bad thing.
I can't say that the voice acting in the game is as bad as the original Resident Evil but it's close. I wasn't struck on the dubbed voices at all and thankfully Enchanted Arms allows you to swap out for the original Japanese audio with subtitles. The voices are horribly clichéd and the game has the most annoying character ever, his voice goes right through you.
He's also the most overtly homosexual character featured in a game ever. A bold move: but one that should have at least been given a better voice actor.
No stellar performances here, but again until the likes of Final Fantasy X spoken recorded dialogue was a thing of dreams.
The game's dialogue drops out as well, a lot of the characters have text only monologues and this is a definite feature of the core Japanese RPG.
You can take Enchanted Arms online and battle other Xbox Live game owner's golems.
The game has some flaws but in the end it's but the first of the next-gen RPG's, it isn't trying to be anything but a typical Japanese RPG, it isn't trying to break new ground and wow a new audience - it does what it does well enough and is a fun/enjoyable game when you get past the quirks. The level of detail in the graphics and the eye-candy from the world itself along with the plot are enough to keep you playing and with a big roster of unlockable characters and golems, each with their own individual style and moves, it should be a game that keeps you going for a good while.