Arc The Lad II, like its name would suggest, is the second game of the series to hit the Playstation in Japan, and it is a direct sequel to Arc The Lad. Like its predecessor, it is an extremely enjoyable strategy RPG, and, also like its predecessor, it most likely will unfortunately never see the light of day in the US.
Arc The Lad II centers on Elc, a young bounty hunter with a haunted past. Elc lives in the town of Parodius, and his primary source of income is from collecting bounties from jobs that are assigned at guilds. One day, Elc picks up a job requiring him to travel to the Aldia airport and investigate and subdue a criminal who allegedly has some unique abilities.
As Elc arrives at the airport, he immediately begins to search for the criminal. The villain quickly turns up, and, after a tough battle, the criminal retreats. Elc chases him into a grounded plane. While looking for the criminal, Elc meets a girl named Leeza hiding in the plane. With Leeza and her dog Pandit in tow, Elc continues his pursuit of the criminal, and, upon finding him again, defeats him. However, the party has little time to celebrate its victory, as members of an organized crime syndicate show up and attempt to capture the group. Leeza gets severely injured in the crossfire, but Elc is able to save her and escape.
Elc takes Leeza to the town of Indegos, where she is healed, but his encounter with her has insured that he has become part of something bigger than he ever imagined, and that his life will never be the same again.
Arc The Lad II is remarkably similar to Arc The Lad in many ways. Like its predecessor, Arc The Lad II's battles are carried out in 2D overhead strategy maps. The battles are turn-based, and characters can use weapons, magic, and items in battle. Like those of Arc The Lad, the battles in Arc The Lad II aren't extraordinarily complex in terms of strategy, and still aren't quite as crisp as those of the similar Shining Force games.
Arc The Lad II does have some significant differences in gameplay from Arc The Lad, the most important of which corrects Arc The Lad's most gaping flaw. Arc The Lad was probably the shortest strategy RPG that I can remember playing, but Arc The Lad II is one of the longest games I've ever played. This one's definitely an epic.
Several options not available in Arc The Lad are available in its sequel. Characters can use a wider variety of weapons, and can increase their skill with a weapon by using it repeatedly in combat. In addition, magic and armor can also be leveled up through repeated use. There is also much more freedom of exploration in Arc The Lad II than there was in its prequel. Elc can even make money by collecting bounties on criminals with prices on their heads.
Because Arc The Lad II is so similar to its predecessor in gameplay mechanics, the same minor flaws in gameplay are present in it. The battle maps try to channel you through narrow sections fairly often. This, combined with the fact that your characters once again can't move through each other, slows down battles and makes them less exciting. Like those of Arc The Lad, most of the battle maps in Arc The Lad II could have been a little bit bigger.
As far as gameplay flaws go, Arc The Lad II even makes a regression from Arc The Lad in one way. In Arc The Lad, you could send all of your characters into combat whenever you entered a battle. In Arc The Lad II, the greatly increased number of playable characters doesn't make this feature realistically feasible. However, it would have been nice if you could send more than just 5 characters into combat per battle.
The control in Arc The Lad II is also very similar to that of Arc The Lad. You can move your characters in 4 directions, and they are pretty responsive to the control pad. However, like those of Arc The Lad, the characters in Arc The Lad II don't have good precision of movement, and the collision detection between them and many objects in the background is off. I did find the menus in Arc The Lad II to be more organized than those of Arc The Lad, though.
Arc The Lad II's graphics are nearly identical to those of its predecessor. Beautiful 2D overhead maps make up the majority of the backgrounds in Arc The Lad II, and the onscreen characters are superdeformed and well drawn. Like that of Arc The Lad, the character animation in Arc The Lad II is quite fluid, and I liked the character designs. The spell effects are unimpressive but serviceable.
Arc The Lad II actually makes some minor graphical improvements over Arc The Lad in that the CG FMVs are much more interesting to watch, despite the fact that they are somewhat grainy and choppy in animation. In addition, the ugly character portraits that popped up whenever major characters in Arc The Lad spoke are gone now. However, Arc The Lad II's backgrounds aren't quite as colorful, and the colors used are a little bit more drab than those of its predecessor.
Even the sound in Arc The Lad II is almost exactly the same as that of its predecessor. The sound effects are excellent, and characters give off clear-sounding and well-acted battle cries when they attack or are attacked. Like in Arc The Lad, there is no spoken dialogue in the game other than these battle cries.
The soundtrack of Arc The Lad II is similarly excellent, and, like everything else in the game, borrows heavily from its prequel. Composed by Masahiro Ando, much of the soundtrack is dark and moody, fitting the game perfectly, yet holds some extremely compelling melodies. Like that of Arc The Lad, much of the soundtrack is performed by the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The Arc The Lad II soundtrack even uses many of the songs from Arc The Lad.
The storyline is where Arc The Lad II makes the most noticeable improvement over its prequel. Because Arc The Lad II is so much longer than Arc The Lad, the writers have much more of an opportunity to flesh out the storyline more fully, and they take full advantage of it. There are more characters in Arc The Lad II than in Arc The Lad, and they are for the most part better developed than those of Arc The Lad.
Because Arc The Lad II is so much longer than Arc The Lad, the storyline doesn't move quite as quickly, so it feels less rushed. The ending is also much better resolved, though it is more tragic than your average RPG ending. As the tragic ending would suggest, there are plenty of poignant moments throughout the game.
If you loved Arc The Lad but thought it was too short, Arc The Lad II is the perfect game for you. If you didn't like Arc The Lad, Arc The Lad II is extremely unlikely to change your mind about the series. I greatly enjoyed both games, and I wholeheartedly recommend Arc The Lad II to all strategy RPG fans.
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