Arc The Lad was a grand project, it was originally planned to be a large game, but due to time constraints, the project had to be split in two. Arc The Lad is a short game, but it was the game that would precede a large and breathtaking trilogy, a game that had Japanese gamers talking for months, and started a cult following among them. It was a game that, for many years, Americans had hoped would see a US release.
Working Designs had approached Sony Japan for the translation rights to the first Arc the Lad when it was released in Japan, however nothing came from that deal at that time, and it was thought by many to be the Fire Emblem of the PlayStation. It would take the release of Arc the Lad III and a very tempting offer to translate all the Arc games before Sony would release the publishing/translation rights to the games to Working Designs. Fortunately for English speaking players, this would be the start of one of the greatest series ever released in the US.
The first Arc the Lad is a short game, a game that can be completed by casual gamers within an average of 10 hours, however, doing so guarantees that they will miss many special items, side-quests and perhaps a very special character. Arc the lad boasts many diversions to make up for its simple gameplay and its overall length, something players should not miss. In fact, it is recommended to play the games in order, and Arc the Lad starts off what will be fully developed in II, and concluded in III.
Arc the Ladís story begins with the Shrine Maiden of Light, a daughter of the Clan of White, Kukuru. She is tricked by the village elder into thinking that extinguishing the Flame Cion on the mountain would free her from her duty as Shrine Maiden and also free her from the need to wed the Crown Prince of Seirya. Upon doing so, a mysterious and ominous voice is heard and a blizzard begins to blow. We are then shifted to the village at the foot of the mountain, where Arc prepares to leave to investigate the blizzard, a blizzard foretold by his missing father 10 years prior. This would soon begin a chain of events that would lead Arc and Kukuru to the beginning of a long quest, a quest of friendship, discovery, and of course a mission to save the world.
The gameplay in Arc the Lad is extremely simple. The game is divided into a World Map and Map Screens. The Wold Map shows all the possible areas Arc can visit, and selecting an area will lead to a Map Screen of that area. The Map Screens show, in colored sections, locations where Arc can go, and to get there all the player has to do is highlight it and press a button. There are few instances that allow free roaming, and there are no stores or a monetary unit whatsoever, as most items are either gained by defeating enemies or found in chests.
Characters can equip up to 4 accessories in the game. The accessories do include some Weapons and Armor, but truth be told, they are limited and count as an accessory. Most accessories have significant effects to aid characters, though most become obsolete after characters reach a significant level, while some seem to serve no purpose whatsoever. The rest of the items in the game are merely items that can be thrown or used for special effects or damage. The items and accessories are also sorted out neatly and management is clearly non-existent.
The battles in the game are very simple. To attack an enemy, all a player needs to do is have the character move next to the enemy and then press the X button. Cast spells or using skills involves simply pressing the O button to bring up the Spell/Skill Ring, which allow the player to select the spell or skill they wish to use. Battles are quite fast and there arenít any special battle goals in the game, they are all simply ĎDefeat All Enemiesí objectives. This may cause a lack of variety in battles, but the simplicity does appeal to many casual gamers.
Short as Arc the Lad may be, it does boast some diversions. There is a Battle Arena that rewards the player with some interesting prizes, though a kind warning here: the battles can be brain-numbingly monotonous and very boring. Thereís also the 50 Floor Forbidden Ruins, fully loaded with treasures and enemies and no save points whatsoever. Challenging the Forbidden Ruins rewards you with loads of nice items and completing it allows for a very interesting reward. Other minor quests involve visiting certain locations at certain points in the game to get special items.
Menus in the game are easy enough to access, with the only gripe being that they can only be accessed during the start or during a characterís turn in battle. The Save option is available only in the Map Screens, and you may be prompted to save before entering a battle.
The graphics in Arc the Lad leave much to be desired, and the fact that the game is rather old doesnít help much either. The character sprites are simple at best and do boast some degree of animation. The locations in the game seem rather dull though, and any sense of atmosphere would seem somewhat lacking were it not for some of the music. Items and accessories are represented in tiny graphics in the menus, and spell and skill effects are extremely simplistic and mostly unimpressive. Enemy sprites are simple, but most are surprisingly smooth to animate. Of course, fans will also have to take into consideration that this is quite an old game, and in any case, graphics donít necessarily make a game.
Aside form the mainstay Orchestral Theme in Arc the Lad, most of the tunes in the game are simple, and while some do add atmosphere, most of them are easily forgotten. Quite a disappointment aurally, I must say. The game has voices in battle as well, and they are kept in Japanese. This is actually good and bad at the same time, the bad being that most people wonít know what they are shouting, the good being the fact that the voices sound so right for the characters. Iíd find it hard to replace most of the voices with English dubs, especially for a certain cute and well-liked character among Arc the Lad fans, Choko. Iíd be impressed if it were even possible to mimic her voice in English; heck, Iím impressed it sounded so good to begin with!
Overall, Arc the Lad is a short game, but it is also a beginning to what is a very deep and rewarding storyline. Another gripe is that the characters could have used slightly more development; most of them do get their events sorted out in Arc the Lad II, but still, it seems that the development in Arc the Lad still lacked something. Even so, Iíd recommend that gamers play Arc the Lad first and in order with the other games, not only for the great stuff unlocked in Arc the Lad II if you do so, but also for the sake of continuity. Besides, it may be hard to get back to playing Arc the Lad after playing Arc The Lad II or III, considering all the improvements in the sequels.
Arc the Lad Collection Intro
Arc the Lad II Review
Arc the Lad Monster Arena Review
Arc the Lad III Review