Retro Encounter Final Thoughts

Retro Encounter Final Thoughts: Arc the Lad

Retro Encounter Final Thoughts Arc the Lad and Kukuru looking at a mechanical airship in the burning sky

Audra Bowling

The first Arc the Lad game was a brief, enjoyable foray into an interesting video game world that could only do so much with its limitations. While playing it, I felt both enjoyment and underwhelmed in equal measure. But then I tried its sequel, and I fell in love with another SRPG series in the process.

Having watched the anime adaptation of Arc the Lad II, I was aware of many of the game’s story beats but didn’t realize just how watered down they were. The characters from the first Arc the Lad have moments to shine in the second game that you can appreciate all the more after playing the first. Characters new to Arc the Lad II include main character Elc, an understandably moody teen who you can’t help but root for, and Lieza, a strong-willed character with believable development and her own narrative arc. There’s also the ninja Shu along with other sequel characters who all have depth and stakes in the plot. The SRPG gameplay in Arc the Lad II is more refined, with battles offering differing objectives even if I still lament not being able to target empty squares with area-of-effect abilities. You can travel the world and interact with NPCs in the second game, even taking on optional side quests if you so choose. The sprite work is impressive in the sequel as well, complimenting a grand soundtrack.

By the time I reached Arc the Lad II’s bittersweet ending, a part of me already wanted to dive into the third game to experience more of the series. That sentiment says it all about how ultimately rewarding and entertaining I found Arc the Lad’s sequel. It’s a gaming classic I’m glad to finally have the opportunity to play!

Arc the Lad II Screenshot 09

Wes Iliff

The Arc the Lad series has a fascinating history, from being a relatively high seller in Japan to being a PSOne swan song in the west. But, playing it now, it’s easy to see both the cracks and the gold beneath them. The first game acts as almost a proof of concept for the second, with a few UI weaknesses that are shorn up with the sequel. Interestingly, the first and second were conceived as one game, though the delayed sequel may have worked in the game’s favor.

The second game is a huge step up from the first, from combat to storytelling to quest design. The first mostly benefits from being a very breezy game. The second is the opposite, a deep game packed with side content and powerful equipment and characters to collect and power up. If the first game weren’t worth it for the breezy fun, it’d be worth it just for the additional depth it adds to part two, a fine game in its own right. Overall, I’d still recommend the series to anyone with the patience for PSOne-era design. It’s a unique series with a lot of fun packed in.

Arc the Lad II Screenshot 073

Ben Love

Arc the Lad’s history and evolution as a franchise to me is synonymous with the history and evolution of the PlayStation. The original Arc the Lad is slight, full of ambition but reliant on well-worn tropes and competent execution of rather simple mechanics. The potential and foundation are all there for something incredible, but not yet fully realized. The sequel is an improvement by leaps and bounds, taking great care to immerse the player into its world, connecting you to Elc and his companions, and bringing in Arc and the party from the first game into a new context. It is as maximalist as the original is minimalist, with an expanded focus on exploration, side quests, new combat mechanics and character progression systems that work well with one another.

The series found its footing in only two years of development, in much the same way that the PlayStation was an unproven upstart in 1995, but became a juggernaut in the industry by the time 1997 rolled around. Final Fantasy VII is the touchstone most reach for when explaining the burgeoning dominance of console RPGs on the PlayStation. However, Arc the Lad II deserves to be in the same conversation as a landmark game in the genre that proved what the console was capable of and how Sony was willing to invest in the genre. Arc the Lad and its sequel embody the spirit and history of the PSX, and are worth experiencing as a bridge between 16-bit and 32-bit RPGs.

Arc the Lad II Screenshot 041

Nick Mangiaracina

I never got to play Arc the Lad on the original PlayStation or anywhere near when it initially released. Looking at games through the retro lens doesn’t always mean the game will be viewed favorably. Something that might have been novel or unique at the time is obscured by every copycat since. Arc the Lad, both the first and second game, had a lot of unique elements to them but few, if any, ever bothered replicating them.

Both Arc the Lad and Arc the Lad II are incredibly novel experiences, marred by questionable localization choices thanks to Working Designs. Arc the Lad, while not exactly gripping in the storytelling department, boasts the beginnings to a unique and wonderful world. So, going into Arc the Lad II was an experience. My expectations shifted so suddenly as the world expanded and showed me that the quaint medieval story I thought I had been shown was merely the tip of the iceberg.

This is a couple of bizarre games that are absolutely worth playing.

Wes Iliff

Wes Iliff

Wes learned to read playing Dragon Warrior on the NES and they haven't stopped playing RPGs since. Through a superhero-esque origin story, they started writing like crazy and eventually ended up writing features at a site they'd been reading since high school, which was... some time ago. They love sharing the joy in whatever flawed masterpiece has caught their attention this week, usually to the captive audience of their spouse, children, and small menagerie of pets.