On a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been ravaged by war, small countries fight to keep humanity alive in the face of aggressive wildlife and increasing desertification of the planet. Humanity also continues to fight over the limited resources left to do alchemy, which is seen as the catalyst of their problems but also the only way to provide the materials needed to survive. In these troubled times, Quinn Bravesford leads an expedition to find the “Great Power” rumoured to be capable of restoring the planet to its original state.
While I like the tale that Arc of Alchemist weaves, and it even has a nice twist, the game is too short to really appreciate what the story and characters are trying to tell you. A lot of Arc of Alchemist’s story is told through Quinn’s thoughts on this post-apocalyptic world and how she wishes to find a fulfilling way to live and die. I really like Quinn, but it’s a bit harder to get attached to many of the other characters since, if you play without stopping, you can easily beat this game in one day; a playthrough takes under 10 hours if you focus on it. The story just moves a little bit too fast for its own good.
The primary way to get to know the characters outside of the story is to go back to base from the field, which will usually net you a cutscene where the characters interact with each other in some way. Axel and Micah slowly develop romantic feelings for each other, Rune and Sandra share a mother-daughter relationship, and Jester takes in a cat. If you spend most of your time in the field, you might miss some of these small moments.
Arc of Alchemist is an action RPG with a couple of tools at your disposal. The primary way to attack is through the use of the face buttons, and the kind of attack you launch depends on which button you press. You can also dodge, but I never felt it was actually necessary. Combat usually boils down to a button-mashing marathon without much thought given to trying anything different. Attacks are stiff and you can’t cancel them with a dodge or a different attack. So there is no strategy to the game’s combat; I just went in full tilt with my attacks and kept hitting buttons until the enemies died. Speaking of enemies, the game doesn’t have an indicator to tell you what level certain opponents are. Normally, I would excuse this since you can gauge your fights against enemies in a certain area and find out what level you should be. However, some foes are much stronger than other enemies around them, and I learned that the hard way when I got wiped out in a couple hits. You can take along two other characters who at least fight competently, but given how simple the combat is, I would hope the AI could handle itself in a fight.
The one saving grace of Arc of Alchemist is its base-building mechanics. You have a home base to return to where you can set up various facilities that allow you to buy new weapons and armour, learn new skills, and increase your characters’ stats. Good placement of the buildings that synergize well with each other rewards you with increased benefits from the facilities that you have built. Exploring out in the world and killing certain enemies rewards you with the drops needed to upgrade buildings or construct more of them. Making sure your base is built properly gives you the ability to perform at your best while you’re out in the wild.
The game’s chibi art style is cute, but I find it doesn’t really fit the post-apocalyptic setting very well. You have these bright, colourful characters contrasted by the dreary landscapes surrounding them. Perhaps you can make the argument that it helps liven up the world a bit, but I don’t think it really adds anything to the game. I understand this is a post-apocalyptic title, but I’m still not a fan of the environments. The game is just one long desert, with no real defining features whatsoever to separate one area from another besides a change in the time of day.
The sound department is pretty lacking overall. Arc of Alchemist only features a Japanese dub. The voice acting is all right but nothing that special. The soundtrack is where the real issue lies, and the problem is simply the lack of music tracks as a whole. There’s an overworld theme, the theme at base, a couple of different tracks for combat depending on if you’re fighting wild animals, automatons, or bosses, and a couple of different pieces for conversations. That’s it.
There’s not much I can say about Arc of Alchemist given its short runtime; there’s just not a lot for me to work with. It’s a very mediocre game with few redeeming qualities. Compile Heart is toying with my feelings once again.