Hallelujah! Arc Rise Fantasia (ARF) is the answer to my JRPG prayers. Lately, it has been hard to face the drought of quality console JRPGs; even the ones we did receive have been missing that little spark that makes the JRPG pop. Thankfully, I have good news: we shall be sparkless no more. ARF ignites the fire and then some. With its characters that develop a close camaraderie, a story full of twists and turns, and boss battles that are both challenging and rewarding, there’s no denying that this is an RPG that any JRPG fan shouldn’t miss out on. I’ll be honest, it has its faults, but the game captures the essence of the JRPG so well that if you’ve felt the devastating gaming effects of the JRPG drought, you’ll more than appreciate ARF.
Trying to Save the World in True JRPG Fashion – With a Twist
In ARF, the main character is a mercenary named L’Arc. One day when L’Arc is out, he bumps into a Diva from a different land named Ryfia. Ryfia is lost and confused by her surroundings and L’Arc takes pity on her naïveté about the world and tries to help her. This leads to one big “save the world” philosophical adventure that L’Arc couldn’t be prepared for… and neither was I. You see, there are two sides to every story. In the case of ARF, the two main religious philosophies are Real’s Law and Imaginal’s Law. Real’s Law promotes destruction as a means to save the world from its dark fate, while Imaginal’s Law fosters life to reach the same ends. This creates a divide between everybody from different countries and even splits your own party. Because of this, your party ebbs and flows and you never really know who’s really on your side.
I must say, ARF has one incredibly complex narrative. There were times when I was absolutely blindsided. The more experienced players are with RPGs, the harder it is to take them by surprise, and it truly was a delight for me that ARF was able to do that. The game does throw some hints at you along the way, but never does it make anything predictable. This is where the story best succeeds and why I enjoyed playing it as much as I did. The Real versus Imaginal debate may seem simplistic at its core, but the concepts go quite deeper as the story unfolds, to the point where not only the characters are questioning what the right course of action is, but so are you, the player. So, yes, the whole “save the world” RPG cliché is still alive and kicking, but at least it is not a cookie cutter RPG story and actually has some substance. When games cause me to ponder concepts, I think they’ve done their job well. Does ARF do it perfectly? No, but the game does go in the right direction, even if it does get off course at times.
As for the story, it has an ample number of characters to support it. You do grow attached to them throughout, but they do take some time to get used to. Honestly, Ryfia is one of those generic JRPG characters that will make you roll your eyes. Yes, she’s supposed to be naïvé, but in the game she acts so ignorant to even the most obvious things that you really start to question how stupid one girl can be. She ruins the game in the way that Alfinia ruined Grandia III for many. She is definitely an addition to my “worst female leads” list. Despite some problems with the characters at first, they do grow on you and have their charm. Some characters are better than others, but the cast is solid as a whole. The game offers skits, similar to those in the Tales games, to gain a deeper insight into the characters. They’re not quite as effective as their Namco cousins, though, as I never found this feature extremely useful in my “getting to know you” time with the characters.
The one major downfall to the story, I must say, is the horrendous voice acting. It does not help the characters’ likeability in any way. It’s more than cringeworthy – the voice acting is some of the worst I have heard in an RPG, even reminding me of Chaos Wars at times. The lines are just read so awkwardly that it ruins entire scenes. Not to mention, characters’ emotions are askew; sometimes the lines just sound robotic. You’ll be happy when you don’t have to hear the characters’ voices and at least the music tracks in the game function well. Your ear will appreciate the music as it is your savior from the horrible voice acting.
The game’s graphics aren’t horrid in the sense that the game’s voice acting is, but they’re far from anything special. Characters look like Tales rejects; generic anime tropes that don’t animate or look particularly good. L’Arc looks like Lloyd from Tales of Symphonia strapped some belts to himself and decided to go for some more adventures. The battle animations suffice, although seeing the same magic and attacks over and over does get quite annoying. I really hope the horrid voice acting and mediocre graphics don’t turn many off from the game, because if you can get past it, ARF offers something worthwhile. And that more than shines through with the game’s battle system.
A Traditional Battle System that Refuses to be Ordinary
ARF tries on many hats throughout the game and isn’t afraid to spice things up and add variety to what might have been a very generic game. However, for those looking for something familiar, it also has that going for it too. ARF has all the staples of a regular JRPG: you’ll spend your time wandering around the world map to find your next location, exploring dungeons, taking down big bad challenging bosses, visiting villages each with their own flavor with NPCs that are just dying to fill you in on some back story (the game also will reward you with items for taking the time out to talk to NPCs), and collecting X number of animal parts on quests. The game also has the typical shops to buy items, weapons, armor, you can even go to the tailor and buy special outfits that unlock special skits. You can also see your party members in their getups on the menu screen; unfortunately, it doesn’t carry over to your character’s model in battle or on the world map. The game’s framework is where it feels like your basic JRPG. However, once you get more into the battle system, you’ll see where ARF succeeds at taking the traditional battle system to a new level.
ARF has a battle system that isn’t overly complex, but it isn’t overly simplistic either. ARF uses a turn-based battle system, which may make some assume that it’s slow and simplistic. ARF battles both of those stereotypes with unique solutions. First off, for a turn-based system, the battles play out rather quickly. Even if it isn’t fast enough for some speed demons when on manual control, you can always set the battles to autopilot by issuing tactics for the AI to follow. To be honest, I didn’t really depend on the AI battles, because the battles played out quickly enough where I didn’t feel like I was losing time by partaking in them.
When you enter battle, you’ll have action points (AP) for your entire party for each turn. Depending on your characters, your AP amount can change, so it’s important to try out different combinations to see what works best for you. Naturally, AP will get depleted depending on what actions you chose for each character. Special attacks and magic will obviously take up more AP than a regular attack or if you choose to use an item. The game does force you to find the right balance of attacks, skills, and magic depending on the situation. ARF also doesn’t force you to use every character each turn, as the AP is pooled for the entire party. If you wanted to, you could use up your entire AP making Ryfia heal the party. This is important because the game allows you to chain attacks together to form combos that will deal more damage. Therefore, at times, it will be beneficial to focus on one character more than others. Characters move across the battlefield like those in Lunar, and if two characters are in the same range, at times, you can also score bonus team attacks for more damage. Additionally, you have the option to move your characters manually on the field. And let me just say, this is one game where positioning matters, mainly in difficult boss battles.
There’s even deeper skills to use in battle to deal maximum damage. Each character will learn their own special moves, called Excel Acts, as they level up. These take up AP as well, but they will also use a character’s SP, which regenerates with regular attacks. But that’s not where this ends. There is still a ton of customization you can do with magic and attacks. Similar to attacks, you can sync your magical attacks together and deal more damage. In addition, during battles, raystones pop up that can strengthen not only your magical attacks, but the enemies you are facing as well. It’s important to take advantage of these, but also make sure your enemy can’t benefit from them either. Sometimes you’re better off destroying them. There’s even customization beyond what you can do in battle, as ARF features a massive customization system for equipment and skills
Let’s start with Arm Forces, the weapon customization in the game. Each weapon has a 4×4 grid that can fit different-sized and shaped Arm Forces that give the characters a myriad of skills and statistic boosts, although a weapon will start off with some of its space blocked off. While you battle, you will not only gain EXP, but also something called Weapon Points (WP). Once you gain a certain amount of WP, you will not only unlock space on your Arm Force Frame, but you can also free up some of its weapon pieces. These weapon pieces are akin to Arm Forces, and are the native abilities on each particular weapon. Once you unlock a weapon’s pieces, you can use it on any other character’s weapon, as well. Fans of Tales of Vesperia might find the system somewhat familiar, but Arc Rise Fantasia’s system is much deeper. The weapon pieces and Arm Forces fit together like Tetris pieces, and filling up a weapon’s entire frame will unlock a special ability.
Another deep area of customization in the game is magic. During the game, you’ll gather different gems for certain elements that can be set into each character’s orb. Each character’s orb has a certain amount of magic slots that can expand throughout the game with a trip to the magic shop. Also, upgrading magic doesn’t just require money; you’ll also need Device Points (DP). Each orb has a certain amount of DP and it can never gain more, so it’s important to meter out upgrades the way you want them. Once an orb is out of DP, it cannot be upgraded any further. You can upgrade your MP (the number of times you can use your magic in battle) and boost your magic of a specific element. There is a lot of trial and error with the magic system: sometimes, just placing your gems next to each other in your orb can grant you a new elemental power. The reverse is also true, if place two opposite elements next to each other your magic will be weakened.
Sounds like a lot to keep track of? It is, but the great part is that nothing is too difficult to grasp and utilize in the game. Once you take it all in, it’s pretty fun to try out new combinations for your weapons and magic. I’ll note here that random battles in ARF aren’t difficult, it’s when you get to the big boss battles that you’ll have to strategize the most. This game is not a cakewalk and if your strategy is off, the doom of the game over screen will enlighten you that you’ve made a mistake. I died a few times along the way in this game even when I thought I was prepared. Once you take down the big bosses, you feel a sense of accomplishment. There’s no doubt about that and I enjoyed the challenge. However, there is one thing that almost put me over the edge in ARF more than a few times: inconsistent save points. Sometimes the game did a good job with them and braced you for a boss battle that was on the way. Other times, you would walk into a boss battle without any warning. This was especially frustrating in dungeons with a lot of story and where you grinded for quite some time before you hit the unexpected boss. It’s easy to die in a boss battle, and it hurt even more when I had to re-grind and do that hard work all over again. And while the game did a lot to spice up the battle system, things got repetitive after a while. It was very much, “travel to this town, then to this dungeon, cutscene, rinse and repeat.” I’m very used to it as an RPG fan, but I did begin to get bored around the halfway mark. I’ll also note that there are battles where the win/loss outcome changes certain events in the game. It’s just another curveball the game will throw at you, which is a good way to keep you on your toes.
It’s All About the JRPG Charm We’ve Been Missing
Flawed? Sure. Is Arc Rise Fantasia the best RPG I’ve played? Far from it. However, Arc Rise Fantasia captures the heart and soul of the JRPG so wonderfully that it will be easy enough to overlook the flaws. It won’t win any awards, but I guarantee it will win fan favorite status. You can’t deny its JRPG charm, that’s for sure. With its unpredictable story and battle system that does just enough new, especially in terms of customization, Arc Rise Fantasia is an all-around successful game. Do you want story or gameplay? With Arc Rise Fantasia, you don’t have to choose. Have you been longing for a fun console JRPG? Mark my words: this is it.