Arc the Lad II is not just a sequel to Arc the Lad, it is also an extension of its story. The remaining half of an originally one-part project, Arc the Lad II had to be separated from Arc the Lad due to time constraints. Fortunately, it was a smart decision, considering how great this game has become. In fact, many Japanese gamers, and those who had played the Arc the Lad games, touted Arc the Lad II as the gem of the series.
Arc the Lad II starts off were Arc the Lad left off, but not in the fashion most would expect. Instead, we are introduced to a whole new cast, as well as a new lead character, Elc. Elc is a Hunter, a mercenary that takes Jobs from the Hunter’s Guilds for money and fame. Elc’s family and fellow villagers were killed when he was a mere child, and the subsequent events were so horrid that he lost his memories of most of them. His mentor and fellow Hunter, Shu, later rescued him in a desert, and since then Elc has thrived to be a skilled Hunter. However, Elc is still plagued by nightmares of his past, and eventually seeks to find out the truth behind his lost past.
The story begins to flow in earnest during one of Elc’s jobs at the start of the game. During that job, he meets a mysterious girl Lieza, and also stumbles on those who ruthlessly seek her power. After rescuing her, Elc begins a journey to not only seek out his lost memories, but eventually to join the flow of fate and cross paths with Arc. As their stories begin to intertwine, they will eventually set out to stop the dark chain of events that would herald the revival of the Dark One, whose presence was merely hinted at in Arc the Lad.
Arc the Lad II has a huge cast of characters, and in addition to those already assembled, Elc himself will meet and make many new allies as well, and when combined together with Arc’s team, the cast of characters is simply amazing. Each character has their own form of conflict and their own journeys to take. Over the course of the game, players will witness conclusions of almost all the characters’ stories. Elc seeks to face his past so that he can move on, Shante seeks to find out what happened to her brother, Lieza seeks to find out the fate of her fellow villagers, and much more, making the story of the game that deeper and more intriguing.
Making Arc the Lad II even more worthwhile is the Save Data Conversion feature implemented in the game. A nifty feature later used in games like Suikoden, the SDC feature allows fans that have completed the first game to transfer that data over to Arc the Lad II. Doing so allows a lot of significant changes in the game that make it feel even more like the complimentary half of the first game rather than merely a sequel. Character status and levels from the first game transfer over, new quests, secret items, and other minor changes are all over the game, making it a more worthwhile gaming experience than a non-converted game.
Arc the Lad II is significantly harder than Arc the Lad will ever be. The enemies are much stronger, and most of them are no longer one-hit killed wimps like in the first game. Characters can now purchase items and equipment to boosts their strength and compensate for the tougher enemies. They can only equip 3 items now as well: a Weapon, Armor, and an Accessory.
Players can also freely roam Towns and Villages to talk to the residents, buy stuff, or check for Jobs at the Hunter’s Guilds. Players can freely roam on battlefields when enemies are defeated, though this is more for those multiple-level dungeons or locations. I can’t see the purpose of running around normal training fields, as there is no search function anymore, except during some Jobs or special situations.
New to the game will be the Hunter’s Guilds. As mentioned earlier, Elc and Shu are hunters, and to make a living, they take Jobs at the Guilds to get their rewards, or to hunt down Wanted Monsters for their bounties. This system may sound familiar, especially to those who have played Phantasy Star IV, but rest assured, the Hunter’s Guild system plays a very significant role in Arc the Lad II. Most of the Jobs are quite optional and add an extra twist to the story. Others may open up unique gameplay elements and more interesting remarks from characters. Some even have references to the overall plot of the story! As the story progresses, Jobs will also get significantly tougher, and may even require players to roam all over the world to seek out clues.
Players can skip most jobs if they so desire, but doing so will mean missing out on more than half the game! This is simply because some Jobs have to be completed to unlock hidden areas in dungeons, new locations, and even new monsters and items to find. There is also a lot of character development in most jobs as well, and missing out on them will be quite a waste.
A explanation for the Jobs system is simple enough: players go to a Guild in a town or village, if it has one, and accept an available Job. The Job’s details are explained briefly and the Goz, the monetary unit in the world of Arc the Lad, and Merits awarded are shown. Players then carry out the Job by going to the designated location to begin the Job or to meet the client that gave the job to begin with. After that, players will have to carry out the job as instructed. Most Jobs are simple: defeat all monsters, fight a certain monster to get item, etc. However, some of the later Jobs are unique; for instance, find a certain character, search out a certain place, or even find a way to do the Job! This system allows players to divert from the main story, not only to earn Goz and Merits, but also to experience fully what the game has to offer.
In addition to Jobs, players can view the Wanted Monsters posters in the Guilds and hunt them down for Goz and Merits. The other benefit of doing so is that these monsters carry desirable items and equipment that they may drop and which can be stolen. These monsters are reasonably strong, so players will have to make sure Elc and his friends are tough enough to take them out. Some Wanted Monster also appear only during certain Jobs or in certain story battles in the game, so they may be really tough to find or easily missed.
The World and Field Maps have gotten a reasonable overhaul. The World Map is now drawn out on a brown Map Scroll, and like the first game, highlighting an area and selecting it will get you there. The Field Map is no longer a flat outline with highlighted areas as in Arc the Lad, but rather a detailed representation of the area, with Towns/Villages and other locations like ruins and dungeons all distinctively clear and drawn out. To go to an area, players simply maneuver the character sprite to the location, which will then show the location’s name. To enter, all the player need to do is press the X button.
When roaming an area like a Town/Village or a huge multi-area dungeon, players can alternate the lead character by pressing the L2 or R2 buttons. This is more useful in a Town/Village as sometimes what an NPC says is dependant on who the lead character is. Sometimes it is also interesting to see the opinions of each of your characters as well, especially when exploring the bathtub in a villager’s house on Yagos Island early in the game. Some dungeons also require a certain lead character to proceed as well, though it is not very common.
Character customization is also taken to a whole new level in Arc the Lad II. Characters now have weapons they are proficient in. For instance, Elc is skilled in the Spear, but he is able to train in the ways of using a Sword or an Axe. A Sword has higher power than a Spear, but lacks a Spear’s range, and an Axe is more powerful than a Sword, but lacks its accuracy. Player’s decide what they want their characters to specialize in, when a character uses a weapon long enough, their skill with that weapon increases, and they become more proficient at using it. With this system, it is not necessary for Elc to use a Spear all the time or for Lieza to use Knives all the way.
The inclusion of ranged and piercing weapons adds a whole new level of strategy to battles in the game. Spears can be used to attack enemies a square away, without risk of a counter, or can be used to skewer two in a straight line. Other weapons like rods and guns also have their own unique range and attack styles to take on multiple foes. Enemies also have access to such weapons, so learning how to deal with them is another point to take note off when planning a battle strategy.
Unlike the first game, battle party size has been cut down to 5 members at a time. Other notable changes are that enemies are tougher, spells are no longer selected from a ring (instead chosen from a simple menu), and there are more victory conditions.
Controls are functional and almost identical to those in the first game. On the Field Maps or in non-battle areas, the controlled lead character moves fast enough, and during battles the controls are easy and fast to access. To attack an enemy, simply position a character within range and an attack cursor will appear above the enemies that are within the weapon’s area of effect. Then, like in the first game, an attack is executed by simply pressing the X button. To access the Spell/Skill Menu, all a player has to do is press the O button to open the menu, select a Spell or Skill, select the enemies to attack, then press the X button. This allows for reasonably quick battles, since attacking and using Spells/Skills is relatively quick and players don’t have a need to plow through multiple menus to do so. Saving a game is done by opening Save Logs, represented by white books places in Inns, rest areas, and in large dungeons. Being able to save a game in a large dungeon is definitely a welcome feature.
The graphics in the game have undergone a marked improvement; as mentioned earlier, the Field Maps have been totally drawn out instead of mere highlighted areas, and the World Map looks slightly nicer. Towns/Villages in the game all have their own unique style and atmosphere, ranging from a normal city style to an arid desert town. Dungeons and battlefields also have their own style depending on the area or type of place. There are large spooky labs, sandstorm-blasted deserts, even bamboo forests! The graphics really bring out the atmosphere of the many diverse locations in the game.
Character sprites have received a slight overhaul as well, and seem slightly more detailed and colorful then those in the first game. They also have more frames of animation during battles, and they animate very smoothly. The same applies to the enemies; there are even huge multiple-part bosses to boot!
Aside from some very cool attack animations where characters and monsters rain combos upon each other, the game’s Spell and Skill animations have also improved, though some spells reuse animations (examples being Arc’s Meteor Shower and the Earth Spell, Mud Storm). The improvements are good, nonetheless. Spells like Divine Judgement and Lightning Bolt have never been so good.
The Main Theme of Arc the Lad makes a grand return in the intro movie for the game, and some BGM make a return to the game as well. There are also a lot of new tunes in the game, most of which are much better than the music in Arc the Lad. Many of the new tunes add a fair amount of atmosphere to the game; coupled with the better graphics, the effect is simply breathtaking.
Character voices are crisp as ever, though there seems to be a glitch where the voices are cut off if their action ends too quickly. I also noticed that the voices which speak when characters Level Up were left out. I know this because the XA sounds for the leveling up quotes can be heard in the XA Theatre in Arc the Lad Monster Arena. Another fact is that the voices are in Japanese, though I’ve already begun to understand what is being said, and I do feel that the voices really suit the characters very well. Still, some casual gamers may, and most probably will gripe that they don’t understand what is being said.
Overall, I can say Arc the Lad II is a very deep and engrossing game. With its lovable cast of characters, deep gameplay elements, large amount of side-quests and mountains of secrets, players can expect to be occupied for a large amount of time. Arc the Lad II is truly the gem of the series and truly a great gaming experience put together.