Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
Sony’s Arc The Lad games have established themselves among the strategy RPG genre’s finer offerings on the PlayStation. The tragic storyline of Arc, the protagonist of the series’ inaugural presentation, has kept many a strategy RPG fan riveted throughout its length. Arc The Lad III is the long-awaited sequel to the first 2 games of Sony’s popular strategy RPG series. Despite an all-new visual presentation style, however, it proves to be a bit of a disappointment, clocking in third best of the 3 game series.
Arc The Lad III revolves around Alec, a teenager aspiring to become a hunter, as in bounty hunter. Alec’s quest begins when he and his best friend Lutes leave their home town of Sasha and head to Iteo, the nearest big city. Although they begin with small jobs, their ambition eventually takes them to bigger things than they ever dreamed of, pitting them against an insidious organization called the Academy.
The foundation of gameplay from the first 2 Arc The Lad games makes its way into Arc The Lad III relatively intact. Arc The Lad III is a turn-based strategy RPG like its predecessors. In battles, magic and items can be used to aid allies or harm enemies. Like Arc The Lad II, Alec and his allies can wander around on a world map and explore towns in between battles. Players can also load their Arc The Lad II data into Arc The Lad III at the beginning of the game; although only a few characters from the first 2 Arc The Lad games are playable, most of the major ones make cameos in Arc The Lad III.
Arc the Lad III even corrects some of the flaws of its predecessors. Battles no longer have a tendency to channel your characters through narrow areas, saving you some time in that respect. In addition, your characters can now move through each other as well as enemy characters in the battle maps, allowing a bit more flexibility in your strategy. However, enemies can move through your characters, too, so it’s harder to protect weaker characters.
Other noteworthy changes are present in the series’ third installment. The leveling up of armor, weapons, and magic from Arc The Lad II has been eliminated; the only levels that the game keeps track of are characters’ experience levels. A discrete summon system has been added, too. In combat, one of the playable characters, Teo, can turn most non-human enemies into cards. Teo can then use these cards to summon the monster to his aid. He can only hold 5 cards at a time, but surplus cards can be stored in Monster Guilds. Nearly 120 different monsters can be summoned in Arc The Lad III.
Weapon and item creation is also an option in Arc The Lad III. Throughout the game, exploration and discussion with guild members will yield clues as to the materials needed for different weapons, armor, accessories, and items. Once the necessary materials are discovered and obtained, the desired object can be created in Item Guilds or Weapon Guilds.
Although it’s pretty solidly executed overall, Arc The Lad III’s gameplay carries a few significant problems. You can only take 4 characters into battle with you in the newest installment of the series, and the number of enemies that you fight in individual battles rarely exceeds 5. Combined with the fact that the battle maps are generally only 1-2 screens in size, this limitation diminishes the amount of strategy involved in battles, often making Arc The Lad III feel a bit more like a slow-paced traditional RPG than a strategy RPG. Because Arc The Lad III is a very long game, like Arc The Lad II, it’s possible that some RPG fans will lose interest in the relatively slow play long before the end.
Like the towns, some dungeons can be explored. These ominous locales generally contain multiple battle encounters, some of which need to be fought again whenever you return to the location of their initial appearance. Because most of the dungeons require a good deal of backtracking, they are sometimes annoyingly tedious to get through.
In addition, the difficulty balance isn’t too impressive. Throughout most of its length, Arc The Lad III is on the easy side, but in several spots, the difficulty suddenly increases drastically, forcing players to build levels if they are unable to create significantly stronger equipment.
Also, like Arc The Lad II, Arc The Lad III features bounty hunting. Unlike Arc The Lad II, however, where it was a diversion for the most part, bounty hunting is the focus of Arc The Lad III’s gameplay. Nearly every action that Alec and his friends take results from jobs assigned by the various Hunter’s Guilds. In Arc The Lad II, bounty hunting was a fun diversion; when it becomes the focus of the gameplay, it’s not quite as enjoyable.
In terms of its control, Arc The Lad III is fairly similar to its predecessors. Characters can be moved in 4 directions, and a dash button lets them move around quickly. However, the control isn’t particularly responsive, and movement is blatantly tile-based, even outside of battles, so Arc The Lad III controls considerably less precisely than most other RPGs. Also, the collision detection is quite poor. On the plus side, though, the menus are organized and easy to navigate.
Arc The Lad III is the first game in the series to feature polygonal graphics. Although the characters are still sprites and the game is played from a 2D overhead perspective, the backgrounds are completely polygonal. They look pretty good, too, in spite of drab coloration and overall blockiness. The in-game character art isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s passable. The spell effects and aforementioned summons are impressive, though, utilizing a variety of transparencies and lighting effects.
Some of the game’s events are shown in CG movies, and, thankfully, the CG in Arc The Lad III is by far the best in the series. The art is much better in the CG than in the game itself, and everything in the movies animates quite smoothly. The quality of the CG is excellent, too; graininess is at a minimum throughout.
Arc The Lad III is also the series’ first installment that doesn’t feature Arc, the protagonist of the first Arc The Lad game, as a pivotal focus in the game’s plot. Unfortunately, the relative absence of Arc seems to have sapped the quality of the script, too; Arc The Lad III’s plot is somewhat pedestrian. Character development is fairly weak, and the event-based parts of the plot fail to spark more than a passing interest. To their credit, the scenario writers at Arc Entertainment did a good job incorporating the storyline into all of the bounty hunting that players will participate in, but it’s unfortunately not enough to make the storyline stand out.
Through the first 2 Arc The Lad games’ soundtracks, Masahiro Andoh had established himself as an excellent rock-based music composer (and a skillful guitarist to boot). So it comes as a bit of surprise that his compositions for Arc The Lad III seem somewhat uninspired. Although the songs are generally pleasant to listen to, they’re not particularly memorable, and the melodies aren’t extremely compelling. In addition, too many tracks are repeated excessively in this long game.
Arc The Lad III fares a bit better in the rest of its sound department. Sound effects, particularly those involving spells, are solid, and the voice acting that accompanies attacks in battle is strong.
Overall, Arc The Lad III turns out to be the weakest Arc The Lad game yet. Combined with the lack of an outstanding plot, its relatively slow-paced gameplay discourages a recommendation to anyone other than diehard fans of the series, especially in light of the fact that there are many better strategy RPGs out there.
A US release has not been announced.