Arc the Lad II was originally planned as the end of the Arc the Lad series. However, following the release of Arc the Lad Monster Arena, the appeal of the Arc the Lad games soared to phenomenal levels, and fans all over created petition after petition in the hope that Sony of Japan would give in.
The effort paid off, and almost 2 years after Arc the Lad II, Arc the Lad III was released. The fans in Japan were overjoyed, and Arc the Lad III provided some decent competition for other stellar titles already available in the Japanese market at that time.
It was at the time of Arc the Lad III’s release that Working Designs succeeded in securing the rights from Sony of Japan for a US release, with the bold offer to localize all the Arc the Lad games released in Japan so far. The deal was set, and the Arc the Lad series got its chance to see the light of day for English speaking gamers the world over.
The general prelude to Arc the Lad III’s story takes place at the end of Arc the Lad II. The King of Romalia, clouded by greed and ambition, released the Dark One, and upon doing so, brought great destruction upon the world. Were it not for the brave actions of Arc and Elc at that time, the world would have ceased to exist. Even though the Dark One was sealed away again, the destruction that was already released had devastated much of the world, and many lives were lost. The survivors of the catastrophe were left with ruins, but also a faint light of hope, a new chance to restore their lives, a new chance at life.
Ten years have passed since then, and the survivors have come to call the catastrophic event The Great Disaster. Many continents had since vanished under the waves, and the survivors have begun rebuilding in earnest on the remaining continents or just trying to stay alive. Travel has become limited, as much of the technology prior to The Great Disaster was lost, and aside for Hunters and sailors, few get the chance to travel the world.
Our story begins in Sasha Village on Eteru Island, a large land mass relatively unaffected by The Great Disaster. We see a quick flashback of a boy being saved from the flames of The Great Disaster by a Hunter. That boy has since grown up, and we are introduced to Alec, our hero for Arc the Lad III. The story begins in earnest when Sasha Village falls under attack from bandits, and Alec and his best friend sneak out to get a Hunter to save their fellow villagers. After the events that follow, Alec confirms his resolve to be a great Hunter and sets out with Lutz for the city, to take a test that will allow him to become a Hunter.
The main plot this time round is slower to start; unlike Arc The Lad II, there are slight hints offered in the early part of the game, but the actual plot doesn’t start to go into full drive until more than halfway through the game. The first half of the game sees Alec fulfilling his dream of becoming a Hunter and taking on Jobs from the Hunter’s Guild to gain Merits and Goz, the monetary unit for the Arc the Lad world.
Unlike Arc the Lad II, Arc the Lad III’s story revolves around the Hunter’s Guild and a fair amount of the Jobs are compulsory to making progress within the story. The bulk of the Jobs available are optional, but sometimes a player needs to do a certain number of ‘optional’ Jobs before a Job that continues the story becomes available. In simple terms, you’ll have to do Jobs whether you like it or not.
As mentioned earlier, the main gameplay of Arc The Lad III revolves around taking Jobs at the Hunter’s Guild. Each continent Alec visits has a Hunter’s Guild with its own list of Jobs for Alec to attempt, and a fair amount of the Jobs are part of the story itself. The Hunter’s Guild system in Arc the Lad III functions almost the same way as the ones in Arc the Lad 1 and 2. Players go to the Guild and view the available Jobs, select the ones they want to do, and then set out to accomplish it. The Jobs in Arc the Lad III have more of an added twist, though, with some requiring players to engage in variations of many types of mini-games that require good memory, good visual skills, or pure dexterity and patience. In addition, some Jobs even require solving puzzles or defeating enemies with your character handicapped or within a time limit!
There are also Jobs that are compulsory. These ‘Jobs’ are part of the story itself and not doing them means you can’t continue with the game. For instance, there is a ‘Job’ requiring players to go to a certain location to save a future party member. ‘Jobs’ like this appear after certain requirements are met, and these requirements are usually doing a certain number of the ‘optional’ Jobs in the Hunter’s Guild. As the story progresses, the Jobs get significantly tougher and may actually contain more than just one simple event. The puzzles and mini-games within such Jobs also get significantly tougher and trickier as well, so it is advisable for players to get used the earlier and simpler Jobs before they regret it later.
I have personally completed all the Jobs, and all I can say is that even though some of the later Jobs can be extremely frustrating or difficult, the experience was extremely worthwhile. The real benefits of doing the Jobs are actually cumulative. You will really feel for the characters in the game as you help them, and the way they develop is nothing short of amazing. There are so many varied events and outcomes. Some are sad, some are happy; there are passionate moments and even hilarious situations; there are events that allow players to know facts about certain characters they never knew about. The way the characters interact with one another and the many varied choices make it a very worthwhile experience. In fact, sometimes ‘Failing’ a Job or doing a Job in a certain way may later open up new choices that players may never even know existed!
Aside from the Jobs in the Guild, players can also view Wanted Monster posters and then hunt them down. Like in Arc the Lad II, these monsters are tougher than normal ones and have desirable items that they drop or which you can steal. Defeating a Wanted Monster awards a small amount of Merits and Goz, and unlike Arc the Lad II, all the Wanted Monsters can be found in the same area as the Guild, so players won’t have to go on a wild goose chase hunting for bounties.
Those who have played through Arc the Lad II, will notice significant changes. For one, the Weapon Proficiency system is no longer in use, and each character, aside from Alec, can equip their choice weapons only. Monsters can no longer be captured, this feature having been replaced with a new Cardish system, where Theo, a Cardist, captures monsters into Cards to be used as one-time summons. After summoning a monster, it will do a summon-style attack, a la Final Fantasy, and vanish. Theo can hold 5 Cards at a time and 5 of a same Monster Card. Equipment and items are all at maximum strength as well and no longer utilize a Strength and Level parameter like Arc the Lad II. Also, characters can now change equipment in battle without having to wait for their turn.
The core gameplay mechanics for Arc the Lad III are the same as those in the last 2 games. There is the Field Map, with all the locations shown, and players control a sprite of Alec to move to a location, pressing the X button to enter. Players can also open the menu on the Field Map to check Status, Sort Monster Cards, and Recover HP by casting healing spells.
Later in the game, the World Map shows all the continents and the name of the Field Map for that continent, and players move a target-cursor like device to highlight the Field Map they wish to enter. There aren’t many locations to visit in Arc the Lad III, but rest assured, the generous number of locations on the Field Map, as well as the numerous Jobs in the Hunter’s Guilds will guarantee that players will milk each Field Map for all it has to offer. In fact, later Jobs will even open up new areas or have you travel all over the world just to complete some objectives.
Battles in the game are much quicker now and also more action orientated. Characters and enemies have higher HP and MP levels than in the first 2 games, and moving speed in battle is very fast and fluid. The Jump, Counter, Catch and Throw options have been removed. Characters generally throw attack projectiles like grenades and bombs that are found or bought, for a quick ranged attack now, and automatically jump past simple obstacles or normal enemies. Spells and Skills all have fixed MP costs regardless of their level, so players won’t need to go to the hassle of adjusting the level of the Spell or Skill before casting like in Arc the Lad II. The most welcomed feature, though, is the ability to target an empty space for Spells and Skills. This allows a Spell or Skill to have maximum effect, much like in Final Fantasy Tactics.
The controls are smooth and responsive. Battle controls remain the same; pressing the X button when within range of an opponent executes an attack and pressing the O button opens the Spell and Skill menu. The Square button opens up a menu to check status, use items, change equipment, and change in-game options on the fly. The menu also allows Theo to use carried Monster Cards.
For mini-games that require button pressing or quick reflexes, the controls don’t disappoint, though in some instances they can be oversensitive. This is a good thing, as some Jobs in the game require precise button pressing or quick movement to succeed. Manual changing of the lead character has also been removed, and players will control Alec most of the time, except maybe for some minor instances during certain Jobs.
The graphics in Arc the Lad III have obviously gone through a serious overhaul. Aside from the fact that characters are now also included in the FMV scenes, character sprites are now more proportionate, and the game’s graphic engine has adopted a sort of pseudo-3D feel. Colors are even more diverse, character animations are smoother and more fluid, and the backgrounds for Towns/Villages, battlefields, and dungeons are slightly more detailed overall and do add quite a sense of atmosphere as well.
The insane combo animations from Arc the Lad II have been removed for simpler and quicker attacks, and almost every weapon except ranged weapons, have at least 2 to 3 different attack animations. Spells and Skills are animated better and are very fluid and quick in execution, while the summon-style attacks for Monster Cards are quite impressive, to say the least. In addition, the Field Maps are also more detailed.
The music in the game has gone though a stark improvement. I simply love the battle music, and the themes for each of the characters are very well done. Examples would be Tosh’s Samurai-style Battle Theme and Velhart’s Theme. The music in the Towns/Villages and dungeons also mimic the atmosphere of the places very well. Like Arc the Lad II, there is also a very catchy vocal song in the game. It’s a real pity that Working Designs had to forgo including a music CD for the package, as I’m sure a lot of the tunes in Arc the Lad III would have been very well received.
The voices are crisp, clear, and bug free, unlike Arc the Lad II’s voices. They are still all in Japanese, though, and really suit their characters. The game also has much better sound effects for the Spells and Skills, as well as for the weapon attacks. Many may complain that they don’t know what the characters are saying in battle, but others would complain if the voices were dubbed in English, so honestly it is a no win situation here. It also seems that Victor Ireland has kept most of the script as close to the Japanese original as possible, though players may recognize some of Working Design’s trademark jokes here and then.
In a final and conclusive note, the Arc the Lad Collection has offered me a very worthwhile and breathtaking gaming experience. The well developed characters, the multiple twists and turns in the plot, the diversity of places to explore, and the plethora of secrets have made this one of my greatest gaming experiences ever. I highly recommend RPG fans to overlook the fact that these games are old and to instead experience all that the world of Arc the Lad has to offer. Experience the game the way the creators wanted it to be felt and play them in order for a long and very rewarding experience. After all, Arc the Lad: Twilight Of The Spirits for the PlayStation 2 is just on the horizon, and the series will hopefully continue to amaze gamers for the years to come.