Traditional RPGs on Nintendo’s waggle-wand system are about as few and far between as they come, so once every so often when one comes around it is typically a big deal. I was rather excited to blow the dust off my Wii and dive in to Arc Rise Fantasia, which was a joint project between Imageepoch and Marvelous Entertainment. It was initially going to be localized by XSEED, but they passed off the job to Ignition Entertainment. I really, with all my heart, wish that XSEED held on to it and did the localization themselves, because Ignition…well…read on to learn my thoughts on that.
The game is set in a land which is seeing a lot of trouble recently from Feldragons. Our main character, L’Arc, is seen dealing with one of these in the game’s opening sequence of events. L’Arc is a fairly typical soldier of the Meridian Empire, who is friends with the prince of the land, Alf (no relation to the TV show character). As the game begins, L’Arc is thrown from an airship by a Feldragon, landing in the middle of nowhere. Apparently, the middle of nowhere is where young ladies hang out, as he meets Ryfia, who we learn is a very special girl. She ends up following L’Arc around religiously because she believes him to be a person she’s been looking for, the “Child of Esa”. The story involves a lot of game-specific dialog revolving around Ray (energy), Rogress (the suppliers of said energy), Real (the evil god) and Imaginal (the good god). There’s also something thrown in there about the fate of the world, the “Child of Esa”, Divas and random other vocabulary that is too complex and confusing to go into in this review. Needless to say, L’Arc and his friends end up stumbling into a quest to save the world. Imagine that.
Even with the story ultimately being as cliché as they come, the specifics are what make things interesting. Sure, some things aren’t explained too well and get confusing, even for those who are used to dealing with narratives like this, but at least they’re fairly unique and interesting in their own way. The characters all have their own personalities and work pretty well together. There is nothing new to see here, though. There are no characters that really stand out, because they’ve all been done before at one time or another in some random JRPG.
There might have been something special here, especially when it comes to the characterization, but anything that might have been there was lost deep in the bowels of the god-awful, ear-bleeding, boring-as-all-hell voice acting. Where on Earth did these voice actors come from? They all need to be removed from ever working in this industry again. Either that, or whoever was directing them needs to be deported to the harsh tundra of Siberia, where s/he is forced to live out the rest of their days not able to touch another game ever.
Those may be harsh words, but hear me out. I’ve dealt with bad voice acting in localized JRPGs before. I’m a huge proponent of looking beyond that, because focusing too much on that and ignoring the other things a game does right doesn’t seem quite fair. However, there is bad voice acting, and then there is Arc Rise Fantasia, which is on a whole other level of bad. I could seriously hardly concentrate on anything else that was going on – not the story, not the characterization, nothing – while anyone was speaking, especially Ryfia. Seriously, are these actors’ names printed in the manual somewhere? I want to ban any RPGs they’re involved with in the future from ever entering my presence. There is absolutely no way I can overlook the horrid voice acting in this title, regardless of how well-rounded the rest of the game is.
My question to Ignition is – why isn’t there either 1) a Japanese voice track on the disc or 2) no voice acting at all. For the sake of all that is good and holy, focus more on good localization in the future. I was a huge advocate of Arc Rise Fantasia before its release, even on Ignition’s own forums where people kept saying the localization work was going to be bad. I had heard that before with various other RPGs, and it is never as bad as fans make it out to be. This time it was. In fact, I think it was even worse than anyone even thought. I hope the localization team at Ignition learn their lesson from this, because I hate ragging on an RPG like this, which would otherwise be a pretty decent title.
The only saving grace here is that, as with most current games, you have the option of turning off voices completely, sticking with subtitles. Being the game reviewer that I am, I recognized early on that the voice work was terrible, but I kept it on because I felt I couldn’t review the game well without seeing it all the way through. You, however, have the option of turning the volume on that hot mess all the way down. Completely off. Never, ever loud enough for you to hear even a whisper.
Moving on, the rest of the audio is pretty decent when it doesn’t involve characters opening their mouths. The visuals are also nice to look at, and the anime cut scenes are very well done. There are no other complaints in this regard besides the fact that nothing ever stands out as superb, it is all just “very good”.
The combat is probably where Arc Rise Fantasia shines the most. That may seem like a contrary statement, considering the fact that this is a typical turn-based RPG. But, battle here has a few things going for it. While characters take turn in battle and act individually, there are a couple things that tend to work together. For one, the entire active party shares a single AP gauge, which is used to perform individual tasks. For example, one character can act several times, thus depleting the gauge and not letting the other characters act. On the other hand, you could have each character perform one action during that turn, allowing them all a chance to whack away at the enemy or heal an injured comrade. I tended to use the “let every character use an action” approach, although there are times I would stick to just one character.
AP is also expended when you move a character, use an item or defend, which seems like rather annoying limitations, but they really aren’t in the grand scheme of things. Also multiple attacks from individual or multiple characters can be executed in a row to perform special attacks. Trinity attacks are probably some of the most powerful in the game, and are activated when all three active characters work together to attack a group of enemies.
There is also a lot of depth in weapon customization. You can take items which give special abilities to a specific weapon, and move them to another weapon (thus removing them from the initial weapon, of course). These can be placed on a grid. Certain abilities need to have the weapon equipped and used in combat for a certain amount of time to be unlocked and usable on another weapon.
One of the biggest surprises for me was the game’s controls. Before I played the game, I was a bit concerned about not having a classic controller, since I wondered how the Wii-mote and nunchuck combination would work. It turns out it works quite well. Sure, it takes some getting used to, but it is actually more comfortable than using a standard controller, since your arms can fall at your sides. It does feel strange, especially at first, but it ends up being my preferred way to control the game and I wonder about using this method with other traditional RPGs in the future. It should be noted that there are no motion controls, but using the Wii-mote and nunchuck combo as a sort of “broken in half” controller is quite nice, actually.
The game is pretty full of things to do, including a lot of side questing, which I would actually recommend, because it forces you to grind and not make it feel like such. Why do I bring that up? Many of the boss battles in this game are brutal. Either they are designed to be that way, or the game is designed for you to grind away endlessly for hours before you fight one. Either way, doing side missions typically require you to kill stuff, and that helps lessen the annoyance of having to grind. But hey, if you prefer the challenge of fighting these bosses straight away, be my guest. After dying three times to one of the first bosses in the game, I decided I was going to grind away to my heart’s content thereafter.
This is one of the major issues I have with a lot of RPGs coming out these days – the difficulty curve is more sporadic than a drunken monkey attempting to roller-skate down the highway. Now, let me just get this out there first – difficult encounters in RPGs is not a bad thing. However, the difficulty curve needs to be balanced. From Final Fantasy XIII to Dragon Quest IX to Arc Rise Fantasia, the difficulty curve could be smoother. Start off easy and build up to some pretty hefty encounters. Why do all these games have to throw difficult encounters at you early on? If I was not a game reviewer and not a fan of RPGs, I would be half tempted to give up after being killed several times in a row by one of a game’s first bosses.
Why are things so difficult? I don’t have an answer for you, but in almost all circumstances, you hardly get used to the battle system and the skills you have available (which are typically not many early in the game) before you get these ridiculous encounters thrown in your face. To reiterate – I’m all for difficulty, but what is true about games in general should be even more true in the case of RPGs with complicated, deep battle systems, you need to have a balanced difficulty curve.
Overall, though, Arc Rise Fantasia will likely be suitable for most JRPG fans. The story is pretty unique, even if some of the characters and the ultimate goal are cliché. There is a lot to offer from the battle system, especially for those who don’t mind a bit of a grind at times. The visuals are colorful, if not amazingly eye-popping. The dialog itself is pretty funny sometimes, it is just a shame that much of it is marred by the deplorable voice acting. If you’ve been aching to inject some much-needed life back into your Wii with a traditional RPG, this is probably your best bet for the time being. I would recommend it with one caveat – turn the voices all the way down and keep subtitles on. You’ll thank me later.
If I completely removed the voice acting debacle from my mind (which I so much want to do), this would be an arguably great RPG. Unfortunately, in all good conscience I can’t do that. Arc Rise Fantasia will go down in history as the one game that even I couldn’t stomach based on its voice acting alone, and that is saying a lot. Like I mentioned, I try to not read too much into the mediocre voice acting in many JRPGs, but even I have limits.