Lord of Arcana is an action RPG what focuses securely on trying to nab a bit of the Monster Hunter pie – a pie that isn’t eaten much in the West for varying reasons. While the foundation is solid, and I think the game holds a lot of potential, I personally think it hung out too close to the bigger boys on the field. That’s odd, considering Square-Enix is themselves one of the bigger boys when it comes to the RPG genre. Let’s take a look at what surprised me, and what went wrong.
The story in Lord of Arcana is pretty mediocre, to be honest. But, I wouldn’t particularly expect anything else from a game that is trying to go up against the Monster Hunter franchise, because those games have hardly any story of note, as well. You play as a strong warrior who takes on the task of descending to the earth to help reunite the Arcana and take on their power, to help save the world. It’s very basic and it could be great, but isn’t taken far enough.
You begin the game as a uber-powerful warrior, charging through a dungeon, killing mini-bosses to unlock doors then, eventually, taking on a huge dragon. I actually quite enjoyed this dungeon. The combat, once you got into it, was pretty solid and there were some unique weapons available to pummel your way through the enemies, such as the polearm that shoots magic out of it – that was my weapon of choice just because I had never seen anything like it before.
Once I was near the end, and finally fighting the boss of the dungeon, a huge dragon, I thought I was actually going to like this game. The combat seemed fairly fun, and elevated itself beyond relying entirely on button mashing, which is a trap many action RPGs tend to fall into. You were able to mix things up by doing a couple special attacks that were specific to your weapon, as well as summoning a huge creature to do a nice, powerful attack when your mana was full. When there’s a single enemy on screen, I’d attack with my weapon, as it didn’t take much to bring down. When there were multiples, instead of the tedium of button mashing, I simply performed a summon to knock their health way down, or wipe them out completely. I felt powerful, it felt fun and – aside from the horrid camera controls – I thought the game was going to be better than expected.
Then, they took all that away. As soon as I defeated that dragon at the end of the starter dungeon, I got stripped of my powers, my armor and my dignity and sent to this town where I had nothing.
From here on out, the game was half-hearted, mediocre, tedious and, quite frankly, boring. Sure, you do get stronger once more down the line, but you have to go through so much tedious fighting and repetitive questing to get there that, by the time that happened, it wasn’t fun anymore.
The visual acuity of the title isn’t all that impressive and seems rather mediocre compared to what the PSP could push out in other similar titles. Not that visuals are everything, mind you. I personally don’t think they’re that bad, but they’re not great either. It didn’t detract from the game at all, though. No, other things took the cake when it comes to that. The audio isn’t all that bad, and melds itself to the situation. When you’re exploring, things are fairly mellow, but as you progress into deeper territory and strong enemies, things start reverberating in a way to get your adrenaline pumping. The mild voice work isn’t bad, either.
When you first arrive in the town, stripped of your gear, you’re directed to join a guild that will send you of on quests to make money, collect items and all sorts of stuff. From here on out, this game is basically Monster Hunter. Straight up. Horrid camera controls and all. I want to stab myself in the eye, repeatedly.
The town has your typical NPCs – blacksmith, alchemist, storage, guild NPCs that you can receive quests from and any number of others milling about. From here, you set out on your adventures, taking on quests that, when complete, generate income. The monsters you kill for the quest, including bosses, drop items that you can use in crafting weapons, armor and just generally customizing your own character. At this point, that was frankly the biggest motivator to get through the rest of the game, because I find this sort of thing enjoyable. The customization was pretty decent.
What is different here – although I’m not entirely sure it’s needed, although I appreciated the feature – is that, not only do you initiate combat yourself, but it works a lot like many other RPGs that see the enemy on screen instead of being thrust into random invisible encounters. As you approach the enemy avatar on screen, you can initiate combat with it by hitting it with your weapon. This gives you an advantage in battle of higher attack or defense versus the goblins, dragons or whatever you’re fighting. If they get the jump on you, you’ll be at a disadvantage.
You’re then taken to a separate battle field, you don’t just flow right into the fight in the same space you’re exploring in like Monster Hunter. I’m not sure why it was designed this way, but I almost prefer it. However, it does seem to portray a lack of cohesiveness between the player and their environment and, in a game that is trying so hard to emulate what has come before, I find this a kind of odd design decision.
Combat consists of each of the four face buttons being a different form of attack based on your equipped weapon. There is some variety to battle, and it does improve as you move through the game, inching closer and closer back to that “all powerful” feeling they gave you in the first 30 minutes. During battle you do have to analyze and react to the monster’s pattern of attacking and movement, which adds an element of strategy, but this isn’t anything new.
The issue with me in battles is mostly the camera. I hate the way they frakking make you rotate the camera using the D-pad. Who came up with this idea? Why can’t we let the player rotate the camera with the shoulder buttons and leave the D-pad for menus and using items in battle? Who came up with the idea that using the D-pad was a good way to rotate the camera? All these years I’ve been trained to rotate the camera while moving your character – it’s been in RPGs, in action titles, everything. Since when should I be forced to stop moving my character to rotate the camera? This little mandatory item cost me a battle many times and gives you a helpless feeling at certain points when it is physically impossible for you to rotate the camera while moving to keep away from the monster you’re fighting to even see what’s going on.
This was my biggest issues with the PSP Monster Hunter titles and it’s my biggest issue with this game. The extra tedium from the repetitiveness of just about everything aside from crafting and customization doesn’t help matters, either.
There are also online modes where you can team up with three others for multiplayer quests and challenges, but if there’s anyone else to play with in my area or online in general, please let me know where these mysterious people are.
However, I will say this – if you’re a fan of the Monster Hunter games, you will probably enjoy this, if for nothing else than the fact that it retains a very similar style of gameplay. Quest, kill, collect, craft, get more powerful, rinse, repeat. I can certainly understand the draw of that type of action RPG and I would be right there with the fans, but there are just too many drawbacks to it at the same time. While they are there in other titles of this sort, they really stand out here for some reason.
Remember, I thought I was going to like this game based on the first 30 minutes, then things changed dramatically. I’m not a fan of giving a player something, then taking it all away. Start me with nothing and build me up, and I’ll be happier. If you’re going to copy something that has done everything (except the camera) better, you need to have something that will stand out and scream, “Hey, I’m better than that OTHER title, look at me!” I saw nothing of the sort here, I’m sad to say.
Like I mentioned, I do think fans of the Monster Hunter franchise should check out Lord of Arcana if they’re looking to pass the time, but otherwise I would pass on it and wait for more action-oriented fare from Square Enix like The 3rd Birthday, Dissidia 012 [Duodecim], or even pick up Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. Skip this, you’ll thank me later.
- Title: Lord of Arcana
- Platform Reviewed: PSP
- Developer: Access Games
- Publisher: Square-Enix
- Release Date: 1.25.2011
- MSRP: $39.99
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.