Review by YusakuG
"The beginning of Sony's RPG Legacy"
Back in 1995, when the Playstation was preparing to be launched in the US, Sony of Japan was gearing up to release their first RPG - Arc the Lad. This game was eagerly anticipated by many people, since it was being developed by G-Craft, who had previously worked with Square on Front Mission for the Super Famicom. After much hype, Sony released Arc the Lad in the summer of 95, and it became one of the highest selling Playstation games at the time.
Even though it won over the Japanese game players, it seemed destined that US game players would never get to experience it. After a failed translation attempt by Sony of America in 1996, it seemed that all hope of seeing Arc in the US was lost. Now, six years after the series appeared in Japan, Working Designs is bringing the Arc the Lad trilogy to the States in one complete package. This review is of the original game, to give people waiting for the release of Working Designs' version a taste of what to expect.
Arc the Lad is a strategic RPG similar in style to Sega's classic RPG series, Shining Force. It begins in the snowy village of Toville. In this town, a sacred fire has been burning for many years. The fire is the key to a magic seal which binds a powerful demon. However, all is not well. The village's crooked leader has plans to extinguish the flame, and release the demon for his own wicked ambitions. He enlists the help of a young girl named Kukuru, who is a member of the family that keeps the sacred fire burning. She has been arranged to marry a man she does not love, and is obviously not happy about her situation. The leader of the village makes her an offer - if she extinguishes the fire, he will call off the marriage. Unaware of the consequences that will occur due to her actions, Kukuru agrees to the offer, and puts out the sacred flame at the top of a nearby mountain, thus unleashing the powerful demon. Now, a young man named Arc has become destined to defeat the demon, and whatever evil force plotted its release. Teaming up with Kukuru and five other travelers, Arc's journey will take him to the farthest reaches of the land.
As mentioned earlier, the game's set up is similar to that of Shining Force. A large majority of the game takes place on battlefields, where you can move Arc and his party about. Each character has his or her own field of movement provided by flashing square tiles that tell how far that character can move. You must move your characters towards the monsters on the map, then choose your tactic, whether it be attacking, magic, guarding, or using an item. It's very simplistic, compared to most strategy RPGs, and this is good, in my opinion, since anyone can jump in and start playing with little difficulty. It's good that the game's battle system is easy to get into, since you'll be spending a good majority of the game in battle. You can also find treasure chests on these maps which hold valuable items.
One of the things that made Arc the Lad such a huge hit when it was first released was its (at the time) unequaled 2D graphics. In my opinion, the graphics are still really good, though the game's obviously lost some of it's luster after six years. The game is entirely 2D. There are a few instances where 3D is used like during spells, or a sequence in an elevator, but other than this, it's all 2D, and all hand drawn - just the way I like my RPGs. The character sprites are small, but detailed and very well animated. The backgrounds have a lot of detail, as well. I especially like how each place you visit has it's own style. For example, one area is Chinese in style and design, while another has an Egyptian motif. Each area has it's own unique design, which gives a diverse feeling to the world that the game takes place in. The graphics may not be as jaw-dropping as they were back in 95, but they can still hold their own, and fans of 2D RPGs will be in heaven.
The sound certainly does not disappoint, either. In fact, despite it's age, it's still one of my all time favorite Playstation soundtracks. The game's score is vast and epic-sounding, and always seems to fit the mood of the scene. There are even some tracks that were performed by the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. These symphonic pieces really help capture the fantasy feel of the game, and gets you excited to play.
Another plus of the sound department are the voices. Each character has his or her own unique comments during battle, ranging from attacks, magic and even death. This was a new feature at the time it came out, as no other RPG had individual voices for each specific character during battle, so it was a big deal back then. Even if some of the impact is now gone, the voice samples are still high quality. Hopefully Working Designs won't make the voices too cheesy in the US version.
Despite all the positives, there are two glaring negatives that keep Arc the Lad from achieving the greatness it deserves. First of all is the length of the game. This game is one of the shortest RPGs I have ever played. It can easily be beaten in the area of 8 to 10 hours the first time through. This game almost feels like a small sample of something bigger that's to come. (And, in a way, it is, since Arc the Lad 2 was already in development at the time, and would fix all of Arc 1's length problems.) The game ends in a ''To Be Continued''-style, so it leaves the player hanging, and many story elements unsolved. This was kind of cheap on Sony's part, to get the player wrapped up in the game, then have it end only hours after it began, and make them wait over a year for the next installment. Fortunately, US gamers won't have this problem, since Working Designs is including all of the games in one box set. The game's simplistic style will guarantee that just about anyone with past experience with RPGs can beat this game. Hopefully Working Designs will make it a bit more challenging for the US release, without making it too cheap and unfair.
My other main gripe is that the game becomes kind of repetitive after a while. The game is nothing but battles with story scenes thrown in-between. There are no real towns, no overhead map, and no shops. You clear a battle, watch the story unfold, clear another battle, etc...Obviously, this format can get tiresome after a while. Sony and G-Craft would later fix this problem as well with Arc 2.
So, overall, Arc the Lad is a fine, but heavily flawed game. I personally see this game as a ''prologue'' - a set up to the later games in the series. It's a good introduction to the characters, and the world that the game takes place in. If I had to buy this game separately and on its own, I probably would have felt a bit ripped off. But, since Working Designs will be including the whole series, it won't be so bad when it hits the US. It's good to see the series finally coming to the US. It's a fun, involving RPG with a strong storyline. Fans of old school 2D RPGs will love it. Let's hope when the game finally comes here, it doesn't get overlooked because of its somewhat dated graphics.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 10/25/01, Updated 06/09/03
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