Review by dancer62

"Arcane, yes, but not really all that bad"

Lord of Arcana: one of the three major Monster Hunter-type games for the PSP, technically an action RPG, with the main play mechanic of hunting monsters for money and resources, and crafting better weapons and armor to hunt more monsters. Certainly less hyped than the other two, and the victim of poor critical reviews, how does the Square Enix offering compare with the actual Monster Hunter series and with Gods Eater Burst?

Gods Eater is a science fiction title set in a ruined city, after the monsterpocalypse. The Monster Hunter series is also science fiction, set on another planet, with indigenous sentient species with their own legends of precursor races, and a hunter-gatherer economy with some residual high technology. Lords of Arcana seems to be in a pure fantasy setting, in a hunter-gatherer economy with operative magic (and, since it's Square Enix, a species of Moogles, here termed Vendels). Gods Eater has an explicit story, with anime cutscenes, in the other two titles, story is only implied by the context. In all cases, our goal is to become the best monster hunter.

After the tutorial, we start out in a village that serves as a hub for missions, and provides shops and a place to save the game. Exploration involves cramped, linear areas, more reminiscent of the claustrophobic corridors of Phantasy Star Portable than of the lush landscapes of Monster Hunter. Monster fights transport you to a flat circular arena, with no terrain features other than the glowing border of the area itself.

Unlike MH or GEB, LOA has a lock-on system. The lock-on is poorly implemented, requiring you to hold the L shoulder button down, for twenty minutes or more at a time. Sigh! Unless you maintain lock-on, you can't get a prompt for the finishing move. eh? Children, can you spell hand cramps? "The Claw" for camera control in MH is a relief by comparison.

Difficulty level? Sky high! The weakest mooks are tougher than the velociraptors in Monster Hunter, requiring at least four clean combos with your favorite weapon to put them down. Middling mooks, the skeletons, are invulnerable unless you circle and strike them from behind (and the graphics make it difficult to distinguish "behind"). The first boss, a fire troll, think Khezu. Tons of hit points, fire attacks that strip all your health in two strikes, and takes minimal damage from your crappy weapons. Strategy? Strike, retreat, circle, dodge, repeat, for 20 minutes, until you get a (slim) chance at the "Coup de grace" where the action switches from real-time attack and defense to a follow-the-prompts button press timing minigame to end the conflict. Or the boss gets tired of the fight and limps away, leaving you to start over.

Yes, like Monster Hunter, a boss monster low on health will limp off to another area to heal, unlike Monster Hunter, you can't chase it to the next area, Arcana monsters lock the door behind them, requiring that you wander around the area to find and re-enter the portal before you can resume the fight. Sigh! And finishing a long and boring boss fight suddenly shifts to a crappy version of "Simon".. follow the on-screen prompts and press the buttons, press X, press O, press [], press ^, oops, your timing was off.. monster revives, start fighting again.. sigh! Gee, Monster Hunter mixed with Guitar Hero, minus the music, who thought that was a good idea? Plan on wasting a lot of hours to finish the first boss, so you can start to craft items and weapons, if you don't throw the disc across the room first. Like Monster Hunter, you qualify for the next level by doing a quest against a boss monster using inadequate equipment, once you can upgrade your equipment, that boss will be relatively easy (if you have memorized the sequence of button presses for that boss' minigame)

Fun? In MH or GHB there is a sense of accomplishment after completing a quest. In LOA, it's more a sigh of relief at completing an unpleasant task. Gee, I'm glad that's over! The game doles out rewards in miserly amounts. A lot of crafting depends on monster "cores", boss cores may or may not be dropped after a lengthy boss fight, while mook cores can be obtained by fighting a mook in an active red "Arcana" zone. Not as frustrating as collecting monoblos hearts in Monster Hunter, but close.

I want to like this game, I really do, but I'm taking time out from playing Dissidia 012 and 3rd Birthday, and Lord of Arcana is not easy to like. I notice I've overused the word "annoying" in this review, but I guess that's OK, it is descriptive. I've overused "crappy", too, but that's descriptive, too.

Lord of Arcana has an active following on the Gamefaqs LOA board and the LOA answers section. Not as large and active as the MH boards or the GEB boards, but still impressive. There is lots of good advice that otherwise has to be obtained by trial and error, because the game manual is worthless.

What is the bottom line? If you're a fan of Monster Hunter, you'll be a bit put off by the differences in Lords Of Arcana, but you'll cope, and end up having fun puzzling out the arcane techniques to survive and prosper. If you're not a fan of mission-based grinding for rank and materials, if you have a low frustration tolerance, if you're not enough of a masochist to bash your head against the same wall time and again, you'll hate it. If you have invested hundreds of hours in Monster Hunter and God Eater, if you're a true monster hunter, you'll adapt and never regret spending the money on this game, and it'll keep you entertained while waiting for the North America release of MHP3rd.

Pro: Decent graphics and heroic orchestral music
familiar gameplay for the most part
some innovative ideas

Con: frustrating difficulty level
grossly stupid button pressing minigame interrupts the flow of boss fights, almost a game-breaker in itself
poorly thought out lock-on controls (say "hand cramp", say "blister on pinky finger from bracing PSP against constant pressure on L shoulder button")

Rating: 7/10 entertaining after a slow start , some truly horrible flaws, not up to the best in the genre

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 10/25/11, Updated 10/26/11

Game Release: Lord of Arcana (US, 01/25/11)

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