You never know what you’re gonna get when Compile Heart drops a new game. In my book, Compile Heart is one of the best in its space when it comes to experimenting with familiar systems. Arc of Alchemist is the latest effort with publisher Idea Factory. Right off the bat, its somber tone sets it apart from its siblings. From there, it combines action-RPG combat with ironic economic systems. Those systems are fueled by base-building, managing resources, and making long-term investments. I’d love to play more and really dive into these systems. But nearly every moment in Arc of Alchemist is buried under nigh-unplayable performance issues.
It’s a real shame, because a game like Arc of Alchemist seems ideal for the Nintendo Switch. Half the game is running around large, open spaces full of enemies and treasures. You get a big stable of characters and equipment options to play around with. That makes this sandy, anime apocalypse a cute little toybox.
The other half sees your time spent tooling around in menus. Each separate function intersects and funnels into all dem numbers goin’ up. Even though these systems are relatively simple, I feel like it would be fun to just vibe out with Arc of Alchemist. If only I could play it without giving myself a dang headache!
Arc of Alchemist doesn’t have the messy sort of problems like bugs or crashes. Its issues all come down to performance and optimization. For such a visually simple game, Arc of Alchemist runs like it is underwater. No matter what you’re doing, you’re looking at a frame rate so unstable that it kneecaps the action. This is a game with a mix of ranged and melee combat, skills, dodge-rolling and targeting, the works.
The intent here is clearly nimble, chaotic scrapping against enemies and traps, but there’s nothing nimble about a game reacting well after you’ve pressed a button. Before I threw in the towel, I resigned to hanging back and lobbing ranged shots while my teammates did the heavy lifting. And since misery loves company, the problems don’t stop at combat.
Even the menu, the crucial space of clicking on text and watching numbers change, runs like butt. This seems to be because the game is fully running in the menu, showing a grand view of your base. In theory, it’s a cool visual to spice up tinkering, but it tanks the frame rate. Even buying and selling junk items is a huge chore. I’m no armchair developer, but how does a game ship when it can’t even handle the menus?
I see potential in Arc of Alchemist. It’s real 7/10 territory, which is great for my tastes. That’s the space where games are small and oddly enough for cool ideas to thrive. Unfortunately I can’t stand to play it in its current state. Perhaps it runs better on the PS4, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that version has hangups as well. If a patch comes later to smooth things out, I’d totally love to jump back in and give it another chance. But as it stands now, at least on the Nintendo Switch, it’s basically impossible to judge Arc of Alchemist beyond its dismal technical performance.
Arc of Alchemist is available now for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.