Arc Rise Fantasia gets off to a rather unimpressive start, which is a pity because a game’s opening hours are when it makes its first and most memorable impression.
The story opens with a flock (?) of dragons soaring through the sky. Dozens of them…maybe hundreds. In Arc Rise’s world, these are named “Feldragons.” The Feldragons attack a flying vessel packed with soldiers. As the troopers brace themselves for battle, a lone young man steps forward to take on the first Feldragon in line all by himself. This is L’Arc Bright Lagoon, your initially uninspiring protagonist.
The game then seamlessly cuts to your first battle, which solely involves selecting the “Attack” command from the battle menu and watching L’Arc have at his opponent. Once you finish the Feldragon off, more appear, and L’Arc is knocked off the vessel to the ground below. Somehow — don’t ask — he survives, and the body of his now inert foe lands not far from him.
Feldragons have a built-in self-destruct mechanism called “Felburst.” It’s what you’d expect — when a Feldragon is killed, it explodes rather grandly, with a blast radius to be proud of. L’Arc is about to be caught in the explosion when a singing priestess appears and sends the Feldragon off peacefully through the power of her song.
This is Ryfia, a priestess from a far-off land who was separated from her people during a monster invasion. Ryfia and L’Arc share a brief introduction, following which the two set off for the town of Topazion, where L’Arc can submit his battle report to his superiors, and Ryfia can figure out how to get to where she wants to go.
Here’s the problem. The opening scene with the Feldragons looks entirely unimpressive, as it fails to convey any sense of magnificence or danger surrounding the creatures, when they’re clearly supposed to make an impression, judging by the game’s dialogue. You never really get a feel for how vicious they are or that it’s a big deal that L’Arc managed to take one down all by himself. It might be an unfair comparison to draw, but Monster Hunter Tri’s camera work and choreography when depicting its own beasts in CG form are vastly more impressive.
Similarly, the battle between L’Arc and the Feldragon as they both plummet to the ground below is entirely devoid of any sense of urgency or thrill.
CG movies in Arc Rise, in general, are a little sloppy. Body language tends to be awkward and characters lack any sort of meaningful facial animation, which looks odd when you consider that the ingame cutscenes are slightly better animated in both regards. In recent months, the Internet has come down rather hard on Ignition Entertainment in anticipation of a botched localization, but Arc Rise doesn’t really need Ignition’s involvement to make a forgettable first impression.
That isn’t to say the localization is top-notch either. We won’t touch upon this too much, since this is a horse that has not only been flogged beyond death, it’s been zombie-fied, shot through the head by Leon S. Kennedy, and had an elevator dropped on top of it. Yes, the dialogue is awful. And yes, just as Ignition promised, you have the option to lower the volume of the voices or turn them off entirely.
Here’s the catch though. If you turn the voices off, it means you turn the voices off entirely…including in battles. (Not that the battle voices are any better, mind you) This means that every battle you partake in is going to consist of characters making a range of expressions and moving their lips, but no sound will ever come out. It…takes getting used to.
Something in particular that bothered me, personally, about the dialogue was the handling of Ryfia’s introduction. Ryfia speaks English perfectly, but given that she’s from a distant land, she doesn’t comprehend slang. This is understandable. However, Ryfia also doesn’t understand what a “girl” is, which struck me as extremely odd, since she doesn’t appear to be surprised by the existence of women other than herself when she and L’Arc reach Topazion.
Once you get there, you run into Prince Alf, L’Arc’s childhood friend and, in a sense, his “employer.” The introduction of Alf makes L’Arc himself a little more memorable. The banter between them is enjoyable, even solely through text, and Arc Rise has a neat system where, every now and then, a little indicator will pop up where you can hit the L trigger (I played the game using the Gamecube controller) to initiate a conversation that reveals interesting bits of past information about the characters. This is one of my favourite features in the game.
After you rendezvous with Alf, the trio sets off for the town of Jada, which is where Ryfia was headed before she and her people were attacked and, coincidentally, where Alf has some business to attend to as well.
The trip to Jada is where you get your first real taste of Arc Rise’s battle system. The “Trinity Battle System” relies on making smart use of Action Points — a common pool of points shared across your party that lets you perform different actions in battle. For instance, defending requires 1 AP, while attacking would require 2 AP. While it doesn’t matter too much during the first few battles in the wild, as you get further in the game, learning to manage your AP so you can pull off the most efficient moves each turn is crucial. In addition, using magic in battle requires MP in addition to AP, which ultimately requires you to keep an eye on both.
Magic use is flexible. You assign magic abilities to characters by fitting their weapons with elemental orbs. These orbs can be removed at any time outside of battles, so you’ll be able to swap movesets in and out as you please, which is great.
You can work a variety of combos into your regular attack moves as well. For instance, two characters casting the same spell on a single enemy consecutively will result in a “Tandem Sync.” The order in which characters — including enemies — will attack is displayed on the bottom-right of the screen, which allows you to set these combos up. Similarly, if affinity is high between any two characters, it could result in a free follow-up attack by the second character.
Also part of the battle functions are Excel Acts, which are special moves learnt seemingly randomly that do more damage than regular moves. These require AP and SP to pull off. In addition, you can assign tactics in battle for CPU-controlled characters, too.
While Arc Rise’s battle system is interesting at times, it does take some getting used to. The camera angle in battles sometimes makes it hard to figure out which direction to move the cursor in to target a particular enemy, which can get rather annoying. Most noticeable, however, is that when you’re done confirming your moves, the battle proceeds to play out all at once. It’s almost like watching an All-Out Attack from Persona, where characters on the screen — enemies included — clobber each other at the same time, which is supremely confusing to watch.
The final important point to mention with regard to Arc Rise Fantasia’s battle system are the Rogress. Think of these as the game’s version of Summons or Espers. Using a Rogress requires RP. This is a rather slow-filling metre that can be sped up a tad by using elemental magic that corresponds to the Rogress you have equipped. Once your RP gauge is full, you’ll be presented with an opportunity to use your Rogress.
Arc Rise allows for weapon customization, too. Certain abilities in battle — both active and passive — are made available through weapons you have equipped. These are called Arm Forces. Using weapons long enough will allow you to free these abilities, in the form of different Weapon Pieces and you’ll then be able to share them with other members of your party by attaching a Weapon Piece from, say, Alf’s weapon to L’Arc’s or Ryfia’s.
Each weapon can only hold a certain number of Weapon Pieces. This is dictated by its Arm Force Frame (think of your inventory from Resident Evil 4). Filling up a weapon’s Arm Force Frame entirely will unlock that weapon’s Secret Arm Force.
Upon reaching Jada, the game’s cast widens a little, and the sequence of events that follow are where the game’s story really begins. You’re introduced to two new party members and you get to fight your first real boss, which is a tough battle indeed. It also reinforces the fact that Arc Rise Fantasia has close to no loading times, which is a fantastic technical feat.
I can’t say I’m going to see Arc Rise through to the end, but for now, I am interested enough to keep playing just a little bit longer to see what happens next. Some of the game’s older cast members like Serge and Leslie look interesting.