Lord of Arcana ReviewLouis Bedigian
Lord of Arcana left me speechless. Not in the way that video games often do; in fact, when a game is ostensibly good or offensively bad, it's hard for me to keep my mouth shut. It is in my nature to talk about games to praise their prowess and attack their asinine mistakes.
But Lord of Arcana, with its generic battle system, run-of-the-mill characters and sleep-inducing hack-n-slash combat, is a game that struggles to excite the player.
The problems start with the avatar creation screen, at which point you are tasked with creating a very simple male or female character. Players can choose from 16 different faces, three skin tones, eight hair styles, nine hair colors, and eight voices. The latter choice ranges from mildly annoying to extremely whiny, especially for the female character.
None of these options are particularly special, as the resulting character will only be marginally different from the default offering. Unlike the character creation features of Tiger Woods PGA Tour and other EA sports games, it is not possible to stretch or restructure the character's face and body type in Lord of Arcana.
From this moment on, it will be hard for experienced gamers to avoid fearing the worst. While someone who has never played an RPG before may continue on without any clue as to what's ahead, the rest of us know that mediocre characters are not a good sign.
After the opening cinema (a rare point of story development that quickly explains your journey), players are transported to a dark dungeon with a narrow path. There are enemies everywhere, and though you will probably expect to be able to run up and attack them as you would in, say, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Lord of Arcana likes to keep the game world separate from the battle world. While this is not a turn-based RPG, when your homegrown fighter makes contact with an enemy, the game will shift to a battle arena.
Many have compared the battle system which relies on repetitive hack-n-slash combos to Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star Online. But since my experience with Monster Hunter has been limited to an E3 demo, and since my experience with the Phantasy Star series ended with the Genesis, I cannot say that Lord of Arcana instantly reminded me of those titles. Instead, the .hack series a single-player franchise inspired by MMOs seems to provide a more fitting comparison. While Lord of Arcana does offer some multiplayer options, they are ad hoc only, which means that most players will be going through this game alone.
If you're unfamiliar with MH or PSO but have played Kingdom Hearts (one of Square Enix's finer action/RPG series) or Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, then you already know a little bit about this style of gameplay. But before reaching Lord of Arcana status, you must strip away the likability and replay value that Kingdom Hearts offered and replace those elements with silly weapons and finishing moves.
During the avatar creation phase, there are five weapon types to choose from: two swords and three staff-like weapons with large blades attached. The first sword fills the traditional/predictable quota required by so many RPGs, while the second sword is an enormous oddity that dwarfs the mighty blade wielded by Cloud Strife. This blade, called the Sword 2H, is so large that your character can only carry it by holding it with the blade pointing up. Its large size also makes it very heavy, which increases its attack power but reduces your character's agility.
(Notice how I keep saying character instead of the individual's name? That's because in this game, the name is irrelevant. He/she is little more than a polygonal shell.)
The other weapons have a similar effect: the bigger they are, the slower they move. This is especially true for the Mace and Polearm. However, Lord of Arcana does deserve some credit for the Firelance, a slow (but impressive) gunblade that launches the equivalent of a small fireball. It's not rocket science, but it is pretty awesome; players can shoot the fireball vertically or horizontally for an array of attacks that would make a Call of Duty soldier beam with pride.
Sadly, that is the coolest thing this game has to offer.
Visually, Lord of Arcana is one of the more generic-looking RPGs that Square Enix has published. The character and enemy designs are nothing out of the ordinary, at least not for someone who has played Japanese RPGs before. Those who have not may be quite amused by the male character's outfit during the avatar creation screen; his sleeveless, open-chest, open-back shirt looks like it came from a Lady Gaga video. In any case, without a great story to persuade players to overlook these polygonal shortcomings, it will be hard for anyone to believe the "don't judge a book by its cover" argument.
If Lord of Arcana ever had the opportunity to be a great RPG, it must have lost it somewhere between the concept phase and the actual start of development. While it isn't the most boring or most frustrating RPG to arrive on Sony's handheld, it is without a doubt one of the more depressing releases.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.