The original Playstation is known for many things, undoubtedly the most famous of which is it’s ridiculous amount of quality RPGs such as Alundra, Xenogears, the Final Fantasys, Vagrant Story, and Arc the Lad I & II, along with multiple others. Arc the Lad III was a long-awaited sequel to the franchise and sadly it failed to deliver on the same scale the first two installations did. In fact, it’s most crowning achievement is that it was later released in a trilogy containing the first two games. As the first two had become rather pricey and hard to find, it was a welcome addition to have them available again, even with the disappointing Arc the Lad III included.
Being new to the series, I was immediately impressed upon starting Arc the Lad III. The game contained simple controls, a fun and accessible battle system, and what appeared to be an interesting story. These are the remnants of the better games in the series, which are sadly changed for the worst in Arc III. I’ll liken the game to a sprinter running a marathon: he looks great at the start and is leading the pack, but towards the middle his pace has slowed considerably, and by the end he is barely moving at all and it’s just painful to watch. While everyone else has finished far ahead of the sprinter with a much better pace, he is crawling to the finish line and you think he’ll never get there. This is Arc the Lad III.
You start off as Alec, who thanks to the opening CG scene, we know was mysteriously saved by a hunter during the time of the “great disaster”. After being saved he receives what is described as an “incredible sword” (once you go to a weapons guild you’ll realize “incredible” actually means “most basic”) from the hunter. Alec lives in a small town and doesn’t really seem to have anyone to look after him apart from his friend Lutz. Alec and Lutz are the definition of cliché and static characters. Lutz is the cocky loudmouth intended for comic relief, which is widely hit-and-miss, while Alec has made it his life purpose to become a hunter as brave as the one who saved him. Hunter’s are simply Mercenaries who do good deeds and are regarded as brave heroes. Upon becoming a hunter (don’t worry this isn’t a spoiler, it happens in the first hour and is just about the only thing that happens quickly) Alec is determined to go overseas and do good deeds with Lutz in tow. Yes, the plot becomes as aimless as it sounds. It consists of you simply performing a variety of contracts then getting paid for them. Some of these contracts are tied to a linear story and you will simply have to drop everything else upon agreeing to them. Literally all you can do to advance the story is accepting the contracts. It seems a balance was not really found here as there are a few redeeming open world features that you simply aren’t able to take advantage of very often due to getting thrust into immediately doing certain jobs. The job types vary slightly but not really enough to keep you excited. Some are simply fetch-quests, some are puzzles which vary in wit, while others just require you to kill something.
Traveling is controlled by an overhead map where you navigate the character around then select your location. This a helpful (and necessary) inclusion to allow the player to travel between locations without the tedious plodding back and forth some gamers, myself included, despise. Once you’ve selected a location you can explore it to the extent of your desire, or progress in the game…until you take a job. In towns you can go in and out of buildings such as the Hunters’ guild (where you accept jobs), the Inn (where you can rest/heal yourself, store excess items, or save the game), the Monsters’ guild (where you can store your extra monsters), the Bar/Pub (where there isn’t usually much to do), and a few other varying ones throughout the game depending on what town you are in.
The battle system, while impressive at first glance, is flawed. Arc the Lad III is a turn based strategy game, with hardly any strategy. The majority of the battles are way too easy and at first you level up simply because you attacked someone. Another strike against it is that the battles are all on small maps with no more than 4 members allowed in your party and usually no more than 6 enemies opposing you. The battlegrounds are maneuvered using a square grid system that dictates movement and ranged attack distances. While attacks and party members vary in purpose and specialties as they should, there really isn’t enough space or reason to fully utilize these skills. This is due in large part to the inclusion of the ability to jump over people and objects. For example, if you try to place a ranged unit behind a heavier front-line unit, then the enemy will simply jump over something and get to you. Terrain doesn’t effect movement at all which is extremely disheartening from a strategy standpoint. If there is a line up of rocks it should take you longer to go around them…unfortunately G-Craft didn’t agree and you just hop on over it. This is definitely a step in the wrong direction from Arc II.
An underutilized addition to the game is the ability to wield cards that contain monsters. You can capture almost every non-human foe you encounter and encompass their powers in a card. There are 117 total cards you can collect, and for the amount you use them it is really baffling why they included all of this. There is an extremely limited amount of characters who can wield these cards so it is really a small part of the game, not to mention a blatant rip-off of Pokèmon.
A decent leveling up system is included, and paired with the abilities to create weapons using items while buying new and upgraded weapons and items it makes for a good RPG experience in this regard. You will also find items and weapons in treasure chests around some of the dungeons to reward you for exploring multiple paths. However, you won’t get the chance to explore many paths if you go to the boss on your first one. This makes for a lot of backtracking and wondering about which, again, makes the game longer. A small plus is the game does have a sort of quirky sense of humor to it. Some dialogue will make you laugh (if you haven’t given up on reading all of it) and little hidden jokes are splattered around the game. An example is a sign I read in Itio reading, “Welcome to Itio, where men are men, and women are still objects.”
Another gripe with the game is the dialogue. Like most other aspects of the game it starts strong, then drives you insane over time. It is portrayed by a text box and you can tell that Arc III is obviously a Japanese game translated to English. To be fair, they actually did an incredibly good job of translating it, straight down to correct usage of slang words. I assume it was a no-brainer to do so due to the excessive amount of dialogue in every single scene. It will take minutes to simply have a scene tell you you’re going to catch a rat. This would be acceptable if it was making the characters more likeable or developing the story and making it feel more realistic, but it really just frustrates you that it is taking so long to be able to do anything. In battle you will be greeted with a few lines that are obviously still in Japanese, however it isn’t too distracting. Curiously, G-Craft did decide to translate a few of the sounds such as yelling “Alright!” or “Bye-Bye!” in perfect English.
I downloaded Arc the Lad II as well to better review this game, and it is apparent that Arc the Lad III is a far inferior game. While the second game is a direct and necessary sequel to the original, Arc the Lad III is unnecessary. While there are cameos by some of the characters from the second game in the third they do not play a large role and just seem to be there to remind you this is still an Arc the Lad game, which makes the impressive addition of starting Arc III with your Arc II save file almost completely useless. Importing save files from Arc I to Arc II is much more beneficial as is continuing the same story.
Really the story ends with Arc II, and Arc III just wanders along looking for a purpose. It has a few of the things you love from the old games and adds a few more that no one would love. It is really just hard to recommend this game to anyone other than absolute die-hard Arc the Lad fans who are craving more. Despite only being $6 there are many other PS Classics that are available for the same price and come much more highly recommended. To really complete this game you will have to spend roughly 50 hours on it, and with how dull the story and gameplay become this is really quite hard to do. Arc the Lad III isn’t a bad game, but when you take into account how impressive Arc I and Arc II were you can’t help but feel snubbed by it. If you want a great PS1 RPG just snag one listed in the opening paragraph and take a pass on Arc the Lad III.
Score: 5/10 – Average
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