Lord of Arcana is certainly a promising idea. Monster Hunter style dungeon crawler with an epic story and the trademark Square-Enix level of graphical quality. If this had been the case, the game could well have been added to the publisher’s long list of quality PSP RPGs. As it is though, Lord of Arcana will most likely be added to the list of series the company won’t develop a franchise from; this isn’t their best work.
Opening in the now industry standard ‘Metroid’ way, you begin the game playing as a nameless, fully upgraded character. This gives Lord of Arcana a promising intro, instantly getting to grips with the combat and unknowingly the format of every dungeon to be found throughout the rest of the game. That said, what at first seems like a great introduction to the game loses everything once your character is reduced to level one. The grind ahead of you becomes far too apparent, and it’s a very, very long grind by industry standards.
Gameplay is, as I expected, a mixture of Monster Hunter action combat and the dungeon crawling elements of a game like Phantasy Star. You explore the over-world, fighting enemies in ‘real time’ (encounters are separate to the main world screen). You loot them for items, weapons, ingredients for the local blacksmith; the standard sort of things you would expect in a Monster Hunter clone. You grind through levels gaining experience from fighting enemies, the amount you garner from those in the first few hours being a pittance in the long run. It takes a very long time for you to feel at all powerful against the range of monsters that roam the lands, with only the game’s later dungeons providing a well judged challenge that’s rewarding enough to make it worth the effort in the first place.
With such fundamental gameplay problems, Square-Enix has aptly pitched the game as a technical marvel, with full cutscenes and more cinematic kills being selling points on the box. While the addition of some more well executed animations certainly adds something to the formula, the presentation as a whole is disappointing. Environments are expansive, but derelict, and the character models are a distinct step down from other Square-Enix PSP titles, looking as far back as 2008’s Crisis Core.
The soundtrack is nothing special either, which along with the rest of the presentation is disappointing given the pedigree of Square-Enix titles on the platform. There have been some incredible looking RPGs on the PSP, Lord of Arcana is not one of them.
The main problem with Lord of Arcana is that it just isn’t very fun to play. You never feel like you are gaining anything from the continuous grind. This goes against everything that made Namco Bandai’s series so addictive, and it’s one of the main reasons why Lord of Arcana is a no go for any true RPG fan. Square-Enix have a lot of promising PSP games on the way in 2011: Third Birthday, Dissidia 012 and Tactics Ogre. Hopefully Lord of Arcana is just a hiccup along the way.
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