I could swear I've seen this somewhere before… all of it.
Ever have that moment when you experience something as an adult that you used to love as a kid and realize that it just isn't as good as you remember it? Like, say, popping Space Jam into your VCR and finally noticing just how terrible an actor Michael Jordan is, or hitting up Chuck E. Cheese only to realize that your parents were right and the pizza is, indeed, disgusting.
[image1]Sometimes there's a downside to nostalgia. Sometimes there's a particular brand of sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that nearly outweighs the fuzzy warmth of memory. Sometimes there's no recourse other than to face the music and acknowledge that the kid in you chose poorly. Such is the feeling when playing Arc Rise Fantasia.
You might find that kind of strange, given that this is an original title and not a remake of anything. I use the word “original” lightly here, though, because this game is essentially a digital encyclopedia of JRPG clichés and more formulaic than, well, I honestly can't think of anything more formulaic. In fact, the next time I have to come up with such a comparison, I'll use Arc Rise Fantasia as the standard.
The game pulls every convention from the old RPGs we played growing up and tosses them together, but the end result is an adventure that just feels tired, predictable, and frustrating. That's why it gives off that “negative nostalgia” vibe—taking cues from Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Suikoden, the Tales series, you name it—and applying them in ways worse than any of those classic originals. The JRPG has been recycling the same elements for dozens of years. When did the formula stop being fun?
Taking the reins of carefree and lighthearted L'arc, you'll jump into yet another quest to save the world. L'arc soon turns out to be a child of destiny, and he's flanked by Ryfia, a sheltered priestess (called a “diva”); Alf, his childhood friend and prince of the kingdom; and a stable of all the typical supporting characters: small headstrong girl, suave thief, busty and seductive older chick, bumbling idiot, mysterious mercenary… did I leave any out? The dynamic between these characters is fleshed out in optional skits that pop up as you play, a feature ripped straight out of Tales of Symphonia.
[image2]The story involves religious conflict, international tension, a pandemic threatening the world, and good-old fashioned power-mongering. I could point to a handful of other games for each of these plot threads that present them on a deeper and more thought-provoking level. And yes, there are predictable plot twists—predictable not in the sense that you'll necessarily know what will happen, but more that you can tell way ahead of time when someone or something is going to throw the party for a loop. Maybe it's RPG sixth sense.
Before we go any further: voice acting. It's abhorrent. This is not a genre known for excellence in voice acting, but Arc Rise Fantasia's is just plain awful, and it doesn't help that the translated dialogue is juvenile and pedestrian. I suspect quite a few people will be happy about the option to mute the voices. You'll have to sit through cut-scenes with just silent mouthing, but then you could probably have fun doing all the voices yourself. Trust me, you'll sound far better than the actors.
When it comes time to battle you won't find yourself lacking in things to do. In addition to attack and magic, characters have “Excel Acts”, special moves which use up SP that charges over time, and “Arm Forces”, abilities granted by adding crystal-thingies to equipped weapons. On top of that, chaining certain moves together from single or multiple characters results in combo moves or sync skills with extra power. All of these actions are governed by how much AP you have on any given turn, and every action, even defending, uses AP.
Weapons are customized with the aforementioned Arm Forces, which grant bonus attributes and passive abilities in addition to battle commands. As you level up weapons with WP, you can unlock more slots and free up Arm Forces to move around. Magic is customized by putting elemental gems in a character's orb, which grant spells of that element and hybrid elements depending on the gems placed adjacent. Customization and battle are surprisingly deeper than the rest of the game would lead you to believe.
[image3]While normal battles are laughably easy, boss battles are stupidly hard, requiring you to dip constantly into your item supplies to keep up with the tremendous damage output. But that's a problem; the difficulty doesn't stem from strategy or anything that legitimately tests your skills, but rather the proverbial shitload of damage your foe rains down upon you. Don't be surprised if you're forced to turn back from a boss and grind until you're leveled enough to barely squeak by. I thought the days of forced level-grinding were a relic of the past, but when I say this game utilizes every JRPG cliché, I mean every JRPG cliché.
On the bright side, there's a mostly useless automated battle system that you can set to tell all of your characters to attack with the press of a button, which makes the forced grinding go by a lot quicker. Other than that, though, there's never a situation in which you'd want to use the preset tactics—the system just isn't deep enough to replace manual control.
I wanted to like Arc Rise Fantasia, not because I was eagerly anticipating it (hell, I hadn't even heard of it before it came in). I wanted to like it because it's everything the RPGs of my youth conjure up in my head when I think of them. Unfortunately, the actual product brings out all the flaws of the genre's traditions in its attempt to tickle the nostalgia bone. Stop pilfering from the classics, Japan, because that's not how you top them. Start doing something different, and leave those classics in the paradise of childhood memories where they belong.