Traditional RPGs are in short supply on the Wii, and while Arc Rise Fantasia (ARF) has a few distinctly untraditional features, it fills the gap nicely. An ideal game for serious RPG fans, ARF offers up a lengthy and absorbing adventure through an elaborate world teetering on the brink of destruction. Balanced between old school elements and new ideas, this game adds up to one memorable adventure.
At first glance, ARF’s setting and characters appear to be straight out of the RPG cliché handbook; several countries are arranged in a delicate political balance where anything might spark a war, while a young soldier happens upon a mysterious girl with a crucial mission. The villages and environments you visit, while lively and entertaining, feel as though they would not be out of place in a score of other games, and the dialogue is often stiff and awkward. Surprisingly, though, there’s a good deal of intrigue throughout the game, building up to several intense moments that question the very nature of friendship, loyalty, and religion. Each new detail only adds more questions to this hefty plot, creating a genuinely interesting narrative. There are still plenty of heavily generic situations, but overall ARF has a fun and complex tale to tell in a colorful setting.
Similarly, the gameplay initially appears like generic RPG fare, but there is more here than meets the eye. Yes, the game is based around the tried and true system of fighting monsters with swords and spells, leveling up, and buying equipment, but most importantly battles and weapons function a little differently. The key element to each battle is budgeting your action points (AP). Every action requires AP, whether it’s attacking, defending, casting magic, or even moving around the battlefield. To fight effectively and efficiently, you have to consider not only the strengths and weaknesses of each character, but what kind of action they can use given your AP. With so many different actions you can do, including chaining attacks and magic spells, distributing AP requires careful planning. What’s great about this system is that it makes each battle feel distinctly unique. You can focus on one character attacking repeatedly, or spread out the AP to give everyone a turn. The options and various approaches make each battle a little different, guaranteeing you won’t be stuck in a rut.
Weapons provide a completely different outlook on how to equip your characters. Each weapon doesn’t actually boost your attack power–instead, they grant special abilities such as a health boost or extra damage to insect monsters. Some will even allow you to use special actions in battle, called Arm Forces. By training with a specific weapon, you can unlock these skills so that you can attach them to other weapons. Essentially, you want to customize a weapon with all of the skills you prefer. It’s an interesting system that will have you mixing and matching characters in your party specifically to unlock more skills, encouraging you to experiment with your party set up, especially since you only have three characters to use. It seems a little odd at first, but this system opens up a whole variety of strategy options; plus there’s an odd satisfaction to unlocking all the skills on a weapon and opening up its special abilities.
It’s also important to note that this isn’t an RPG for the average gamer. ARF packs some challenges, even against average enemies, and a few mistakes could cost you dearly. Furthermore, level grinding isn’t a terribly easy strategy in this game, so by and large you’ll have to face the difficulty of the game through your own skill, managing your AP and weapon abilities carefully. Veteran RPG fans should appreciate this sense of challenge.
It doesn’t seem like an RPG would have awkward controls given that so much of the game is just selecting actions from menus, but ARF has a distinctly odd control scheme for the default Wii remote and nunchuk. The button configuration is somewhat bizarre, as well as the fact that you use the D-pad so often even though it’s not always comfortable to use. The Classic Controller provides a much more manageable control set-up, with easier D-pad access and more logical button placement. It still seems a little off, but it’s certainly an improvement over the Wii remote and nunchuk.
This game boast some extremely bright and colorful graphics with the kind of flair and flourish that one would expect from a strong RPG. Most cutscenes use in-game graphics, but even so, the visuals are made to impress, whether it’s a dense forest of exotic plants or a sprawling city, filled with people. The scope of the game’s world is all the more impressive given how lively and detailed each town is, with sprawling areas and plenty of townsfolk milling about. The colorful graphics are matched with a fun and bubbly soundtrack that only adds to the feeling of an epic adventure. The voice acting, however, is laughably bad at times, and barely decent otherwise. Many voices don’t seem to fit their characters, and the acting provides no impact or emotion to the already forced dialogue. You’re better off turning on the captions and turning off the voices here.
Any RPG worth its salt is going to be a long game, and ARF is no exception. Even while focusing on the main story, this one will easily last over forty hours, making this game well worth buying. Add on side quests, party members to switch around and of course plenty of weapons to try out and you’ve got one lengthy game.
Though it has its share of unique twists and features, the basic elements of Arc Rise Fantasia are pretty typical of a JRPG and as such won’t likely appeal to those outside of the usual audience. That audience, though, will be treated to an engaging RPG epic with plenty of variety and gameplay to last those long summer afternoons.