Lord of ArcanaESRB:
2-4 players/Ad Hoc
480KB game save
Infrastructure/ Download only
Most gamers have heard of a franchise that has exploded across Japan known as Monster Hunter Portable, a game with popularity that rivals the monolithic Pokémon and is most likely to blame for the PSP being Japan's best-selling console of 2010. Lord of Arcana is not Monster Hunter. Though, it does try awfully hard to be Monster Hunter. From the layout of the HUD to the fundamental mechanics behind missions and battle, Lord of Arcana attempts to be as close of a clone to Monster Hunter as possible. Unfortunately, Monster Hunter’s lightning-in-a-bottle has not been successfully emulated in this bland, laborious game.
I was a bit taken aback and astounded by the lack of detail found in Arcana. I thought to myself, “this can’t be a Square Enix game.” Lord of Arcana isn't a pretty title, but it's sufficient. The colours are all pretty flat and there are some clipping issues here and there. Visually it's okay, just not very good. Your attacks look powerful, but enemies are so lacking in detail that you'd probably never know the skeletons were skeletons. The arenas in which you do battle are texture-less, lacking the fine polish that Enix games are known for. Too bad indeed.
The game's sound work is by far its greatest moment, in my opinion. The various orchestral works are quite memorable garnering repeated listening. There are bits and pieces of voice work scattered throughout the game as well. They may not be as well done as I’ve heard elsewhere in other games; they do their parts admirably and do add a bit of colour to a fairly bland title.
I also liked the game's sound effects. Each weapon has its own sound and feel, whether it be clanging or clashing of swords to the various sounds of battle. Most should be impressed by the sound especially if you use your stereo headphones.
Anyone who has played Monster Hunter Freedom or Phantasy Star Online will be familiar with the basic premise of Lord of Arcana: the main character joins a Slayers' Guild to regain lost memories and eventually gain the power of the Arcana. Honestly the presentation is not laid out incredibly well, but for this type of game it's not even really necessary overall. What does all this mean for the player? Lots of grinding to get the right items to kill the big bad bosses that protect the Arcana. This is combined with hugely grinding and repeatable quests to level up. It's a pretty simple premise, and one that wasn't championed by the aforementioned titles, but has been refined by them. Unfortunately Lord of Arcana isn't so much a refinement, but an inferior off-shoot of these. Monster Hunter was less RPG-oriented and provided a more visceral combat system. Phantasy Star had its roots deep in statistics, and heavy emphasis on levelling up. Lord of Arcana meets them in the middle and it works well enough, but don't expect anything greater than an average of the two games.
As would be expected for this type of game, customization is key. Characters wield weapons selected from myriad types and gain experience in them as they wield them. This is in addition to experience earned for magic and general experience that increases a character's health. It's far from the deepest system we have seen, but it's more than functional. Most of the game's statistics are obtained from weapon crafting and customization. I thought this was cool, as items that fall off enemies can be used to cobble together all sorts of new weapons and armour. Enhancements can also be tweaked for the new gear making the system somewhat interesting and fun. Still, often times it feels all for naught, as throughout the game's progression, even the weakest of enemies feel like they have a constitution far too large. That's also where the game's biggest flaw comes into view — the constant repetition both in and out of combat.
Battles are monotonous and soon irritating to trudge through, but this is mainly because of the game's control scheme. I have never been a fan of the PSP’s smallish nub and buttons. The game's controls are in a word terrible. Movement of your character is done with the analog stick. The R button is used to sprint and L is used to correct the camera. The d-pad only offers vertical camera movement and I’m not sure why that is. The gameplay would be so much smoother and perhaps even tolerable if the left trigger didn't have to be used every second to adjust and correct the camera. Additionally, the left trigger is used to target enemies, which just muddles up the fighting mechanic even further.
There are five types of weapons to choose from, and they do feel significantly different from each other. One-handed swords allow for relatively quick attacks and let you wield a shield during battle. Maces are slower and heavier but let you unleash powerful charged strikes. The massive two-handed swords take time to swing but do incredible amounts of damage. Polearms let you respond to enemy attacks with counterattacks, but your timing must be quite precise or its usefulness is lost. Finally, firelances fire projectiles that make fighting some enemies a bit cheap, because you can stand in one place and chip away at their health from a safe distance.
Arcana also has a cooperative play mode for up to four people, a feature that would seem to pull the vast majority of the game's weight considering the popularity of cooperative modes in other games like Monster Hunter Portable in Japan. Unfortunately, the co-op gameplay has some serious issues to compound upon the game’s existing faults. The first big issue is that Arcana can’t compete with all the Monster Hunter type games, because there is no online play. Good luck finding four friends with PSPs and copies of this game – otherwise, it’s going to be a solo adventure. Even if you do manage an ad-hoc game, Arcana almost seems averse to co-op play with its clunky mechanics. If a player gets into a fight in a different part of the map than the rest of the group, then the rest of your party can not join in, leaving that single person to fend for themselves. They can attempt to runaway or worse, die, all the while the rest of the party is forced to stand around and twiddle their thumbs. If any one of the players in your group does die, then the entire quest ends and everyone receives a game over screen. It seems like a terrible injustice to end their 45 minute co-op quest with a game over because one person bumped into the wrong monster.
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