I’ve never really played a Monster Hunter much before; it just never held any appeal to me, hours of grinding to make only a little headway, while collecting an arbitrary number of a certain item for a villager too lazy – or more likely scared – to go and get it themselves, or to upgrade your gear by a point. To be fair the game has always fared much better in its native Japan than it ever did in the west in spite of Capcom’s best efforts. In Japan though, the series does big business, with the last iteration, Portable 3rd, far selling in excess of four million units in Japan alone as of January.
With such sales, it is easy to understand why Square Enix would make a game in the same vein as Monster Hunter in order to obtain a slice of this pie, but is this Lord fit to be king, or destined to a life in the shadows?
Lord of Arcana’s plot is inconsequential to say the least. You are a man or woman from the same country as a once great king and you’re on a mission to gain the power of the Arcana and the power to protect the land of Horodyn that will come with it, as well as your lost memories. To do this task you’ll have to join the slayers guild and go on missions to retrieve requested items and slain the local monster population. There are no other actual characters to speak off and the entire thing is a paper-thin premise to explain why your – infinity reconfigurable – character is heading to the countryside and assassinating everything that looks like a monster.
Starting you off with a tutorial that as much about getting you use to the controls as it is to tease you about what lies – a rather long way – ahead, the game set you up as at level 45 to show you what you’re capable as you defeat the various enemies and boss with relative ease. As soon as you’ve finished here, the game unceremoniously dumps you into the game’s temple, dropping you right back to level 1 in the process and revealing the game’s true nature and intent. Lord of Arcana is a grinder, a type of game that requires players to wander around the same few environments over and over to farm items from fallen enemies; the problem is that you will have to transverse much of the same small areas to collect minor items which can then be mixed into something more useful.
The game follows a mission/quest formula; generally along the lines of collect X amount of item Y and place it in box Z, usually collecting said item from a type of enemy; alternatively it may ask you to kill a certain amount of a certain enemy. The missions don’t vary much beyond this and are an arbitrary task; you’ll slay hundreds if not thousands of enemies on your journey. Missions are all given a time limit, whether it’d be a half hour to a full hour, this is the time that you’ll have to achieve your given goal. Generally this is plenty of time to complete any and all quests, but it must be noted that regardless of if you’re playing multiplayer or single, the menus do not pause the onscreen action.
There’s a complete lack of any direction on the part of the game, I’m not asking the game to tell me everything, or to make it so blindingly obvious that the effort required would be diminished. What I would however like to be told is that the items I’m collecting have to be put in the chest-box that was near to where I started said mission; which I at first thought contain some items and I needed a key to get into rather than the brute force that worked on the other generic chests. That I had to return to the temple to gain access to chapter bosses could also have been made clearer; not holding a player’s hand is one thing, but keeping things as vague as this game seems a little much.
Combat is started by making contact – deliberately or accidentally – with an enemy, who all roam the open map for all to see in what is a much the norm of RPGs these days. Once combat has started, the game will load up a circular battle arena for you and however many enemies (while 1 enemy will roam around the open world, it can represent more and there’s no way of knowing until one of you initiates battle). The arena setup, while fine in many action RPGs feels out of place here, given that it wouldn’t take much effort to have the battles on the open map, seeing as its apparent that you could use them, as hitting enemies with your equipped weapon of choice as you make contact gains you a attack boost. Contrariwise, having an enemy sneak up on your behind lowers your defence, making you more vulnerable in the battle. Lastly any enemies on the over world map who are within a hair’s breath of you when another enemy reaches you will begin a raid battle, basically you fight the first enemies then the second immediately after in the same arena.
Range from one-handed and two-handed swords, to a powerful but slow pole-arm, and the serviceable fire lance, which shoots out a blast of flame, which works well provided the enemy stays in a straight line for long enough for the fireball to reach them. A lock-on system allows you to focus on one of your targets, and once you’ve collected, made and equipped the appropriate orb, you may cycle between the weak points of the larger enemies and boss monsters, granting you more options and the opportunity to cripple them, making the fight somewhat easier. It wouldn’t the be a Square Enix take on the genre without the ability to summon, and as you progress, fallen bosses can indeed be summoned into battle for devastating attacks, once the appropriate cards are purchased.
It seems that no matter how much grinding you do, it will never be enough, while combat is fine for the most part, even the lowliest of enemies have ridiculous amounts of HP; whilst it is understandable for the bosses to not be pushovers, it doesn’t explain what you’ve put in all the effort of grinding for levels and items for. To make matters worse the enemy A.I. is immensely lacklustre, with easily readable attack patterns, for instance, while fighting single goblins with the fire lance, I was able to kill many of the single goblins by mashing away at the attack button, the recoil and pushback of the lance, preventing the goblin from being in range by the time he would bother to swing his weapon.
If you do get hit, you’re finding yourself in a very vulnerable state yourself. Some enemies, bosses particularly, have the ability to stun you and knock you down, getting free hits on you of which you can’t return the favour; if they knock you flat near the arena boundary, with its invisible walls, they can and will wipe your entire HP in one stroke, a couple of rejuvenation potions are a must and the game will automatically revive you twice in a mission before giving you a game over, which while alleviating the effects, doesn’t make these incidents any less frustrating.
For the most part, you have no real means to determine the HP of your enemies, outside of when they get seriously wounded. At this point the screen will tilt to inform you, which may cut off a portion of the screen that you otherwise might have wanted to see. Before they dead Regular enemies can be disposed of by perform a special finishing move, the Coup de Grace, which are special animations that may gain you extra loot. While they look cool the first time, you’ll see them multiple times throughout the adventure. Counter attacks and parries can also be used, but by and large the majority of the battles are spent slowly lowering the enemy health while keeping yours out of their reach. Boss battles have to be finished with Quick Time Events, and it saying something when QTEs are the most enjoyable part of a boss battle.
It’s apparent that the game was designed with Multi-player in mind, and I can certainly see instances where having another player cover you while you’re in trouble would be a godsend (like bosses). However the game only supports ad hoc mode for multiplayer, rather than online, limiting the choices you have to play the game with others. While this may be fine in Japan, where it will probably be much easier to find three friends/colleagues to play with, in the west it might prove to be a might tougher, and far from the convenience of the modern videogame.
Despite some annoying fade-in of characters at a distance, Lord of Arcana looks okay on a technical level for a PSP game in this point in its lifetime. It’s just that everything has this generic role-playing look about it, featureless rooms and bland cliché environments dog the game. And while the monsters are well designed – unsurprising given that some are Square Enix staples – the human models and the Moogle’s freaky cousins are dull and uninspired. You also tire of the lack of interesting and highly repetitive animation as your character swings his weapon in the same way all the time as enemies repeat the same patterns ad nauseum. Sound is better, with the music provided ambience but otherwise relegated to the background while sound effects supply a decent accompaniment to blades piercing flesh. Voice action – when they is some – is professional, but the majority of the game uses voiceless text boxes.
Lord of Arcana is a chore to play, and difficult to recommend to anyone who isn’t a dedicated fan of the genre already and who loves working for meagre earnings. The ad hoc multiplayer is also problematic for the intended audience. However if you’re a long term fan of Monster Hunter or this kind of game you may get some fun out of Lord of Arcana. Generally though there’s little here to warrant swapping over to this game’s breed of slaying rather than the other Hunting game. For everyone else, the game just isn’t worth the hassle.
Developer: Access Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Adventure, Role-playing
Players: 1 (up to 4 via ad hoc)
Review copy and screenshots were provided by Square Enix
originally published in 2011 on gamingtilldisconnected.com.