Developer: Access Games
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1 (Local multiplayer up to 4 players)
Lord of Arcana is an action-adventure-hack-n-slash RPG, and a glance at the trailers and promo material will have you believing it’s more hack-n-slashy than anything you’ll have seen before. The game is set in the kingdom of Horodyn, and as you’re told of a past hero rising to power and ruling over previously untamed land, you begin to realise that the “new champion” of whom “whispers are heard” is likely to end up being you. Fear not though because the key to the success of your predecessor, the power of Arcana, will be on your side too... That is, once you’ve given it a good hiding to bring it around to your way of thinking.
The game actually starts quite poorly as you’re rushed through a rudimentary character creation process by the sheer lack of options, but the pace picks up when the tutorial level pits you against some weedy minions in some grossly overpowered gear. The result is that you’re eased into the gameplay in an idiot-proof environment and you immediately feel capable of kicking as much ass as the aforementioned hype suggests. Cruelly though, once you’ve killed the first boss it’s all taken away and you find yourself at level 1, lying on the floor of a temple carrying only a questionable weapon and with a small army of NPCs waiting to tell you to get up and go and find some work.
As it turns out, the work you’re expected to do is at the behest of a guild in the town of Porto Carillo, a bunch who always seem to need a certain number of something’s killed or collected, and very little else. This is essentially the structure of the game in its entirety – a marathon grind of repetitive quests for better weapons, armour and abilities – and if the thought of that makes you nauseous you might as well stop reading now. If not, then there’s an element of satisfaction to be found in seeing your hero work its way up through the guild rankings and becoming stronger, faster, wiser and most importantly, richer, but in a genre that is already very much of an acquired taste this game does nothing to break that mould.
Accepting a quest from the guild desk warps you to its particular location, where you’re presented with a map usually consisting of 5-10 different screens each containing a handful of grunts for you to dispatch and shiny things to collect, although both of those tasks are largely optional. Encountering an enemy warps you again, this time to a circular area that acts as your combat arena, and it’s here that you’ll discover the true highs and lows of Lord of Arcana’s gameplay. Physical attacks are a two-button affair, ‘square’ being your standard attack and ‘triangle’ performing your chosen weapon technique, and for the most part a random combination of those two buttons will be more than enough to dispatch your foes. On the rare occasion that you find something with the inclination to dodge or defend your barrage, it’s simply a case of sussing out their simple attack patterns and finding a way to hit them when they’re vulnerable. Once you’ve worn enemies health down you can perform a reasonably flashy and extremely gory finishing move, but there is only one per type of enemy so after the first couple of times I actually avoided using them to save myself the hassle of watching them play out. The use of a lock-on system is nice and varying your attacks slightly by using the sprint ability adds something, but 9 times out of 10 these fights are a snooze-fest.
On the other hand, the boss fights range from quite interesting to utterly brilliant, and you really wonder why some of the fun to be had fighting them couldn’t have been present across all of the game’s combat. They tend to pop up as guild quests at the end of each chapter or as a way to acquire more Arcana (thus becoming more powerful), so naturally you’re made to work a bit harder to bring them down. On top of being a huge step up in difficulty I found that most bosses took 10+ minutes to kill, and that was after having used a couple of failed attempts to get to grips with them tactically. They each have a weak point which you can target to make the fight easier and once they’re crippled they’ll change their approach, usually trying to stumble away and using more defensive abilities. Wear them down further and there will be a chance to trigger a “melee duel” event, basically a prolonged finishing move which requires you to follow on screen button prompts, and while they are graphically quite intense, I couldn’t help but feel like they lacked the frenetic nature of similar systems in the spectacular God of War: the Ghost of Sparta.
In the lull between quests you can busy yourself kitting your hero out in new gear, which can mostly be fashioned from a collection of the items you pick up along the way. The equipment models are very good and varied enough that it almost feels worth the effort of gathering the materials you need to make it all. At this point you can also shake things up a bit by altering your weapon of choice and thereby changing your combat style, from a more defensive sword/shield combo to a bulldozing two-hander which takes much longer to swing, for example. Regularly changing this up does enough to keep your brain ticking over after countless similarly structured quests, and often picking the right combo of gear, weapon technique and combat style will be the key to taking down some of the tougher bosses.
I’ve left it this long to mention graphics because they really aren’t the Lord of Arcana’s strong point, and in places it really does look rough. It seems like so much focus went into modelling funky swords and huge bosses that they totally forgot about the game environment, and the result is that the locations you spend so long running around in are sorely lacking detail and diversity. The camera is an utter nightmare too, unresponsive to the point where you actually wonder if it’s disobeying you on purpose, and that sadly ruins what is otherwise a pretty tidy control system. For me, the ability to move around and rotate/move the camera at the same time is a fairly big deal, and while this seems to be a persistent problem for the PSP and its single shoulder buttons/single analog stick arrangement, other titles have done a better job of it.
The game’s multiplayer option is only local, so while it has the potential to be brilliant in terms of the approach to taking down bosses, unless you have a group of PSP-owning friends you’re highly unlikely to ever be able to set up a party. Add to that the mystifying decision to only allow the host to benefit from group quests and you have a feature that feels decidedly like it was thrown in as an after-thought. It’s a shame, but perhaps those looking for a multiplayer game in this mould will already be 100 hours into Monster Hunter anyway.
Lord of Arcana found its way onto my PSP shortly after I’d finished playing Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and ultimately, it has suffered a bit as a result of that inevitable comparison. It’s fairly solid all round without ever being spectacular and aside from the strength and depth of the boss fights, it doesn’t bring anything new to a genre that’s already been cornered by a couple of other titles on the PSP. Without a doubt it’s worth a look if you have the patience and determination to see it past the frankly miserable first couple of chapters, and those who do will be rewarded with a few moments of brilliance later on. Sadly though, the sheer number of menial tasks you’re sent on by the guild means most people will probably give up before it even starts to get tasty.
- Boss combat is great, and some of them look fantastic too. - Equipment and weapons are highly detailed... ...consequently gathering items and Arcana to forge new gear is fiendishly addictive.
- Awkward camera. - General questing is dull. - Starts slowly and takes too long to get interesting. - Weak plot.