Giant swords, dragons, magic, warring republics, melancholy teens; only a few minutes into "Arc Rise Fantasia" and it's instantly apparent that it is an archetypal role-playing game. However for an RPG to even be recognized in today's market, it has to come with a twist. What's the biggest twist in "Fantasia"? It's one of a rare breed; an RPG on the Wii.
The developer of "Arc Rise Fantasia," Imageepoch (best known for the "Luminous Arc" series on the DS), have branched out with their latest release, putting together their first Wii game, which has finally reached U.S. shores, over a year after it was released to moderate success in Japan. The game is a very straight-forward, turn-based RPG that follows the adventures of the main character and resident hero/mercenary, L'Arc, as he and his friend, Alf, the prince of the Meridian Empire, travel the land and try to keep it safe from the invading Feldragons. As the story unfolds charters join and leave your party, including a mysterious Diva from an opposing empire, Ryfia, who has a unique bond with L'Arc.
Big Game, Little Price
For a budget title ($39.99), "Arc Rise Fantasia" goes above and beyond what Wii owners have come to expect for that price. It offers a lengthy, and relatively engaging story, along with deep character customization in the way of magic, weapons and attacks. It's a game that serious players can really sink their teeth into and spend tons of time perfecting their adventurers, and, at the same time, offer more casual players an easy to absorb RPG experience.
Arm Force Pieces
While most of the customization in "Arc Rise Fantasia" is cut and dry, there's one part of the weapon upgrade system that really stands out. Each method of destruction in the game (be it sword, staff, or whatever) has unlockable abilities called Arm Force pieces, that become available if you use it long enough. Once unlocked, you can then upgrade and customize your accouterments by mixing and matching the pieces across different weapons. The most unique aspect of this system comes down to how you add the pieces to your weapon; each weapon only has a limited number of upgrade spots available, which is represented by a grid within the weapons menu. The player only has a limited number of slots to add or arrange upgrades forcing them to think long and hard about how you apply the gems.
What Did He Just Say?
The cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan have always worked their way into games developed by international teams, but after enduring the conversations in "Arc Rise Fantasia" I began to wonder just how vast that disparity really is. Perhaps something compelling was lost in the localization process, but, simply put, the interactions between the characters in this game are laughable. Everything from their inflections to what they actually said just seemed like it belonged more in an anime cartoon than in a video game.
Something About This Should Seem Familiar
"Arc Rise Fantasia" feels like a weird mix between old school and new school RPGs, so much so that it even has trouble deciding which it is sometimes. The turn-based battles, and character upgrade system are decidedly from years gone by, but the other elements of gameplay, especially the game's "Trinity Battle System," seem to find themselves of a more modern thinking. While I'm all for including classic elements in modern titles, it makes for a lot of controller fumbling, and menu navigation to just select a different attack for someone in you party, just to realize that you don't even have enough AP (Action Points) to perform it.
A good RPG will offer a perfect balance between action and exposition, presenting the player with just enough story to advance the game, while mixing in the right amount of fighting to keep them leveling up at a good pace. Throughout "Fantasia" that balance rocks back and forth, going from long stints of story, to battle after battle of grinding to defeat the next boss. Regardless of the game, it's a tough sweet spot to hit, and unfortunately, "Arc Rise" misses it by just a bit. These long stretches might cause some players to grow bored either while running around towns looking for the right person to talk to so that they can start the next quest, or while battling every enemy in a dungeon so that they can make it to the next level in order to stand a chance against the boss.
When you boil most RPGs down, they all have a really similar formula, however, the good ones manage to build on that formula offering the player something new to go along with their familiar experience. "Arc Rise Fantasia" tries to introduce new concepts and ideas into the formula, but, in the end, doesn't do a great job of executing on any of them, leaving behind just another RPG. However, the games budget price and starved market will make it an enjoyable experience for RPG fans that can't get their fix on a console (or handheld) other than the Wii.