Arc the Lad - Reader Re-Retroview  

In the beginning...
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

5-25 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   A girl named Kukuru, a member of the Sacred Clan in the nation of Seirya, is sent by the mayor of her village to extinguish the Flame Cion, consequently unleashing a monster. Meanwhile, a young warrior named Arc, from the village of Touvil, sets out in search of his father, who has been missing for a decade. He heads to the Guardian Peak, where Kukuru is, and is attacked by the monster, although a mysterious force protects him, with a guardian telling him it is his destiny to protect the world from darkness. Arc the Lad was developed as the very first tactical RPG for the Sony Playstation back in 1995, although it didn't see its release in North America until 2002 thanks to Working Designs' Arc the Lad Collection. The first installment of the Arc series proves to be an all-around average experience.

   Arc the Lad features a tactical battle system where the player's party of up to seven characters faces off on a grid-based field with a number of enemies. Characters and enemies take their turns presumably depending upon agility, with the player able to move his or her characters around a certain range to attack enemies, use skills, use items, or just do nothing. Characters gain experience by performing most actions, and occasionally level up, gaining a few increases in stats. The player occasionally gains items and accessories from enemies, with each character able to equip up to four accessories; killing enemies or pillaging chests on fields are the only ways to gain items and accessories, as the game contains no system of money.

Even hobbits have their day Arc takes a bite out of crime

   While battles flow somewhat more smoothly than in many tactical RPGs released both before and after the game, given the relatively easy battle interface, there are some flaws preventing it from truly excelling. For one, characters cannot move past one another, but only "jump" beyond one another if their range allows, sometimes creating traffic jams among the player's characters. Character leveling is also a little on the unbalanced side, with Arc, if outfitted with the right accessories, able to take on all enemies himself (and he was in this reviewer's experience the last character standing in most endgame fights), while enemies can slaughter most of his allies in one or two hits. The player can also waste plenty of time on losing battles since the game simply dumps them back to the title screen if they lose a battle. Overall, combat has some things going for it, but can somewhat lose its appeal as the player wrestles with its flaws.

   The game interface is relatively simple, with the player selecting areas to visit when viewing the maps of each nation throughout the game, and able to save his or her progress on these screens. Character management, with the player only able to outfit characters with accessories right before each battle, is easy, as well. Finding out where to go next is also in most instances a no-brainer, with players able to play through the game, unless they wish to find every secret the first installment offers, without a guide. Aside from the player being unable to manage characters outside battle, interaction in Arc the Lad leaves little, if any, room for improvement.

   Arc the Lad, while the first tactical RPG to grace the Sony Playstation, was certainly not the first game of its kind, with previous games in the genre such as those in the Shining Force franchise predating it, although it certainly distinguished itself from such titles with a much simpler interface in and out of combat, as well as a somewhat deeper, even if not fully-developed, plot, than those titles. The story itself has many things going for it, such as plenty of cutscenes and decent pacing, and while the cast of characters is interesting, development for most of them is in some instances thin, and the plot is pretty much incomplete without that of its successor.

TOUCH HIM! "Would you like to touch my monkey?"

   Arc the Lad's soundtrack has many decent pieces, such as the orchestrated main theme and ending theme, although most of the music during the game itself is somewhat generic, and at times a little off-key. The first installment was also one of the first tactical RPGs with voice acting during combat, with Working Designs leaving the voicework in Japanese. The voices mostly fit the characters, yet can be somewhat grating at times, especially for those who don't understand the language. Overall, the aurals are neither a draw to nor repellent from the game.

   The first Arc game features two-dimensional graphics, with decent scenery but disproportionate, odd-looking character sprites that make every human character resemble hobbits. The monster designs, in spite of the palette swaps, look okay, although pixelated close-ups whenever either side normally attacks abound throughout the game. Occasional FMVs crop up, as well, although some contain a rather poor framerate and all are completely devoid of any CG depictions of characters. Like the music, the graphics are neither a draw to nor repellent from the game.

   Finally, the game is fairly short, with lucky players able to breeze through it in as little as five hours, although most will need to spend a few hours leveling to make it through, with other quests in the game, such as a fifty-floor extra dungeon, possibly boosting playing time to the vicinity of twenty-five hours. In the end, Arc the Lad is a somewhat average start to the franchise, with most of its aspects slightly exceeding, but certainly not well surpassing, mediocrity. Given its meager length, moreover, it definitely doesn't stand very well alone, and only begins to weave a story that its successor further threads and fleshes out.

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