Arc the Lad III - Reader Re-Retroview  

The Way of the Earth
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

20-40 Hours
+ Fixes most flaws from predecessors.
+ Humorous, lighthearted plot.
+ Best soundtrack of trilogy.
- A little on the easy side.
- Main plot could've been better-developed.
- Graphics could've been better-polished.
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   Alec is a boy who dreams of becoming a Hunter after being rescued by one when he was much younger during an incident known as the Great Disaster, which ravaged much of the world. Thus, he sets off with his best friend Lutz across the world, searching for the Hunter who saved him while fulfilling his ambitions and meeting plenty of new friends. Arc the Lad III finishes the Working Designs-localized Arc the Lad Collection, featuring a few gameplay changes and improvements over its predecessors and providing a more solid experience than the previous installments, in spite of its flaws.

   Like its predecessors, Arc III features tactical battles occasionally encountered in certain chambers during dungeon exploration, and in certain areas on overworld maps strictly meant for fighting enemies. Before every battle begins, the player picks four characters to participate (a step up from the second installment, where the player had to stick with chosen characters from the beginning of dungeons, with only a few exceptions), with the player's chosen party and enemies taking turns depending upon agility. The player's characters, during their turns, can move around the battlefield, attack normally, use skills, use an item, or simply end their turns.

   Fortunately, unlike in the second installment, normal attacks are useful, with characters no longer behaving as though they constantly have blind status inflicted on them. Magic spells, too, retain their usefulness, with another improvement from Arc II being the ability to use spells without having to center them on enemies. Other useful skills include Theo's Cardish, allowing him to turn monsters into cards (five of which he can carry at one time) that he can use to damage all enemies on the battlefield or perform another effect on them, like paralyzing them.

This game's summon spells Nice Cardish animations

   The player can also mess with weapon and item synthesis throughout the game, combining two materials in hopes of creating a new, better item. Obtaining better items this way, however, typically isn't worth the effort, but mercifully, it's hardly necessary to make it through the game. The third installment is also nice to players when they die like its predecessor, with the battle of death instantly restarting with the same characters participating, with no penalty this time. The game is admittedly a little easy, yet more balanced than the second game, with few genuine flaws aside from the fact that enemies, like in Arc II, only face south when low on HP.

   The third entry is driven by the guild system present in the second installment, where the player must take jobs from Hunter's Guilds to advance the main storyline, and can perform many non-story jobs alongside hunting Wanted Monsters for extra money. Overworld, town, and dungeon exploration from the second installment also return, not to mention the removed restriction on inventory space present in the first game. With this and a generally good idea on how to advance the main storyline, interaction isn't terribly burdensome, aside from some minor flaws such as occasional menu slowdown and the inability to see the effects of equipped accessories.

   Arc III isn't a terribly inventive game, being driven by the guild system from its predecessor (which itself originated in Phantasy Star IV) and featuring the battle system present in previous installments, despite the improvements. On the other hand, the guild system driving the game is what mainly sets it apart from other RPGs (a structure that would influence some future games such as Atelier Iris 3), so it definitely deserves some minor points for creativity, even if it is in some respects a retread.

Battles are actually fun this time around Towel attack!

   The story is in a few aspects a rehash as well, given a group of people attempting to revive the Dark One present in previous installments, although it nonetheless has many things going for it, such as a humorous localization, and a generally more lighthearted feel. The presence of a scientific organization, The Academy, as the main antagonist is a nice break from the plots where another force, such as an evil empire or religion, is the chief villain, although the guild system structure somewhat weakens the main plot, given the number of irrelevant side-stories. There are, however, a few familiar faces from previous installments that have some relevance to the plot, although more development for the main characters would've been welcome, as well. It's not a bad storyline, given its humor, although it could've certainly been better.

   The soundtrack, however, is inarguably the best of the Playstation trilogy, given the more diverse and memorable nature of the music, even if many tracks, such as some town and battle pieces, have a bit of a bouncy feel, and are somewhat reminiscent of music from Rankin/Bass specials. There is a nice vocalized theme song, "Way of the Earth," alongside voice acting the localization team left in Japanese, sure to please those that actually understand what the characters are saying, although there are some annoying characters, such as Lutz, who actually sounds a bit like Steve Urkel from Family Matters. Still, the third installment is generally pleasant to the ears.

   The third entry also marks a significant change in visual style, with character sprites, for instance, being far more anatomically correct than those in the first two games, and the monster sprites, in spite of a few palette swaps, looking decent as well. The scenery, however, becomes three-dimensional, and could have admittedly looked better, given the number of pixelated and blocky areas (although it does look better if one is playing the game on the Playstation 2 with texturing set to "Smooth"). Still, the FMVs, which actually feature some of the game characters this time around, look superb. All in all, like its predecessors, the third game doesn't feature the best graphics on the original Playstation nor does it feature the worst.

   Finally, the third game is shorter than the second, taking somewhere from twenty to forty hours depending upon how many guild missions the player takes, which could possibly boost playing time beyond that range if the player seeks to complete them all. Overall, Arc the Lad III, in spite of its flaws, is a decent conclusion to the Arc the Lad Collection, improving upon its predecessors' mechanisms and having a decent sense of humor. Admittedly, those who don't like to laugh when playing an RPG, alongside those expecting a serious story like in the second installment, will certainly be repelled, but others seeking a simple, lighthearted tactical RPG will possibly be more than satisfied.

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