Arc the Lad Collection - Reader Re-Retroview  

The Legacy of the Dark One
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

More than 80 Hours
+ Data import between games.
+ The third installment.
+ Some extra goodies included.
- First installment leaves something to desire.
- The second leaves even more to desire.
- Average collection overall.
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   With the dawn of the Sony Playstation came Arc the Lad, one of the very first RPGs released for the system in Japan back in 1995, with its sequel following the next year and the third installment coming years later. Because RPGs were not yet a popular genre in North America, Sony hardly considered localizing them, and even turned down Working Designs' initial attempts to localize the titles. Towards the end of the Playstation's lifespan, however, Sony, under new management, agreed to let them localize the three tactical titles, which Working Designs ultimately published in 2002 as the Arc the Lad Collection. While certainly not the best collection of RPGs out there, it definitely has a few things going for it.

   The Arc games feature grid-based tactical battle systems, which have generally simpler controls and actions than many other tactical RPGs, chiefly making use of normal attacks and magic. The first installment makes use of all seven of the player's characters, while the second chapter decreases this number to five, and the third to four. The first game's battle system has its moments yet flaws as well such as traffic jams, given the number of active characters, unbalanced leveling, and a long time potentially spent on losing battles.

   However, the latter flaw is fixed in the sequel, with a penalty of half the player's gold in case of defeat (which isn't a problem since money will always be plentiful), and where traffic jams, given the fewer number of active characters, are less of a problem; unfortunately, normal attacks are virtually useless, and characters will most always be dozens of levels below the enemy. In the first two games, moreover, the player must center magic spells on enemies to execute them, which can be a problem since the player will be dependent upon magic during the second game.

   Combat doesn't really become enjoyable until the third installment, which fixes most flaws in its predecessors, such as allowing players to cast field-affecting magic without needing to center it on enemies, physical attacks actually being more useful, and leveling being better balanced. Admittedly, the third game is a little easier than its predecessors, with no penalty from defeat in combat, yet is easily superior to its predecessors gameplay-wise. All in all, the quality of the battle system varies from installment to installment.

With some birds among the mix Poco experiments with human cloning

   The interface also varies between installments, being more than acceptable in the first and third games yet struggling in the second entry, with the first being more of a traditional tactical RPG, given limited exploration and linear plot progression, and the second and third games being more mainstream RPGs given free overworld, town, and dungeon exploration. Interaction generally isn't problematic in the first game given generous inventory space and its linear structure, although things take a step backward with the second game's limited inventory space (a problem given the import of items from the first game) and long periods without being able to save. The third game, however, compromises this by returning to stackable items while still featuring explorable dungeons, towns, and overworlds, alongside a focus on the guild missions serving as a sidequest in the second game. Again, interface quality varies throughout the collection.

   The first installment was somewhat inventive in having simpler controls and gameplay than most other tactical RPGs, with the second game building upon the first, and being one of the first RPGs to allow imported data from its predecessor (although it does borrow from Phantasy Star IV for its guild mission sidequests), and the third being driven by the second's guild system. Overall, the collection is moderately inventive.

   The first two installments together form a nice, intriguing, serious, well-developed story, even if the plot of the first entry doesn't stand alone that well, with the second chapter's plot being the best of them all. The narrative of Arc the Lad III, conversely, is far more humorous and lighthearted, sure to alienate those who much prefer serious RPG plots, although it nonetheless has many things going for it. All in all, plot doesn't entirely shine in the first and third games, yet is strongest in the second.

Good place to get mugged Run-down alley

   The first two games feature mostly the same hit-or-miss soundtrack, with some good tracks yet many mediocre ones as well, although the third entry features mostly different tracks that easily shine the most in the trilogy. Working Designs, moreover, left the battle voices in Japanese, unfortunate for those who can't speak the language. The voices, with few exceptions, largely fit the characters, although as with most Japanese voicework, characters struggle somewhat when saying English words. All in all, sound in the trilogy isn't great, but it isn't terrible, either.

   The first two games, too, feature mostly the same two-dimensional visuals, with decent scenery yet hobbit-like character sprites that look somewhat silly. The third game, conversely, features more anatomically-correct character sprites yet three-dimensional scenery that could have certainly looked better. FMVs in the first two games, moreover, feature no characters and are a bit grainy and choppy, while the third game's FMVs are much better and actually feature some of the characters in them. Overall, none of the games have the best graphics on the Playstation nor do they have the worst.

   Finally, total playing time for the collection can span well more than eighty hours, given the number of game-lengthening sidequests available in all three games, alongside Arc Arena, where players can use monsters captured in Arc II to fight tournament battles. Overall, the Arc the Lad Collection is an okay anthology, sure to keep players busy for a long time but not without its flaws, such as awkward gameplay in the first installment and especially the second chapter that doesn't show polish (at least in this reviewer's opinion) until the third entry. Those who find the collection at a discount price, however, might find it to be a good deal, although most gamers really aren't missing out on much should they decide to skip it.

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