Arc the Lad Forever

By 2002, I was used to looking to Working Designs for incredible boxsets of games (usually remakes) that contained incredible stories, great graphics, great music…yeah, the whole nine yards. So when Arc the Lad Collection came out…well, I knew I wanted it, but wasn’t so sure about the price ($70 brand new). Now sure, I’m glad I got them, but sadly Arc the Lad is more or less dead these days.

This is especially sad when you consider just how great the games are. Of course, the same can be said for Lunar, Shining Force, Ogre Battle, and many countless others, but…well, let’s just get into it and you’ll see why it’s depressing. As usual, clicking on the pics gives you movies.

Arc the Lad (PS1, 2002)

The original Arc the Lad is good, but not great. Actually, some might even say it’s not that good and I can see that, but I enjoyed it. The entire Arc the Lad series (with one exception) are turn-based SRPGs (strategy/role playing hybrid). Each game is kept at a fairly brisk pace because of how quickly turns move as well as in general how fast the action is. There are a few things that help set it apart from other SRPGs.

For starters, EVERYONE is an obstacle. In most SRPGs, you’re able to move through your comrades, but not stand in the same square or grid or whatever. Not this one. No, you can JUMP over enemies, allies, and obstacles alike, but you have to have enough jump ability to clear the height…and when you first start, you is the whitest white boy ever and ain’t got no ups, playa playa.

Alright, enough of that, but you get the idea. There are close range and ranged attacks as well as spells and techniques and whatever, but what’s also interesting is ranged attacks also pierce, meaning if they have a range of two squares and you get two enemies lined up, BAM, you hit both. Of course, counter rates are high, so you do need to be careful and ranged enemies and allies also counter, so there you go.

The plot and characters of the original Arc the Lad are very standard and kinda generic. It’s also VERY grind heavy as there are some encounters that involve you having back to back battles with no recovery in between. Beyond that, there’s also a deep dungeon of sorts where the further down you go, the better treasure you get, but then you have to fight through enemies on the way back up, too.

Worse still, once you clear a floor, you don’t just move on. Oh no, instead you have to MOVE EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER TURN BY TURN TO GET TO THE NEXT FLOOR. It’s obnoxious and unnecessary. In fact, that’s the only reason I listed this game is beaten and not complete on my backloggery because I am NOT going through that tedious fucking thing. All the same, the game itself is fun, but there isn’t really a whole lot to it.

If anything, I appreciate it for laying the groundwork for later Arc the Lad titles, but would only recommend it for people that actually want to see the backstory for characters that make recurring appearances in later Arc the Lad titles.

Arc the Lad 2/Monster Arena (PS1, 2002)

I never got a chance to try Monster Arena. I’m going to throw that out there now because I also have no interest in going back and trying it. It seems like it might be Pokemon Arena or whatever and that’s about it, so it doesn’t really interest me. That said, THIS is the best Arc the Lad game, hands down. That’s not to say the others aren’t worth playing, because they totally are. It’s just that this one kicks SO much ass that Chuck Norris literally had to drop by and tell it to slow down.

What is it about it that kicks so much ass? Well, there’s a ninja that can equip machine guns and shotguns. Alright, I guess you MAY need more than that, so here goes. Each character can equip multiple types of weapons. Depending on the type of weapon you equip, the character handles a little differently in battle. It could just be attack range, but it could also be counter rate, offense vs. defense, agility overall, and any one of another relevant stat differences.

Not only that, there’s also weapon proficiency in this one. In fact, this is the ONLY Arc the Lad title that does this. You can improve absolutely every single aspect of weapon handling by using the same type of weapon over and over. Further, you level up different weapons as you hold them, meaning the weapons themselves become more powerful over time (until they hit max level, which doesn’t take too terribly long).

Absolutely every single goddamn thing is improved in this one over the original Arc the Lad. The graphics and animation are better, the story is so awesome it’s almost out of control, the music has tracks updated from the original AND lots of awesome all new tracks, all the old characters make a triumphant return while still having the new set of main characters at the forefront…it’s absolutely beautiful.

This is easily one of the best SRPGs I’ve ever played, hands down.

Arc the Lad 3 (PS1, 2002)

I’m really torn on this one. On the one hand, it has a LOT of style. You have really well done and animated high quality sprites on top of 3D environments, which is a look I’ve come to praise over the years. Unfortunately, I’m just not getting into the story (I only recently started getting back into the game) and the music is just okay. The characters are pretty good and the combat is largely unchanged from previous Arc the Lads, but it feels like they kind of gutted the winning formula from Arc the Lad 2 to make this one.

I won’t say it’s a bad game, because it really isn’t. It’s also possible that I just haven’t played enough into it to really be able to say what makes it so great (most reviewers applaud this one as being an excellent sequel, addition to the series, etc.). Somehow the controls feel a little off as well. I think that’s mostly because even though you have 3D environments, I still can’t move diagonally, so it just comes off as strange.

Again, it sounds like I’m just complaining about this one, but keep in mind that I absolutely ADORE Arc the Lad 2, so the shift to this one is a little strange. This one’s still good and I’m sure it will pick up at some point, but it just hasn’t so far.

Arc the Lad – Kijin Fukkatsu (Wonderswan Color, 2002)

From its name, you can surmise that this one has never left Japan and as a result, I’ve never played it. Actually, I didn’t even KNOW about it until I started looking up info on Wiki. Apparently it’s got a combat system very similar to the original Arc the Lad, but includes characters from the first two. That’s all I’ve got, really. If you want to know more, check out what scarce info they have on Wiki or GameFAQs.

Arc the Lad – Twilight of the Spirits (PS2, 2003)

I actually really like this one, but there are a number of issues, namely in the “holy shit that’s really fucking generic” category (don’t lie, you know as well as I do that it exists). What I mean is EVERYTHING in terms of graphics looks kinda…blah. Sure, the color depth is nice, but the graphics and animation overall just aren’t that great and it really is kind of a big deal when you consider there were games like XIII and Xenosaga – Episode 1 coming out the same year.

But I digress. The story is actually a lot better than I expected. While it really has absolutely nothing to do with previous Arc the Lad games (some of the enemies are the same, though), the story picks up slowly, but when it DOES pick up, it picks up in a big way and keeps you addicted throughout until the very end. The voice acting ranges from painful to good…which is annoying only because the absolute WORST of the voice acting seems to be in the battles.

I think another reason this one doesn’t feel quite right is it wasn’t by Working Designs. Now to be fair, Arc the Lad 1 through 3 were SCEI, ARC Entertainment, and G-Craft respectively, with Working Designs simply being a publisher. I get that, but Working Designs really was a Midas company of sorts until their untimely demise in 2005 (though they have respawned as Gaijinworks).

There are some…odd design choices in this one. It’s still a turn-based SRPG, but instead of it being grid-based, it’s distance to move, meaning there is no grid, it’s all based on rough distance. This makes planning and preparation kind of a bitch because you also have to plan out attack range, which is also a bit rough around the edges. The good news is that, just like the previous titles, battles are carried out rather quickly with turns flying by super quick.

The other main oddity as far as design choices is in spirit crystals. In previous installments, each character had their own respective MP. Well, in this one, you have spirit crystals, which are pooled together for party use. Different skills require different amounts of crystals. It’s not THAT big of a deal, but it adds an additional, and quite unnecessary, level of complexity to the formula.

The game comes off feeling generic at times, but overall it’s a very fun entry in the series.

Arc the Lad – End of Darkness (PS2, 2005)

I’ve never played this one and I’m not so sure I want to. This, I believe, is what killed the series. But before we get into this, I want to talk about the Shining Force series. “What? Why? What does THAT game even have to do with this one?” All will become clear momentarily. Shining Force 1 through 3 were overhead turn-based SRPGs. In a way, they look pretty similar to the original Arc the Lad series.

What’s the point? Well, when I saw the box for Shining Force Neo at my local Game Crazy about 8 years ago, I went OH SNAP SHINING FORCE MUST HAS. I bought it, came home, popped it in…and was like, um, is this Diablo? It wasn’t an SRPG. I GUESS you could say there are strategy elements to it in the form of real time strategy, but that’s really pushing it. If anything, it reminds me of Torchlight 2, but with a LOT of customization as far as leveling up different skills.

In fact, even though it wasn’t the Shining Force I grew up with and came to know, I still accepted it as its own thing and in fact, as a surprisingly good game. So again, what does this have to do with End of Darkness? Well sadly, they tried the same thing…and fucking failed. Granted, all I have to go on is the videos because I haven’t played it, but it looks like a generic ass version of Secret of Mana.

So, Secret of Evermore, then. I mean, really? THIS is what a once great series has been reduced to? Imagine if the next Ys game that came out was about Adol giving young girls fashion advice and was a dating sim…and not even a good one. THAT is more or less what this atrocity is. Fuck, I can’t even look at it anymore.

Unfortunately, this is the extent of the series. Much like Breath of Fire, it has ended on the most sour of notes and with no updates, hints, or possibility of a future. Then again, we’ve seen both Lufia and Double Dragon make a comeback…so I guess it’s best to leave it at probably not, but never say never. Oh fuck, now I’m quoting Justin Bieber. Alright, I’m out!

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Filed under Nintendo, PS1, PS2, Retro, Sony, Videogames, WonderSwan Color

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