The gameplay soars, but the story is stuck on the ground.
The Wii has received some notable RPG titles in the last few years, such as Namco Bandai's Tales series, whilediversify the Wii's catalog of role-playing games. Just recently, however, the console received Marvelous Entertainment's Arc Rise Fantasia. It delivers a quality gameplay experience, but the quality of its story is problematic.
Arc Rise Fantasia tells the story of a young mercenary named L'Arc who is sent on missions combating Feldragons, creatures causing chaos in the world of Fulheim. Even worse, if they are killed their explosions can poison entire villages. After killing a Feldragon during an air attack, L'Arc meets a strange but enchanting young woman named Ryfia, a diva from a foreign country on a pilgrimage to fulfill her destiny. Soon it is revealed that L'Arc's connection to Ryfia runs very deep and may very well change the fate of the world.
Story is one of the most crucial elements in an RPG, as it provides the player with the incentive to see the game through to its completion. Unfortunately, its story is Arc Rise Fantasia's biggest weakness. The plot will be familiar to RPG fans due to elements seen in other titles such as Square Enix's Final Fantasy X and Namco's Tales of Symphonia, along with character archetypes common in the genre. But it isn't the story you are telling that matters, it's how you tell it - and this is where Arc Rise Fantasia falters. Thanks to some very poor voice acting along with bland script localization, even the most emotionally moving scenes are dull and boring.
Luckily, the game does have a pretty solid RPG system that makes for some enjoyable gameplay. Up to four characters participate in turn-based battles. Often you will be hosting a guest character that will remain with the party until an important event occurs. The battle menu features the options of Attack, Excel Attack, Magic, Rogress, Defend, Wait and Move, and Item. Selecting the Attack makes the character perform his or her physical attack, while Excel Attack deals far more damage to the enemy. As the name states, Magic lets the character perform a magic spell on the enemy. Rogress is a special summoning attack exclusive to some characters. In the case of the rest of the cast, they have Arm Force attacks and abilities such as Steal. Wait and Move lets players move the characters around in order to avoid being hit by an all-range spell or to let them rest, and finally Item allows the use of items. Players can also chain magic and physical attacks; when characters target the same enemy, they will randomly team up to deliver a far stronger melee or magic attack.
All of these options cost Action Points (AP). AP determines the number of actions that can be performed during battle. For example, if a character currently has a high number of AP points, they can perform far more actions in a battle and thus get the upper hand on the enemy; if their AP meter is low they are limited as to what actions they can do, giving the enemy a higher chance of success. This is a very interesting concept, as players often need to strategically think about their course of action, with reckless actions causing undesired results.
However, the AP system does have its shortcomings. At times when you need to face a tough enemy you will need to perform stronger attacks, which cost far more AP than regular attacks. This forces players to limit the number of attacks they can use so they can focus on being more defensive. During some battles this proves to be cumbersome, as the limited number of actions can handicap you and determine the outcome of the battle. Regardless of this issue, the AP system is simple enough to comprehend and use effectively.
In the event that the player doesn't want to individually select each character's actions in battle, there is an option to program the character AI. In Tactic, you can set your characters to Adaptive (the player is in direct control of the character's actions), No Magic (characters will focus on attacks other than magic spells) or Attack Only (they melee attack each round, with no chance to use items or spells). Characters can also be spread across the field as a defense mechanism, as some monsters and bosses have long-range attacks that can harm many characters at once.
Arc Rise Fantasia abandons the concept of random battles in favor of letting the player see enemies ahead of time. The choice of taking on enemies in order to level up or avoiding them altogether is left up to the player, eliminating the frustration of constantly running into undesirable battles. Depending on how you approach the enemy, your party will either get a first attack or be ambushed by the monsters. This is very important to keep in mind when grinding for levels, because your AP is higher when you attack first, and lower when enemies ambush you. It is a welcomed addition that makes the game more enjoyable to play, especially when you feel the need to improve your character's level.
Each character in the game is a different class with unique abilities. For example, L'Arc is the fighter whose expertise lies in close-range combat, while Ryfia is a spellcaster that works better with magic attacks and healing spells, but is weak in terms of physical attacks. Magic attacks can be equipped using an orb system similar to the Materia system found in Final Fantasy VII. Each slot can be filled with an elemental orb that contains a different magic spell. Some of the more magic-based characters have far more slots with which to equip orbs.
Weapons can also be upgraded. With each successive win a weapon will gain levels. Not only will your weapon perform better in battle thanks to its higher rank, but its "Force Grid" frame can also be expanded upon. This is a system in which players can equip additional attacks and skills by mapping them to the weapon's grid. The space is limited, however, so the player must carefully select which abilities to bring to battle. Of course, better weaponry can be obtained and upgraded throughout the adventure.
The controls in Arc Rise Fantasia work very well. The default Wii Remote and Nunchuck setup is comfortable, though it doesn't use the Remote for pointing or motion control. You can use the Classic Controller and the GameCube controller if you prefer a more traditional control scheme, but all three options work fine.
Overall, the gameplay in Arc Rise Fantasia certainly delivers. For casual fans of the genre that can't get past the most common conventions of RPG gaming, the title has a very easy-to-understand battle mechanic that employs a lot of options in order to make the experience that much more desirable.
In terms of visual presentation, while Arc Rise Fantasia doesn't push the graphical powers of the Wii, it is certainly a very pretty game. This is in part thanks to its very colorful anime presentation. The character design is very bright and detailed, while the game world is rich in detail and stunning architecture. Monster design ranges from the cute and wacky to the surreal and threatening, ensuring that each encounter is fun to watch. The special effects are also no slouch either, featuring larger than life summoning spells that cover the entire screen with color and fantastical presence. Unfortunately, the CG cutscenes put a damper on this visual package. They are stiffly animated and feature a very muted color scheme that heavily contrasts with the colorful aesthetic of the characters and their world.
Sub-par voice acting is what primarily ruins the story in Arc Rise Fantasia, and that level of mediocrity invades the gameplay side of things. Characters will often repeat their lines ad nauseum during battle, with very little enthusiasm put into their vocal roles. The music does a little better but is generally forgettable, with very few themes creating a lasting impact on the player.
Overall, Arc Rise Fantasia scores points with a creative and option-filled RPG system that should please newcomers and casual fans of the genre, while giving experts many things to experiment with. But your enjoyment of the title will ultimately boil down to your tolerance of its story. How it is told will test your patience, since its amateurish script and lifeless acting ruins what could have been an otherwise entertaining plot. Still, its gameplay can be a lot of fun and its world is an interesting one, making it a good rental for those looking for their RPG fix.