Arc Rise Fantasia
Arc Rise Fantasia follows the adventures of L'Arc, a young mercenary, and Ryfia, the mysterious girl who rescues him from a monster
- Excellent combat engine, lots to see and do, fantastic soundtrack, enjoyably poor voice acting
- Sub-par localisation effort, by-the-numbers story
A solid JRPG effort from Image Epoch, the Nintendo Wii-exclusive Arc Rise Fantasia is highlighted by an expansive world and an innovative and engaging battle engine, but is bogged down by a generic story and an awkwardly translated script.
Arc Rise Fantasia is probably the best Wii-exclusive RPG to date. This isn't as big a compliment as it might seem though, as it wins that honour by default due to lack of serious competition. The only game I can think of offhand that could possibly (and probably) best it is Tales of Graces, the Wii entry in Namco-Bandai's typically superb RPG series. But since ToG looks like it will remain a Japan exclusive, Arc Rise will have to suffice. It's an ironic circumstance, since it takes heavy inspiration from the Tales series in many ways: character designs, the optional dialogue "skits", setting design and presentation, and even things like enemy types and color schemes. It almost feels we're stuck settling for this instead of ToG. It's not all bad, though -- at least Arc Rise Fantasia is a fairly solid title on its own merits.
Arc Rise Fantasia follows the adventures of L'Arc, a young mercenary, and Ryfia, the mysterious girl who rescues him from a monster and now follows him everywhere. Through a chain of consecutive disasters, nations are plunged into war, the a world-ending peril is revealed, and L'Arc's hidden powers come to light. You'll spend plenty of time encountering familiar JRPG tropes, including the hero's best friend/pretty-boy fangirl bait, conflict between "good" and "bad" brothers, mysterious jewellery with hidden meanings, the stupid comic relief buddy, incredibly powerful summoned beings, teammates with secret pasts and motives, and a completely bland love triangle. In other words, you've basically seen this all before. The cliche-laden story would be more enjoyable if the characters themselves were interesting, but their dialogue and interactions are pretty unremarkable, hampered further by an awkwardly rewritten English script.
Speaking of awkward, the voicework in Arc Rise Fantasia deserves special mention. As someone who "appreciates" awful voiceover work, Arc Rise Fantasia's ineptly cast and badly directed dub proved to be a veritable goldmine of unintentional comedy. Ryfia's monotone, cue-card battle observations and L'Arc's bored-sounding hissyfits -- among countless other issues -- are the sort of things that leave me rolling. Of course, I'm sure most will find the VO to be an ear-grating experience, but thankfully the voices can be shut off.
The graphics and music in Fantasia definitely aren't as low-quality as the voices, however. Visually, the game is very appealing, though it lacks the sort of high-res polish we've become used to from JRPGs on other consoles. Characters and environments look very good (save for the cluttered overworld map), and the only thing that makes exploring these areas a pain is a fixed-path camera that's determined to get you lost. The music, composed by veteran game maestro Yasunori Mitsuda (the Chrono series, Xenogears, Xenosaga), is uniformly excellent -- you might find yourself compelled to spend more time in certain areas just to listen to the soundtrack.
Where Arc Rise most succeeds, however, is its combat system: a unique take on typical turn-based RPG battles. Players are given a pool of Action Points at the start of a turn, which they must decide how to spend. Every action, be it attacking, magic, using items, moving, or defending costs AP. One can use all their allotted AP having a single character attack repeatedly, chaining attacks together in a powerful combo, or they can opt to spread them across the party, having everyone aim for different foes, bombard an enemy with follow-up attacks from different sources, or go on the defensive for recovery and build-up for a more powerful onslaught later. There's a great deal of strategy and pre-planning involved, particularly against tougher foes. While most of the enemies you'll encounter are standard level-building cannon fodder, most of the boss fights are quite challenging, and new twists the game throws in later on (chained attacks and magic-augmenting environmental objects) serve to help keep players alert.
Arc Rise Fantasia gets a recommendation -- with reservations -- from me. If the only system you have is a Wii and you need an RPG, this certainly isn't a bad title to settle for. For gamers with more console options, however, the enjoyment you'll derive from Arc Rise Fantasia will likely be tied to how much you like combat, since the story certainly isn't anything worthwhile. For me, it was worth it just for the fights... and the voices associated with them. Thanks to Ryfia, I'll forever remember that I "must answer my calling."
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