ArcaniA: The Complete Tale Review
I really didn't know what to expect when I first popped ArcaniA: The Complete Tale into my PS3. I was asked to do the review, and after I checked out a few gameplay videos I agreed. The game looked like a fairly decent third-person RPG, and I've immensely enjoyed similar games in the past. Why not, right? What I found in ArcaniA is an uninspired, button-mashing adventure rife with clich�s and bizarre design decisions alike.
ArcaniA and its sequel, Fall of Setarrif, are both included in this single package, which makes The Complete Tale feels like a greatest hits collection from a band that doesn't have a single good song. The story is boilerplate for fantasy; a farmboy wants to wed his sweetheart until evildoers uneventfully kill her. Said farmboy is thrust into a conflict much larger than himself, and sets out to find a mystical forge that can, maybe, save the world and unite the kingdoms. I've read Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain novels two decades ago (remember Disney's The Black Cauldron - it was the second book in Alexander's series of five) so ArcaniA's story felt like it was just going through the motions. The included sequel branches off in its own way, but you still won't find much originality or intrigue in either game. Sometimes a good or original story isn't a make or break deal for games like these - I had no freaking idea what was going on in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and I still really enjoyed it - but ArcaniA's hacky narrative doesn't do the overall game any favors.
Moving on to the graphics and sound, things don't get a lot better. Most of the time the game runs at the graphical level of a midrange PS3 game, but weird bugs and textures make everything feel unfinished. Pieces of NPC's faces can vanish for no reason, textures drop out regularly and framerates can slow to crawling for seemingly no reason. The graphical issues aren't just technical; they also reflect some bad art direction and set design. Most of the NPCs are soulless husks, kind of like what you'd imagine a crudely animated wax figure might be like. Weirder still are the surroundings, particularly the weather. Things in the overworld are mostly bright and shiny, but occasionally you'll see some rain. But for only few seconds at a time. You'll be running along, you'll hear a sound like a urinal trough at the baseball game being flushed and a rainstorm will pop up. Before you realize the world hasn't flushed, it will be gone. That is the weirdest example I could come up with, but strange occurrences and odd art design are the norm throughout both games.
The sound is almost as strange. The voice acting is almost uniformly terrible and the orchestral (sorta) score is forgettable, but what needs a mention is the background noises and sound effects. Birds, random noises in towns, all of it seems to be laid directly over the important stuff, stuff like music and spoken dialogue. There were conversations I had with NPCs that I couldn't understand because a robin or sparrow was chirping loudly nearby. Like I keep saying, weird. That seems to be the overarching theme of this game - just plain weird.
Actually playing the game isn't as weird as it is just blah. You've done all this stuff before in better games - running across an open world, completing objectives for NPCs, collecting items, mastering weapons, etc. This is all stuff we've done, but continue to love to do - if it is done correctly. ArcaniA misses the mark with its combat, so everything else positive falls by the wayside. Attacking monsters is chiefly governed by mashing the square button until they are dead. That is with short range, held weapons, but long range weapons are handled the exact same way. There is no room for cool flourishes, experimenting with different weapon styles or armor combinations or even changing tactics for different enemies. All of it comes down to who attacks (button-mashes) the fastest and is left standing.
Which brings me to my next gripe: the game contains nary a healing spell. You can use magic for all the other expected outcomes, but if you are beat up badly it is automatically time for potions. This feels very weird (there's that word again!) in a modern RPG, and can force you to high tail it back to town for more potions at some very inopportune times. I applaud developers taking risks with ingrained ideas in their games, but some mechanics just need to be there. If a farmboy can slay an ogre and save a kingdom, shouldn't he be able to patch up the cuts and bruises he sustains while doing so?
I could go deeper into all the stuff you may want from a game review, but it is best to just stop here. ArcaniA: The Complete Tale is not the game for you. You may get two games for the price of one, but if neither are very good, who cares? Everything you'll find in this package is a blender full of bizarre design decisions, half baked ideas and concepts and just an overall lack of focus. As much as I love this type of game, ArcaniA just isn't going to scratch my third-person RPG itch anytime soon. Try Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen instead. It is a game like this done right, even if it does have its own flaws. No matter what you decide, you're better off staying away from ArcaniA: The Complete Tale.
Final Rating: 45%. Two bad games do not equal one good game.