Lord of Arcana Review
There is no way around it – Capcom's Monster Hunter franchise is the biggest thing to hit Japan since Godzilla. The latest game, the PSP exclusive Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, has dominated the sales charts over there the way a Call of Duty or Halo would over here. So it's no surprise that challengers to the throne have begun to pop up, with the two biggest contenders being Namco/Bandai's God Eater (strangely changed to Gods Eater for a U.S. release…) and SquareEnix's Lord of Arcana. American gamers will have to wait until the end of March to give Gods Eater a shot, but Lord of Arcana is available now. Does it top the Monster Hunter games? Is it even fair to compare the two? Is it, most importantly of all, any good? I'll break it down for you.
A little secret before we get going: Lord of Arcana is the kind of game that will only appeal to an extremely specific audience. This mission-based action RPG is aimed straight for gamers who love the character grinding process, endless missions and building their own gear. On the surface, Lord of Arcana can seem like a fast-paced beat ‘em up with QTE commands and huge boss fights. It is, indeed, all those things, but the gamers who will get the most out of this title are the ones who find joy in carving their way through thousands of enemies just to get that one extra point of experience, the ones who will fight an impossible beast hundreds of times just to collect one of its scales, a scale that is needed to create a desired suit of armor or sword, the ones who will pour literally hundreds, even thousands, of hours into a single game with nothing pushing them forward except the desire to see their character at the top of their game. If this sounds like you, keep reading. If not, Lord of Arcana will be a big letdown. It might even be a letdown anyway.
As you might imagine, Lord of Arcana doesn't have much going on in the plot department. There is a fabled land, a long-dead king, an amnesiac main character… all the blah staples of the increasingly lazy role-playing genre. There isn't much in the way of other characters or relationships, either. But like in the Monster Hunter series, none of that really matters. Lord of Arcana is all about completing missions, working with your guild, creating weapons and armor and making your character ever stronger. No one hated Tetris for not telling a story, and not having one shouldn't count against Lord of Arcana, or any game in this super specific sub-genre.
You will, on the other hand, have access to a nicely done character creation system. All the requisite choices are here – male/female, skin color, face, voice, etc. Once you've created your look, you can choose your weapon proficiency, and you've got a few good options, depending on what you might think your strengths will be. The indecisive will be delighted to hear that you can switch up any of your chosen options any time you visit the game's hub world, which I see as one of the game's greatest strengths and replay enhancers. Switching from, say, a one-handed sword to a mace or polearm allows your character to grow in all sorts of different areas, and being versatile is the only way you'll get past some of the nastier beasties. Lord of Arcana has an enormous amount of content for those with the time and patience to discover it.
The gameplay is where this title strays away from the Monster Hunter formula. The two major differences are the addition of a lock-on button and the manner in which you encounter monsters. First off, the lock-on function is a godsend. I've spent a couple of hundred hours with various Monster Hunter games myself, and even though I'm familiar with hardcore MH fans' aversion to a lock-on, I still say this feature is absolutely necessary. I'm hoping Capcom will take a lesson and at least give players a choice in the next Monster Hunter title. As nice as being able to follow your prey is, Lord of Arcana's lock-on button layout is just wrong. Players must hold the L trigger to keep the target engaged, and switching between multiple enemies is done with the d-pad. The problem is that the R trigger is the "run" button, and getting the functions mixed up never ceases to annoy. Having to almost constantly hold both shoulder buttons forces the player into an odd gripping of the PSP system, making it a one-way ticket to carpal tunnel syndrome after an hour or two. Games like this NEED a lock-on option, but they also need to have the option implemented more intuitively.
The other main difference is that battles are triggered like those in Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core or Persona 3 PSP. You can see the enemy (no random encounters, thankfully) and attacking them brings you into a battle area. Here, you'll often find multiple enemies, despite seeing just one on the previous screen, and you'll be confined to a circle, rather than the open area you just left. In Monster Hunter, you see the enemy, you fight the enemy and you kill the enemy all in the same place. Though it's aesthetically irritating, the warp becomes a real problem while playing with others; entering battle with friends can be a tricky affair if you don't time it just right. Clearly Monster Hunter has the superior method for handling battles, and Lord of Arcana pales in comparison.