ArcaniA: The Complete Tale Review
Honestly, it's a bit of a rough time for a developer to be putting out a medieval action RPG. What with the Witcher on everyone's radar, most people know where their dollars are being spent. On top of that, ArcaniA, while "Complete" with it's Fall of Setarrif content, is still a port of a previous generation's title, making it all the more difficult for your Average Joe shopper to be interested in. But, despite all of this running against it, ArcaniA found a way to scratch an itch I haven't scratched in a long time.
From what I've played so far, ArcaniA doesn't miss any beats on the traditional medieval RPG checklist: you've got your one man against the world, complete with a mission worth fighting for, wrongs to right, and a skill tree to complete. Starting out as a lowly shepherd in town killing rats because someone said so, you soon find yourself swept up in a war, striving to defeat the evil king, though for reasons all your own.
At first I was a bit disappointed: our hero may have an end goal in mind, but his way of getting there is fetch quests. Want this powerful sword? Complete three tasks for me first. On the first task you have to go through a field? Better do a nice thing for the farmer. Then another guy has the last item you need? He'll ask a favor too. Your avatar seems to be up for anything, and soon you find yourself with a load of tasks to plow through. This makes the game feel linear at times, and it doesn't help that there's really only a few options for attack (one sword button, one spell button, one ranged weapon button). The lower budget of this title really grated on me a couple times, as I began seeing the same faces on the villagers. It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't that the most common random face I've seen appears to have come off of a noted character who died early on, followed shortly by the guy I was sure was the equivalent of the hero's best friend. I kept wanting to say "you look familiar...." The jumping mechanic leaves a lot to be desired as well, as the animation is static and simple.
Then, something hit me that turned my attitude around for this game: we aren't trying to be a Witcher, or a Skyrim here. If this game had a different perspective, and potentially a multiplayer mode, I'd be in the next Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. One of my favorite PS2 games, it found you talking in simplified conversation trees with people wanting you to go on fetch quests, while your silent protagonist slowly upgraded his or her skills via a level up system and equipment best decided on by seeing how many of your numbers turned green when highlighting them. Other things cleared up during playthrough as well. My frustration at the plodding speed of your character was alleviated soon after starting as the first rune you find lets you run faster, giving you a quick dash between areas, while slowing you down for the battles. Teleporters show up soon after that, making your trips even faster. Attacks sped up and became more varied as my skill tree advanced and I found more weaponry.
The core of the gameplay revolves around the aforementioned fetch quests. It really boils down to "talk to person, follow map dots, get things, come back" while using your skill trees to level up your characters. One thing I appreciated in this game was how most dungeons I've been through actually end up looping back around so when you exit you're a quick jog from the person who sent you on the quest, rather than miles away and soon lost and forgetting you ought to go back. The game definitely caters to the Baldur's Gate "mash on the attack buttons" style of gameplay, and has a very nice setup for spells and curatives, assigning two sets to the directional pads with a shift button to split between the sets. Additional levels on the skill tree open up longer combinations as well, so you can expand your attack repertoire as you delve further into the story.
At $30, this game deserves some attention. Had it been up there at $60 vying for your hard-earned Witcher dollars, the choice would have been obvious, but ArcaniA is content to deliver on what it offers: a wonderfully upscaled port of an epic RPG storyline with Baldur's Gate style battle mechanics and gameplay. If you enjoyed those games and are looking for more, you will not be disappointed.
Thanks to Nordic Games for providing a copy for review.
Final score: 3.5/5