Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark Review
Release Date: April 30, 2019
Publisher/Developer: 1C Entertainment/6 Eyes Studio
Platform: Steam, Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4
As an arbiter, Kyrie must lead her band of mercenaries who defend the Immortals, a council of long-lived and very powerful beings that protect their land. However, discord has settled in amongst the Immortals. As one of them chooses to step down, new "marked" individuals are chosen to potentially take their place. Strangely, one of the Marked is obviously corrupt, so Kyrie sets out to investigate and is drawn into battles she never expected. Thus starts the story of Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark, which offers a classical medieval setting with just a splash of steampunk. This turn-based tactical RPG is lovingly crafted by a small studio who knows their TRPG history and improves on it in several ways.
While Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark carves it's own path and is very unique on it's own rights, one can easily see that it is set to evoke the greatness of Final Fantasy Tactics. You slowly build up a squad through storyline encounters or hiring at the local guild and apply a basic class and subclass to each unit. This allows you to combine abilities and craft a unit that is truly unique. Experience and Ability Points are earned through battle, strengthening base statistics and allowing you to learn more abilities in a branching tree style system. You'll spend just as much, if not more, time in the basic Troops/Camp menu tweaking equipment, characters, and abilities to turn your squad into a killing machine for the next battle. With 25 classes that can be main or sub in any combination, 200 abilities, and 240 pieces of equipment you can really make your troops just what you want them to be.
Like I said, Fell Seal does it's best to improve on classic gameplay. It's standing on the shoulders of giants such as Final Fantasy Tactics yet still manages to enrich the experience. For example, items aren't purchased in stores and piled up in reserves; instead each item has a set number of uses available each battle. You can craft to improve the item count and efficiency, but you are stuck with the same item list each battle. This pulls your brain out of a hoarding mentality and lets you really get creative instead of saving that super-powered potion for when you'll never use it. Other minor changes include quality of life issues like ranged attacks not being hindered by terrain or the ability to "reset" a character to Level 1 and keep your AP, restructuring if you feel you've levelled "wrong." Any non-major character can be visually tweaked to your heart's content. You can change clothes (despite the class), colors, hats, accessories, and profile pictures. This can allow you to create memorable mercenaries but sometimes feels a bit too far, as the enemies can be randomized too. It's frustrating for me to watch the turn battle gauge and see a somber black man with dark hair over his eyes as a profile picture coming up, yet when it's the enemy's turn the character is a cheery Caucasian girl with blond hair. I just wish the game did a better job of consistency on this part.
There is an unparalleled depth to how you can customize your game's difficulty. There are a few defaults, but you can tune everything to your liking at any time, such as enemy count, enemy levels, quality of enemy gear, and how much they use items or special abilities. The game allows you to really find a groove you enjoy rather than force a basic difficulty option on you, which tends to challenge you to "git gud" or be considered a wuss. There are tweaks that allow those hardcore players to do as they please, including permadeath. Basic difficulty uses an "injury system" where downed characters lose a percentage of their statistics until they are allowed to rest out a battle. This was frustrating when my party was small and I didn't have enough characters to let them rest so they kept stacking injuries. Soon after though I was able to hire a few at the guild and give them a break so they could get back in the game.
Aesthetically, the game is beautiful. Characters and battlegrounds are hand drawn. This does prevent the ability to rotate the battlefields as some games in this genre allow, but Fell Seal uses this to it's advantage, giving character sprites more animation dynamics and allowing there to be "hiding spots" that can give players little surprises during the battle. It can be a bit frustrating as you can't see the depth in some areas, but the hand-drawn maps are designed well to make this a very small problem.
There may be only 40 story-based missions, but Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark promises "challenging end-game content" and plenty of chances for additional battles. If you find yourself stuck you can go back and patrol an area for additional experience and GP. This also counts as a chance for injured characters to rest and get back up to full potential. The game is budget priced as well, and the depth of difficulty sliders will make fans of this genre want to go back through again and mix up the modifiers for a whole new challenge. In my playthrough I feel I'm gaining levels very quickly and have quite the stash of gold. At first I worried the game may be "too easy" but then I remembered how much I can truly customize the difficulty to provide just the right amount of challenge. Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark provides an engaging story and addictive gameplay loop that draws you right back to the era of classic Tactical RPGs.
-Insanely deep difficulty customization menu lets you tailor the game to your liking
-Improves on one of the best tactical RPGs ever
-Beautifully hand-drawn sprites and world
-No rotating the battlefield
-Character randomizer is sometimes too random on enemy encounters, leading to a few moments of confusion
Special Thanks to 1C Entertainment and 6 Eyes Studio for providing a download code for review!