Arc Rise Fantasia makes a terrible first impression with an opening CG cut scene that showcases its worst flaws. The voice acting is bad, the dialogue is awful, and it looks like no one put any effort into lip syncing. There are several long seconds when a character continues to speak after their mouth has closed. It’s embarrassing to watch. Thankfully, these opening minutes are easily the lowest point of the game. Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn’t strive to be much better.
The story is easy enough to follow in the beginning, but it slowly grows more and more convoluted until you want to give up trying to figure out what’s going on. The melodrama in the story relies heavily on knowing the intricacies of this fantasy world, but most of that knowledge is withheld until the very last moment. Climatic battles are not the place for long winded exposition. As a result, the story lacks any momentum, there’s no sense of danger or urgency, and even the main character seems bored. He’s a “chosen one” of the god of Creation, and when he learns that someone else is trying to become the “chosen one” of the god of Destruction, he shrugs it off. Not only does he dismiss it all as religious mumbo jumbo, despite everything he’s seen, he actively encourages the other guy in his quest. If the hero is bored by his own adventure, something is seriously wrong with your story. Other characters react to him and events with a naiveté and ineptitude that’s just frustrating.
The story reaches its peak of absurdity about halfway into the game when there’s not just one surprise double-cross but four in a row. By the end of that cut scene, I was laughing at the voice actors’ attempts to emote, and the story ceased to matter. It’s sad that every cut scene plays out like a parodic skit of itself, and it’s a wonder how anyone thought this was good enough to release. It seems like no one really cared.
The battle system is a mix of turn-based and real-time combat. At the beginning of each turn, you’re given a number of Action Points that determine how many actions your party can perform. Normal attacks take two AP, so does using an item, special attacks take three to six AP, etc. Once you confirm everything, everyone moves at the same time and a character’s speed stat actually determines who goes first. So you’re selecting your actions from a turn based menu, but the fighting takes place in real-time. It’s an interesting idea, but in practice, it doesn’t change a thing. Battles play out just like any other battle in any other RPG.
In an odd twist, weapons don’t affect your attack damage. Instead, every weapon comes with a few abilities attached to it. Use the weapon enough, and you can unlock those abilities for other weapons. It’s another interesting idea, and one that actually changes how the game is played. From stat increases to extra attacks, you’ll want to reorganize abilities every hour or so depending on who’s in the party and what enemies you’ll be facing.
But just when the gameplay gets interesting, it then sabotages itself as much as it possibly can. Boss fights bring a major swing in difficulty. It’s common to fight through a dungeon with little trouble and then get massacred by the boss, forcing you to grind a few levels before attempting the battle a second time. Save points are placed at the start of a dungeon but nowhere else, so if you die before the end (or during a boss fight), you must start the whole level over again. The magic system is excessively convoluted with four tiers of magic, an orb grid, and the fact that you must buy every individual MP point, and none of it is fully explained. A strategy guide or FAQ should not be required reading for any game.
Despite these terrible flaws, the game manages, against all odds, to be genuinely fun at times. Combat is entertaining when you’re just dungeon crawling, as long as you don’t accidentally trigger a boss fight and get killed. Every now and then a dialogue prompt will appear that initiates a short conversation between characters. These exchanges aren’t voiced, and while the writing is still cheesy, reading does less to damage the experience than bad acting, and these little asides become moments of enduring character interaction. However, these few bits of levity can’t save the game.
Arc Rise Fantasia is a throwback filled with the worst traits of the JRPG genre. It plays and sounds and looks outdated, serving as a reminder of how far these games have come over the past several years.