A western RPG set in an open-world land of turmoil and trouble, a mysterious plot of imminent destruction and more generic quests than you can shake an enchanted stick at, what could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, rather a lot! Straight from the off you are dumped into the map after a confusing, yet rather pretty cutscene. Due to the lack of a controller map on the in-game settings, I uselessly meandered about before unintentionally bopping a sheep on the head, after which I was presented with the aptly hilarious trophy for ‘emerging victorious from my first battle’. The game pretty much adapts this philosophy of inadvertently anti-dramatic situations throughout.
Without any form of character customisation whatsoever, connections to our unsung hero lack emotion from the offset. Charged with the task of proving your worth to a potential in-law, our epic journey commences with vole clearing in the fields and persuading nuisances to pack it in.
Soon after, the game frees up to it’s misleadingly open map. The first few tender steps out into the world are intimidating due to what appears to be a large scale of land stretched out ahead. Navigating the plains can be arduous in parts as the magnitude of reward, aside from some collectibles, does not relate to the input of effort required. The bewildering omission of a sprint button, and the sarcastic inclusion of teleporters, acting like waystones, but only able to travel between the small section of map you’re in, once more magnifying the tedium of traversal. With the large amount of backtracking present, you’ll soon be hammering the pad pointlessly in the hope of discovering a faster method of travel.
Combat, the backbone of any competent hack and slash mechanic seems simple, a combo system, a block function, an evasive roll and special moves should all be deeply rooted and employed with finesse to help differentiate your title from others. ArcaniA likes to play things differently though. Much akin to wading through a lake, the responsiveness and immediacy of actions relating to inputs is just plain atrocious. God of War this is not. As in any dire situation, a simple roll away from the impending danger is all that needs to happen, yet by the time the game has responded, you’ll find it’s remembered the inane mashing and inevitably queued up three evades with no discernable method to cancel them. Most of the time however, owing to the non-evident feedback, it can be commonplace to not notice the pounding you’re taking. Enemies fare little better on their behalf too, no matter what manner of weapon being wielded and swung, the effect is the same for each hit, (most) attacks are interrupted and that’s about it. No fancy animations here thank you.
Not that changing your weapon happens all too often either way, the loot system is poor at best, in all the hours I’ve sunk into ArcaniA, there has never been any dispute over which weapon is superior, just the base numbers to compare in what can only be described as the most unintuitive menu and inventory imaginable. There is no compare option, no move to junk button, no select multiple function; only around half a dozen items are displayed at any time. With the amount of screen real estate dedicated, comparing quickly becomes a chore. Add to this, the several weapons and miscellaneous items that cannot be sold, realistically lessen the space once more and the mere thought of shopping, a once great pastime in RPG’s, develops into both dread and sighs.
Levelling up offers no relief, with very few options, no skill trees and absolutely zero chance of creating a unique character fit for comparison, ArcaniA seem to have managed the impossible. Uninspired design choices run rampant; just a basic attribute increase with no interaction would have been preferable.
Graphically sub-par, the open world is appreciated as are the lack of loading screens, yet the feeling that they’ve possibly bitten off more than they could chew rings loudly. Enemy design is generic with little variation other than slight cosmetic changes to the more threatening variants. You’ll come across a smorgasbord of mediocrity battling wolves, goblins and every other vaguely mystical, fantasy creature you can imagine. All require the same tactics and all can be hideously exploited for little challenge should you wish.
All in all, there aren’t many noteworthy issues to bring up for ArcaniA, it’s strangely addictive in only the way an RPG can be and it’s long enough should your attention withstand the punishment. Yet still, there are many basic flaws present that are just plain unacceptable in modern titles. There is some inane fun to be had here, but it feels plain unfinished and still in alpha format, a good few months more polish would have benefited ArcaniA to no end. As a final note, to give an example of all the immersive activities possible, there is a trophy for lying in a bed or sitting in a chair for an hour…
Reviewed on PS3, also available on Xbox 360.