Lord of Arcana Review
Lord of Arcana is Square Enix’s attempt at breaking into the multiplayer action-RPG genre dominated by Capcom’s Monster Hunter franchise. The title was developed by Access Games, whose previous games are mostly dominated by flight combat simulators. Take what you will from that.
The immediate concern with a game that takes its inspiration from Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star is whether or not the core gameplay will be any fun. The aforementioned franchises have a tendency to be stale, with repetitive combat forced upon the player ad nauseum. Likewise, the player will slowly grudge through the same cookie-cutter dungeons and areas until their eyes bleed, killing countless copies of the same few enemies. Surely Square Enix was aware of these pitfalls, and put their decades of award-winning, genre-defining publisher and developer experience--as well as their deep, deep pockets--into ensuring that Lord of Arcana was everything that Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star are not, right?
Of course, the answer is “no.” Lord of Arcana doesn’t so much take inspiration from these games as it does copy them outright. There is one central hub where your custom character (weapon choice and even physical appearance can all be changed at a later time) will be able to shop, store items, and take on missions. There is a story that revolves around magical power known as arcana, but the developer didn’t pay much attention to it so neither should you. Instead, this game is about grinding, pure and simple. You’re going to be visiting the same areas and fighting the same handful of enemies throughout the entire game. Regardless of what weapon you chose (sword and shield, axe, pole, great sword), you will essentially press X until everything is dead and you can pick up more torn leather or potions off the ground.
There is a ranged class of weapons, but these are highly recommended as a support-only option when playing with others, as they’re too weak to take on enemies head-on and up close. Much, much later in the game you will gain access to powerful summons (these do not come easy, however) that will finally be of use, but I would have traded my Agni and Bahamut for a few different two-handed sword combos so I’m not seeing and hearing the same animations every five seconds.
After a couple hours, you’ll eventually be able to unlock your first magic spell and can start throwing fireballs at goblins and skeletons, but nothing ever seemed to compare to a few good whacks from a sword the size of my entire character. When playing alone, the game’s pace slows dramatically as you’ll be required to block and dodge/parry enemy attacks quite often, further building up the tedium. Boss battles can go on for upwards of 20-30 minutes, which wouldn’t be so bad if the uninspired bosses had more than four different attacks. Once you learn their patterns, it’s a matter of chipping away at their health until a QTE is enabled. Then, after you’ve finally beaten the stage and are ready to harvest the boss (or any other enemy) for valuable materials, you have about a 50/50 chance that the arcana will turn them into a bloody pulp, effectively wasting all the time and effort you just put forth.
Multiplayer makes the game slightly more enjoyable, but is also poorly implemented. Only the host saves their campaign progress, so the other players (up to four total) will have to go back and do every mission themselves (or as the host) for them to count. This wouldn’t be too bad, as you’re expected to play most of these repeatedly for materials, except that basic features such as the blacksmith (which allows you to make or enhance armor, weapons, and spells) and story cutscenes are blocked if you’re not the host. Furthermore, non-host players will not be able to play levels from the next chapter, even if they completed all of the previous missions in co-op. I will go so far as to say that the lack of WiFi outright buries this experience. How Square Enix expected to be a contender while not including that standard option in this day and age is beyond me.
Lord of Arcana commits the cardinal sin of game design: Beyond being painfully lacking in variety or original ideas, it outright wastes your time, and then punishes you for your determination to not give up. Even a great game would be hard-pressed to get me to keep playing after throwing hours of progress out the window for no good reason, so I’m not sure what gave a thoroughly mediocre title like this one the idea that it could get away with it too.