With every passing year it becomes harder to be original, to innovate and create the ‘next big thing.’ Arc Rise Fantasia wears its inspirations so wholeheartedly on its sleeve that it almost drowns. It has the spikey-haired hero with a gigantic sword and a familiar medieval-fantasy setting. It uses the optional dialogues from the Tales series, team-up attacks similar to the Persona series, and magical Orbs, ala Final Fantasy’s Materia. You could call it a post-modern RPG. I call it an uninspired copy-cat.
L’Arc, the golden boy of the Meridian Empire’s legionnaires, is thrown from an airship during a monumental battle with the Feldragons (think regular dragons). That plotline is swept aside as L’Arc comes to and finds a mysterious girl, Ryfia, in the woods with him. She is from enemy territory to the north, on a quest to find the Empire’s Rogress – a mystical creature whose power is siphoned fuel the empire. A short time later, the plot twists yet again, and again.
L’Arc becomes bonded with the Rogress, Ryfia keeps calling him the Child of Eesa, the best friend, Alf, is in a political struggle with his brother, and L’Arc’s former sensei disappears on a clandestine journey. Following Arc Rise Fantasia is like watching a soap opera. The plot keeps turning and building, with tidbits of characterization carefully dispensed, so that you’re never sure how many days or weeks you’ll wait to receive any semblance of a conclusion, and when it comes, you have a hard time remembering how it all began. It doesn’t help that Arc Rise Fantasia has the most atrocious voice-acting since the early PlayStation days. We’re talking middle-school theater bad.
Plenty of RPGs with underwhelming plots have been saved by engaging battles, and Arc Rise Fantasia’s turn-based combat can be extremely intensive. Your three-member party has access to regular attacks, items, weapon-specific abilities, magic, super-charged Excel Acts, and, for L’Arc, the ability to summon his almighty Rogress. While the latter three also have charge-counters of their own, all maneuvers are dictated by Action Points. Any points left at the end of a round are carried over to the next. All this can be a lot to absorb, but it affords you a large amount of flexibility to plan strategies and alter your attacks to nail opponent’s weaknesses.
The complexity continues into item-management. Characters’ weapons grow in strength, and as they do, new sections of a grid are revealed along with news abilities, or Arm Forces. These Arm Forces can be upgraded with use and swapped around to give your character a host of extremely unique attributes, such as strength against certain enemy types or a quick drink of a potion if death is imminent. Furthermore, magical abilities must be purchased through orbs, and everything from upgraded spell-power to your pool of mana must also be purchased with magic-specific experience points.
A heavy combat-system is only as good as the battle it’s used for, which is where Arc Rise Fantasia struggles to find a solid foothold. It’s a matter of pacing. Unless you make a habit of running from every creature you see, regular battles are ridiculously easy, to the point that almost every encounter between bosses feels like mindless grinding. This makes it extremely difficult to gauge your readiness to tackle said bosses, who will undoubtedly wipe the floor with you regardless. Like hitting the high dive after learning to swim, you will go from one-shotting monsters to getting one-shotted yourself. Sure, you can (usually) leave and grind for more experience, but that’s rarely an entertaining endeavor.
Like a starving man at a buffet, Arc Rise Fantasia has a little of everything on its plate, but few of the portions ever complement the other. When you get hooked by a plot-line, you’re smashed in the face by the difficulty of bosses, and when you finish tricking out your party’s gear, you’re usually faced with useless cannon fodder to test it on. Arc Rise Fantasia does a few things right, but uneven elements rarely inspire anything close to excitement.