The Height of the Franchise
Arc II is a well realized product. It takes the basic engine and gameplay from the first installment and really expands the package into a complete and fully featured deal. While the first game is really more or less a setup introduction, this is the full 40+ hour event you were expecting. Arc II was never designed as a high production value game, but it is well done and accomplishes everything that it set out to do.
The story is nothing amazing beyond the standard JRPG expectations, but it is well put together and fairly compelling. For an early PS1 RPG, it was surprisingly immersive as well. The game picks up and runs for a while with the story of Elc, but eventually picks back up with Arc and company as they fight The Man. I also really enjoyed the hand drawn overworld design, as it really seemed to add some depth to the places and people.
The gameplay is back just as you remember from the first part. And when I say back, I mean like, it's pretty much the same deal. The cast of characters is expanded, but the basic combat is the same grid and combo setup as before, for better or worse. The real changes come in the non combat aspect, as there is a lot more travel and interaction to be done this time around. One of the best additions was the quest and guild system. If the game wasn't already meaty enough, you can sink a whole extra game's worth of time into the extra content there.
The leveling system is the same as before: characters get experience for dealing damage and kills. The implication there is that the heaviest hitters hit heaver and heavier, while healers and others get left behind. There is no experience granted for hanging out in the back, as in most RPGs. In life, 80% of success is showing up. Showing up is 0% of success in Arc games. It's very possible to work out just the weaker characters and build them up to earn better spells and so forth, but it's a real grind.
The challenge is pretty low throughout most of the game for an average gamer. Anyone playing this deep into the RPG catalog is going to have a strong enough base to power through most of this game. This is cool right up until the end, where there is a ridiculous, ridiculous difficulty spike in the final encounters. I had skipped a lot of side content and powering up just because everything was so easy and I thought it just wouldn't be necessary. Ending up watching the ending cinematic on youtube after eight hours spread over four or five failed attempts. I love my RPGs TOUGH. I want to be challenged and forced to work the mechanics and strategize in order to be successful. That ending was a little over the top though.
So in conclusion, I really liked Arc II. The combat is not my favorite, but it is a solid and well built SRPG. It was intended to be a clean, top down, old school deal, and accomplished that well. The story was pretty deep and well executed. I felt connected a little to the characters and events, despite the age of the presentation. I judge hard, and therefore marked this one as three stars. It didn't aim exceptionally high, but did what it wanted to do well, with some minor demerits for bland combat and the easy-easy-easy-stab self in eye difficulty spike.