A true guilty pleasure
Enchanted Arms is a hell of a fun mess. Its story, characters, and settings are as laughably bad as anything I've seen since Metal Dungeon, and should there be a video game retrospective Razzie award, it certainly deserves a nomination. There's not a minute of dialogue in this game that isn't cringe-inducing. There are no great characters in the entire game. The plot makes other cliched games look like gems. And yet, there's a whole lot to enjoy in this game, particularly if you can look past its many, many flawed aspects.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
This is going to be the review equivalent of beating up a quadraplegic child for his lunch money. Enchanted Arms isn't pretty. At all. Ever. The graphics scream last-generation, and even then, that's a horrible insult to last-generation games. The character models are generic, generally utilizing only a few body types throughout the entire game. Instead of people actually conversing with each other, they use badly designed character portraits. Not in the cute Disgaea way, either - these are fully, completely generic 3D characters with about three poses each throughout the entire game.
The environments are as bland, lifeless, and uninspired. Desert area full of ruins? Check. Fire caves? Check. Snowy ice region? Of course. You've seen these a hundred times before, and in just about every case, they've probably done it better than Enchanted Arms. There are a few places that inspire a feeling that they're almost halfway-decent, but then I came to realize that those environments were simply better than the rest of the game's regions and towns.
There are cutscenes, though they're few and far between. What's there isn't terrible, but neither are the scenes special, either. There's a sense throughout this entire game that the development team and the publishers alike had a long checklist of the basics of RPG's, and forgot to add any heart, soul, flavor, or originality to any of the proceedings, and that shows desperately in the lack of care in the graphics and cutscenes.
If you want the best audio experience for Enchanted Arms, here's what I'd recommend doing - pretend your TV's sound is broken. Mute the hell out of this garbage, and play something pleasant on a radio or your computer. Maybe listen to one of Giant Bomb's own podcasts. I'm not sure you can even call what's here "voice acting." Acting implies that the person behind the mask is attempting to dramatize a script. These people are not actors. At no point during this game's production did any English-speaking individual listen to the garbage they were recording, because if they had, they would have fired the entire lot of actors and hired bums off the street. Trust me - Whiskey Joe could voice these characters better on his worst day. Were I the person behind Makoto or Atsuma's voice, I'd probably drink battery acid until I lost my vocal cords. Yep, it's that bad.
Makoto in particular is one hell of an annoying character, mostly because he's stereotyped into a corner as a flamboyantly gay hanger-on. I have no problem with openly gay characters in games or in any other medium. But Makoto is high-pitched, girlish to an extreme, and is voiced with aggressive abrasiveness throughout. It's an example of why you should just go ahead and hum something pleasant to yourself while any character on screen is talking - this kind of shit exemplifies the flaws of Enchanted Arms.
The music? Eh. It's there. It's not great, not bad. It serves its purpose, I guess. I did like the battle theme, which is surprising. So I guess there's one plus in the graphics and sound department.
Here's the shocker. Beyond all the bad voice acting, the unnecessarily flamboyant gay stereotyping, and the terrible graphics, there's a fun game to be had. This is meat-and-potatoes turn-based RPG fare with a solid learning curve and some great Pokemon-like "catch them all" aspects that really can add to the fun.
In essence, the game is a standard RPG with random encounters, equipment, and stats galore. The designers came up with a solid grid-based system for the combat that adds layers of complexity to combat. The mobs have one half of the combat field, you, the other. Characters are placed at random on your half of the field, and you can move them around as you wish. There are a few things to consider while doing so, such as the distance of the character's attacks, as well as an interesting cover system. Anyone standing behind a character during an area attack will receive half or quarter damage. Thus, it really pays off to create at least one tank, as well as making sure to develop ranged and other combat specialists.
There are some other smart choices that were made regarding combat. Players can turn control over to the AI each turn with a press of the right trigger, and the AI is usually great for most random battles. You won't want to let the computer control your actions during boss fights, but again, that's probably a good choice, as it keeps the player involved in combat and stat development. Another great idea was the ability to "fast forward" through each round. Although you can't skip rounds, you can hold down a button and move through all the actions rapidly, which really helps make the random encounters less of a drag.
I love the character building system. By winning battles, you earn both experience points as well as ability points. Experience points tie directly into your level and can't be used for anything else. Ability points, however, can be used to purchase new combat or support moves as well as permanently boosting your stats. While you can never quite change a character's basic fundamentals, you can definitely mold them into whatever direction you'd like. By the game's end, I had a team of tanks ready to throw out some ranged punishment, and I'm ready to go back through some of the late stages to gain some more ability points in order to finally beat those last few bosses.
Throughout the game, you will find golems that can join your team as an alternate party member. There are tons to choose from, some useful, others not so much. They gain ability points as well, allowing you to boost their stats (although they gain skills through levels and not through ability points). These golems are an optional part of the game, but you'll find a few powerful ones that can really help make the game a breeze.
There are plenty of side-quests, as well as a nice casino mini-game collection to help whittle away the time. The casino is a great way to help "cheat" your way through the game, if you're having trouble with it, as well as offering up some of the best equipment and golems in the game.
I'm not going to say that you should rush out and pick up Enchanted Arms. It would be hard for anyone to enjoy this game without a deep appreciation and patience for the absurd. But if you're looking for a bargain bin RPG with a great gameplay backbone, give this a go.