Arc Rise Fantasia Review

 With the Wii being such a popular system, the lack of RPGs -- Japanese or Western -- is surprising. The similarity of the console with the PS2 also has me scratching my head as to why there are little or no RPGs. Whenever a new RPG comes along on the Wii -- especially JRPG -- niche gamers crawl back to their little white console. Will Arc Rise Fantasia be able to stand up to their high standards? 
Arc Rise Fantasia has a story that is all around typical JRPG. It's a typical "boy is injured/looses his memory, meets girl, must find ___/ become ___, joins group of friends, then must use what he found/become and his friends to destroy an over embarking enemy.

In the case of Arc Rise Fantasia, you take the role of L'arc who is a soldier in the Meridian Empire. Enemies called Fell Dragons are attacking the Empire, and L'arc along with the rest of the Meridian Empire is sent to attack them. During this attack, L'arc is severely injured and then saved by a girl named Ryfia. L'arc along with Ryfia and his friend Alf -- the Prince of Merdia -- travel to the town of Jada to find the Rogress -- located in the Dragon Prison -- who supplies Rays to the Empire. L'arc meets the Rogress and becomes the Child of Essa. Ryfia's goal as a Diva is to protect the Child of Essa, which forms the basis of your party. Also, The Evil God, Real, is trying to destroy the world by having it encased in crystal by a Diva, so L'arc (The Child of Essa) and his party must destroy Real.

Unfortunately, this story is not nearly as interesting as it may sound. The terrible pacing and generic overtone really ruin it for me. Intense JRPG fans may find something to enjoy here, but most gamers won't.

The gameplay in Arc Rise Fantasia is classic JRPG through-and-through. You must gather a party of nimble fighters and move around the overworld meeting people, visiting towns, and fighting enemies. The overworld map in Arc Rise Fantasia is fairly basic. It's a mix between plains and hills, but you stay confined within a central area. Within that area, there are a bunch of towns to explore. Entering these towns provides you with inns and shops, along with special NPCs to meet.

Some shops allow you to buy items, while other shops allow you to upgrade your armor and weapons. The upgrade process for this is unnecessarily confusing. most RPGs provide you with stats to show you whether a weapon you want to purchase is an upgrade or downgrade. Unfortunately, the shops don't provide you with this information. All they provide you with is a 4x4 square with different colour tiles in it. Needless to say, I had no idea how to know what I was buying was better or worse than what I have. What left me scratching my head more was that once you purchase a new weapon, the stats are shown in your inventory. It's very strange that they wouldn't provide you with this information before you purchase new equipment with your hard earned gil.

Once you have visited towns, and met NPCs, it is time to complete missions. There are main story missions which are completed by following along the path the game sets for you. Also, you can complete much smaller missions by visiting a guild. These missions are completely optional, but provide you with money and special weapons.

In terms of story missions, moving between them is very open. While the missions may be quite linear, you can travel wherever you want (for the most part) between them. This is usually only within the confines of the town you are currently in, but the towns are quite expansive and full of NPCs. Unfortunately, this time can only be spent learning more about the uninteresting story from NPCs, buying items, or grinding. This clearly shows how expansive the developers wanted to be, but how restricted they were due to the Wii hardware.

Last but not least, the final part of the gameplay is the battle system. The battle system revolves around controlling a three man party. For some reason, your party can hold for members, but the fourth member is always controlled by AI. This leaves you with the other three or less to control. At the beginning of each turn, you are given a set of AP s). Each action -- such as attacking, defending, moving, using magic, or using items -- costs a set number of AP. You must swap between your characters and assign AP to them. Once you have depleted your AP, or have used as many as you like, you initiate your actions and everything plays out. Personally, I really enjoyed the battle system. It was actually a bit refreshing, considering how stale the rest of the game is.

Graphics wise, the game looks like a dated PS2 game. The overworld is very bland, and is entirely green and brown. Not to mention that the scale in the overworld is terrible. If you walk by a town, you are as big as a house. Also, you are about half the size of any cliffs. Once you go into a town, the game looks much better. The environment is varied, and there is increased detail. The only downside is that nearly all of the houses look the same in each town. It's almost as if they used the same house asset over and over again.

All character models in the game look ugly. The prominent characters have different colours and body shapes, but the NPCs look bland and unoriginal. Just like the houses in the game, it seems like they got five or six NPC assets, and repeated them throughout the game. Once you initiate conversation, 2D shots of the characters appear along their dialog. While these 2D shots look quite nice -- especially compared to the 3D models -- but like other games that use this strategy, they quickly reuse the same shots.

If you thought that this game couldn't get any worse, then just wait for the audio. To start it off, Arc Rise Fantasia features some of the worse voice overs I have ever heard in a game. The English dub is atrocious. None of the voice actors have any passion in their ability to even differentiate between emotions. I have never seen a game before where the same was used for "Hello", and "Aaaaaaaah!". Also a side note: the developers didn't match the mouths up with the English dub, so it looks like you are watching an English dub 1980's Japanese Kung-Fu movie.

The terrible voice-acting doesn't seem so bad if you compare it to the failed dialog. The game is chock-full of bad cliches, poor vocabulary, nonsensical conversations, and sexual innuendos. It is literally a stew of the worst dialog pieces someone has ever thought of. For example, the main character (L'arc) is unintentionally bipolar. At the beginning of the game, he is very caring and sympathetic. A few hours later, he becomes a jerk with some terrible attitude. A few hours after that, he goes back to being a nice person. If you enjoy dialog, or talking to NPCs in your JRPGs, then Arc Rise Fantasia will only cause you pain.

The soundtrack in the game is also terribly bland. Most JRPGs have very memorable music, but I can't remember any from Arc Rise Fantasia. It's so faint and bland that you are better off just putting on your own music while playing through Arc Rise Fantasia. At least your music should be able to drown out the awful voice acting.

The replay value in Arc Rise Fantasia is pretty much non existent. If you can swallow a playthrough of this less-than stellar game, you can spend tens of hours playing. Once you complete the game, there is nothing to do. There is the odd side-quest you can take from a guild, but I don't see anyone taking this game through a second playthrough.

Overall, Arc Rise Fantasia is a pretty bad game. You get a constant feeling of mediocrity while playing, until you come across something that is absolutely terrible. The story is boring, the gameplay is average, graphics are bland, audio is horrid, and there is practically no replay value. This is really unfortunate as I was hoping for a lot from Arc Rise Fantasia. It looked promising, but just came together as a dated and generic JRPG. I can only recommend this game to JRPG diehards who must play any and all games in the genre.

RATING:
4/10 
 
 
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Starcraft 2 Review

 "Hell, it's about time!" - the saying plastered across nearly all promotions for Starcraft II. It has been twelve years since gamers started "Terran" it up in the original Starcraft. Despite my terrible pun, the original Starcraft has gone on to change the face of RTS'. It even went as far as being a national sport in South Korea. Starcraft is a synonym for Real Time Strategy. If you haven't already come to the conclusion: yes, Starcraft is a big deal.

So finally, after those twelve long years spent trying to craft (no pun intended) a worthy successor of the original Starcraft, Blizzard has a final product. As soon as you see the game, you will instantly recognize that it is Starcraft. But is this what we want? Can Starcraft II fill the massive shoes of its predecessor?

Let's start with the story. In Starcraft II, you play as James Raynor. Raynor is said to be a criminal: a terrorist. Instead, he is just a powerfull enemy of the Dominion. The Dominion is being ruled by a totalitarianism government, who is spewing false propaganda. Many of which targets Raynor. Along with convict Tychus and other characters you meet along your adventure, you must topple the Dominion. 

The story in Starcraft II is really solid. From the minute you start a campaign, you are instantly sucked into this expansive world, and those who inhabit it.

But wait. You never played the original Starcraft and you feel overwhelmed by the thought of jumping head-first into the story of Starcraft II?

Don't worry, the smart folks over at Blizzard have got you covered. While Starcraft II is installing, a fairly detailed summary of the previous game is displayed on the installer, for your reading pleasure. However, don't think that reading is mandatory for newer players.  
 
  

Those who go head-first without any back story will do just fine, and will eventually learn everything in a short time period.

No matter how good the story is, the gameplay is where it is at in Starcraft 2. Just like the original Starcraft, the genre defining RTS gameplay is infectious. Although the gameplay may be a bit dated, and its difficulty may turn away new players, it's 100% Starcraft. You must gather minerals and resources, build bases, and send out troops while also defending your base. While this is solid gameplay that will never get old, there were some cool treats in the campaign mode. In the 26 missions available, the majority will be spent playing typical Starcraft. 

However, there are a handful of missions that will have you controlling only one special troop, while the AI backs you up with an army. Personally, I felt that it was a nice break -- considering the basic base building missions can get a bit boring -- and they were all well made and quite fun. My favourite being a mission where you must guide a familiar Protoss through an area with only a few other troops. At the end of the mission, you must essentially play through the intro to Super Metroid (SNES). It may sound like something that isn't fun, but trust me, it's great.

Also, To help alleviate the intense difficulty for new players, the game has a "casual" mode which is perfect for those who are brand new to Starcraft or RTS' in general. This allows anyone to start mining minerals, gathering resources, and sending out troops.   

  

Finally, there is also a special "Galaxy Editor" which allows you to create special maps and campaigns. A special feature for Starcraft 2 is online connectivity and the ability to post your maps and campaigns for others, which is a new feature for Blizzard games. There isn't much to comment on as it is pretty much everything the description says, but from what I tested, it worked well. I didn't spend a ton of time with it, but I am definitely interested to mess around with it more after this review is published. 

The graphics in Starcraft II are top notch. Running on the highest difficulty settings, bases, troops, vehicles, and enemies all look highly detailed. The cutscenes -- which use in-game graphics -- also look fantastic. One great thing about the graphics in Starcraft II is that there is almost never a drop in the framerate. As long as your PC can compete with the graphics setting you have chosen, you can run super smooth. No matter how many Zerg rush you, nor how many protoss warships, or Terran Odin's are destroyed, you will rarely suffer framerate slowdown. Unfortunately, keeping a constant frame-rate has dropped the graphics a bit. While Starcraft II's graphics look great, they definitely are not the best. It's a decision you will have to make: Incredible graphics with some technical issues, or fairly good graphics with rarely any technical issues?

Best of all, Blizzard plans for nearly everyone with a PC to play this game. They do this by allowing for the settings of Starcraft II to be turned way down. While having the graphics turned way down doesn't even compare to the "Ultra" settings, it still looks good, keeps a constant framerate, and opens the game up to those who want to game on PC, but don't want to constantly be updating their graphics cards. Personally, I think it is great that Blizzard considered all of the original Starcraft fans who maybe haven't updated their PCs for a while.

The soundtrack in Starcraft II is country music inspired, but with a space age twist. During battles, the music is full of twang and sometimes even a little dark. It feels like someone is sitting beside you noodling on a telecaster. But the music doesn't stop there. In the multiple bar settings in the game, there is always a juke box. The juke box 
has a bunch of  

  
 
clever Starcraft inspired covers of classic country music songs. These include an all female cover of "Sweet Home Alabama", and songs where dogs are replaced by Zerg. While it may sound not that appealing and really out there, it's actually quite easy to get into. Personally, I am not a huge fan of the juke box covers, but I really enjoyed the music that plays during battle.

Now of course, the best part of Starcraft II: the replay value. While there is a lengthy 15 hour campaign in Starcraft II, that doesn't even compare to the time you will spend with the multiplayer. You could easily spend 10's of hours playing some matches to keep you entertained. However, if you get sucked in and can't get enough, you could spend 100's of hours playing. People played Starcraft for 12 years waiting for this sequel, I could see players playing this one for another 12 years, especially with how advanced Battle .Net is.

When it comes down to it, Starcraft is a fantastic game. The problems I have this with this game are very few, and quite nit-picky. Fans of the original Starcraft will get exactly what they want from this sequel. It does a great service to fans of the original, while also being open to new players. Without a doubt, Starcraft II is one of the best PC games I have played in years, and it will not be forgotten when Game of the Year deliberations begin. 

PROS

  • Great Story
  • Incredible Gameplay
  • Graphic Settings Allow for Anyone to Play
  • Outstanding Soundtrack
  • Fantastic Gameplay Value

CONS
  • Gameplay is a Bit Dated
  • Graphics are Also a Little Dated
  • Some Campaign Missions Get a Little Boring
   
RATING: 

9.75/10    

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