The Wheel of Dubious RPGs Episode 35-36: Arcanum and Blue Dragon

Avatar image for arbitrarywater
ArbitraryWater

15945

Forum Posts

5508

Wiki Points

289

Followers

Reviews: 8

User Lists: 58

Edited By ArbitraryWater

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

In my restless dreams, I see that game. Arcanum. You promised me it would get good eventually. But it never did. Well, I'm alone here now. Waiting for you to come.
In my restless dreams, I see that game. Arcanum. You promised me it would get good eventually. But it never did. Well, I'm alone here now. Waiting for you to come.

Developer: Troika Games

Release Date: August 22, 2001

Time Played: Around Three Hours

Dubiosity:4 out of 5

Number of times I’ve played through the opening hours of this game: at least half a dozen.

Would I play more? You know it’s coming. I can’t escape.

I’m back on my decade-long bullshit again, and that bullshit continues to be “Arcanum is my CRPG White Whale.” It’s one of the few remaining games of that late 90s/early 00s “Golden Era” that I’ve never played to completion, and even moreso than the likes of Fallout 2 it’s the one that sticks in my craw the most. As part of getting older, I’ve managed to move past a lot of weird backlog anxiety in my life, much to my own benefit. I’m moderately capable of accepting the fact that I’m never gonna finish certain things, because who has the time and/or attention span to address the giant pile of Media sitting in physical, digital, and mental shelves. That’s fine, and in a lot of ways it’s healthier to accept that fact than always trying to force something.

Arcanum is one of those exceptions. I still firmly believe that *one day* I will give it another honest shot, even if there’s absolutely no guarantee that I’ll ever finish it. Why? Aside from my general affinity towards Troika’s troika of RPGs, in my mind, Arcanum is “Peak CRPG.” Less from a qualitative perspective and more from a position of raw ambition. Much has been said about Arcanum’s terrifyingly open character development system, the numerous background options, and the varying ways those can play off each other. As a fantasy world in the midst of an industrial revolution, a lot of Arcanum plays off the diametrically opposed status of Magick and Technology, and so too can your character diametrically oppose having an enjoyable handful of opening hours depending on the build you start with. I cannot emphasize enough that Arcanum means it when it says you can have a very different play experience depending on how you develop your character, but that shouldn’t always be mistaken for a positive.

Creating a character and then inevitably restarting a few hours in is something to be expected from games of this era. However, Arcanum’s classless, highly variable spread of stats, skills, spells, and tech recipes all being fed from the same pool of points is intimidating even for someone of my caliber. Yeah, sure, you can probably get away with playing a very straightforward fight-man, but if you want to play anything remotely more interesting it’s going to be an experiment in trial-and-error as you find out that things might not quite be as flexible as they initially appear. You might be tempted to make a gunslinger character, given the game’s novel setting, but most of the early game guns are terrible, ammo is scarce, and For the purposes of these streams, I went with a tech character and a throwing build, which is a decent initial start, especially once you start running around with easily-craftable molotov cocktails, but I only knew about that stuff because I’ve started this game a bajillion times and have looked at guides.

To be clear, you *should* play Arcanum with a guide, in the same way you *should* play Arcanum with the unofficial patch. There’s a lot to see, a lot to experience, and a lot of interesting stuff in this game that I’d like to see one day. But I also think it’s fair to say that you have to squint a little (or a lot) to see the kind of game its proponents tout it as, and I’m not just talking about things like the clunky UI, the intimidatingly open structure, or the bad, clusterfuck-y combat that is neither good real-time or turn-based. Arcanum is promise, it is potential, and it is, ultimately… something you’ll probably hear more from me about because I cannot escape that siren song.

Blue Dragon

Throwing one out to all my homies trying to break into the Japanese Game Market with earnest but mediocre attempts
Throwing one out to all my homies trying to break into the Japanese Game Market with earnest but mediocre attempts

Developer:Artoon (with oversight by Mistwalker)

Release Date: August 28, 2007

Time Played: A little less than two hours

Dubiosity:2 out of 5

DragonQuestosity: Undeniable

Would I play more? NOPE.

I’ll spare you a repetition of my “Hey the late 00s and early 2010s were a rough time for console JRPGs” spiel that accompanied my write up on Enchanted Arms. Instead I’ll say that this period is also a pretty fascinating one, all things being equal. I’m not just saying that because this is also PRIME REAL ESTATE for both my idiot streams and our idiot podcast (I’m saying Eternal Sonata has been discussed with some seriousness) but also because you can see the same kind of weird experimentation and ambitious ideas of the PS1 and PS2 era coming to a head with technical, financial, and design limitations imposed by the shift to HD consoles. Remember how developing Final Fantasy XIII was so expensive for Square that they had to make two drastically different and extremely weird sequels? I sure do! Imagine how much more of a problem that was for developers and games who didn’t have that kind of Final Fantasy money!

Speaking of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi is a man of many talents, such as “being a Champagne King,” “burning giant piles of money to make a movie that almost bankrupted the company” and “creating one of the most beloved video game franchises ever made.” It turns out that imitating his colleague Yuji Horii is not one of them, as Blue Dragon shows. The comparison with Dragon Quest is unavoidable (and I have to imagine intentional?) once you start throwing Akira Toriyama in the mix, and the relative straightforwardness of the storytelling and mechanics seals it. Blue Dragon really wants to be a Dragon Quest sorta thing, with a Final Fantasy-esque job system thrown on top for good measure and a protagonist who said “I won’t give up!” no less than eight times in two hours. It’s weird seeing the amount of production assets, including some very nice-looking cutscenes (3 DVDs worth!) being put into an incredibly… straightforward story? A weirdly paced one, where our initial setup is quickly setup, the group of plucky kids gets their blue stands, and then… JRPG grinding and dungeoneering happen? I dunno man. Once the cutscenes dried up and I could no longer goof on them, I lost interest very quickly.

But actually I think the biggest minus for me here is that Blue Dragon just seems on the competent edge of dull. To reinvoke the comparison I made with Tales of Zestiria, it’s what I thought Dragon Quest was before I played a Dragon Quest game. No amount of generally jamming Nobuo Uematsu soundtrack and tantalizing *job system* prospects can distract from a game that did jack-all to differentiate itself from anything else I’d rather play. With something like Tales I can at least count on the combat being relatively fresh, and with something like Dragon Quest I can expect an aggressive barrage of charm that didn’t quite come through the same way in Blue Dragon. I’m sorry about this one Phil, but I think Lost Odyssey might be the early 360 JRPG that was actually worth them exclusivity dollars. Actually, I take it back. Whatever you paid for this boss theme was worth it.

And that’s it for me this week, but not quite all. You see, during my GB Community Endurance Run stream, we managed to reach the stretch goal to play through the entirety of not one, but TWO of the dubious games I played during those three days of streaming. I’ve already finished Project Snowblind, which is a… baffling disaster, but now the impetus comes to you, dear viewers. Do I stream a playthrough of the “maybe actually totally okay” Hitman Absolution, or do I continue the punishment session and my own tortured relationship with Survival Horror with The Evil Within? VOTE NOW. No seriously, I’m putting up a strawpoll. It’ll be open until the end of the week. You’re welcome.

PreviousNext
Star Ocean III and Anvil of DawnLost Kingdoms II
Avatar image for junkerman
Junkerman

646

Forum Posts

371

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 7

User Lists: 5

I think I last tried to play Arcanum over ten years ago now in the summer between High School and College. I tried my best. I too wanted to go a tech route and the entire time felt nothing but bitterness and regret at not going full magic.

The magic items were better, more common, more fun - at least from where I was in the game; and magical spells and abilities seemed less restrictive (and more fun to play with) and you seemed to start the game with a little more choice in your build.

By the time I clued in on this I had invested too many hours clawing my way through the game to restart before I petered out and never picked it up again... though I definitely looked back and thought about it.

I'd say you're not alone in calling Arcanum your CRPG white whale.

Everytime I think about picking it up again though... if 18 year old Me couldn't survive it then, I'm not sure 30-90 minutes of free time a day Adult me will ever make it passed the Zeplin crash.

TLDR; Magic has a spell that lets you talk to the dead... ALL the dead NPCs in the game. Right before I quit I restarted as a Mage and went around talking to all the dead people from the crash. Thats when I knew I had made a horrible, horrible mistake and Tech path is a god forsaken hell trap.

Avatar image for trh5001
trh5001

34

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

#2 trh5001  Online

Arcanum is a hell of a game that my min/max obsessed brain can not handle playing again even though I have tried numerous times over the years.

Avatar image for sparky_buzzsaw
sparky_buzzsaw

9420

Forum Posts

3772

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 39

User Lists: 38

Arcanum! My beautiful boy! Don't you let this bad man give you anything less than one hundred stars out of five!

Mmm, that score. That score!

Avatar image for sparky_buzzsaw
sparky_buzzsaw

9420

Forum Posts

3772

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 39

User Lists: 38

Arcanum! My beautiful boy! Don't you let this bad man give you anything less than one hundred stars out of five!

Mmm, that musical score. That score!

Avatar image for sethmode
SethMode

2971

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Whew, a double-header of games that I have immense feelings about for VERY different reasons. Arcanum was the game where I really just felt in awe at times (when it wasn't crashing or a quest wasn't just completely broken) at what RPGs could do as far as choice and challenge and dialogue and writing. Blue Dragon was...man, something, I guess. Like, basically what you said: not good, not bad, just good enough to not be terribly bad bad but just bad enough to not be any good. Such a weird game.

Apologies if I've missed it but have you played or done Lost Odyssey yet? I know that one is controversial for some, but I really loved it (although tried to go back and...better to just have the nostalgia).

Avatar image for loamlife
loamlife

10

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

you could honestly do an entire season of the wheel that is just ps3 era JRPGs. anyone remember white knight chronicles har har.

The thing I most remember about Blue Dragon was how extremely hard they tried to make it a thing. Not even in just the "Microsoft would like to sell more than double digit units in japan" part but you got the feeling they really thought this was going to be huge. They paid for an anime adaption. It got two ds spinoffs. two!

Avatar image for valorianendymion
ValorianEndymion

106

Forum Posts

7

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 7

User Lists: 9

I liked Arcanum a lot, but I also keep starting and dropping the game several times.

One thing, that maybe hit the game hard, an aspect of its character creation and evolution, like you said you need to know very well what are you doing and where you plan to go, because you gain only a small amount at each level to spend and might take several level to an actual pay-off, so if you try to spread out you delay the pay-off of said investment, where if you know what and when you can sort break the game, by rushing this or that.

In my longest play of the game, I put a lot of points in Earth magic (or something) and got Disintegration, which allow me to go around that dwarven mine dungeon way faster.

Also, I wonder how much the bleakness of soundtrack and visuals made me drop the game.

Avatar image for rorie
rorie

7047

Forum Posts

1263

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 3

#8 rorie  Staff

One thing, that maybe hit the game hard, an aspect of its character creation and evolution, like you said you need to know very well what are you doing and where you plan to go, because you gain only a small amount at each level to spend and might take several level to an actual pay-off, so if you try to spread out you delay the pay-off of said investment, where if you know what and when you can sort break the game, by rushing this or that.

I think this was my issue with it - I got to a point where everything got very, very difficult and I was already like 20 hours into the game? Just made me super frustrated and I don't think I ever went back to it.

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.