Arc the Lad

In 1995, Sony Japan released the first installment of its tactical RPG series for its fledgling PlayStation system, Arc the Lad, although given that the company’s American branch hated RPGs, it would remain in the Land of the Rising Sun until the end of the original system’s lifespan, after Sony America warmed itself towards role-playing games thanks to the success of titles such as Final Fantasy VII. American localization team Working Designs handled the translation, the collection including the first three entries for the PlayStation seeing its release in 2002, with the initial chapter for the most part being a solid experience.

As mentioned, Arc is a tactical RPG featuring a grid-based battle system, with no random encounters and fights occurring when the player enters certain areas, battles naturally being mandatory towards advancement of the main storyline. The player’s party of up to seven characters (though one of them, Chongara, can summon additional allies into combat), takes turns with the enemy, moving across grid-based areas, each side able to attack normally or use MP-consuming skills when close to one another, with victory coming if the player defeats all enemies and a Game Over and a trip back to the title screen happening should all the player’s characters die.

That the player can potentially devote a lot of time to battles only to lose them, especially in the case of consecutive battles with no saving or backing out in between, is the biggest issue with the tactical combat engine, although the fifty-floor Forbidden Ruins allows players to retreat through visited floors, making it ideal for grinding, although players can still die and lose progress, needing to fight the same enemies again when going back to the surface. Even so, the battle system has some nice quirks such as the relative quickness of battle compared to other tactical RPGs, simplified controls, each character being able to equip four accessories, and items only acquired from defeated enemies. Ultimately, a solid battle system.

Interaction is also mostly devoid, with a linear structure keeping players always moving in the right direction, although the player can only manage characters in battle, there are some points where there are consecutive battles without saving, and maybe one point where the game doesn’t explicitly state how to advance. Still, the first game interacts well with players.

The story that the original Arc weaves is enjoyable for the most part, focusing on protagonist Arc of Touvil, who leads various allies on a quest to find elemental spirits while searching for his father across various countries, and while the narrative terminates on a cliffhanger, there really isn't much of which to complain aside from some of the main characters not receiving much depth, and Working Designs translated the script well for the most part, with no noticeable errors of any sort.

The soundtrack is well above average, with some decent orchestral pieces such as the theme for the introductory FMV and the ending themes, the music within the game itself being enjoyable for the most part. The voices Working Designs left in Japanese also pretty much fit the characters, although as they would do with future voiced RPGs, the seiyuu tend to add oh’s and uh’s to English words.

The original Arc for the most part looks fairly decent for the Sony PlayStation’s very first RPG (at least in Japan), although character sprites are heavily disproportionate and look more like halflings than humans, there are quite a few palette-swapped enemies and pixilated close-ups when characters or foes execute normal attacks, and the FMVs are occasionally choppy and devoid CGI models of the characters.

Finally, the first game is fairly short, taking as little as five hours to finish, although even as part one of a bigger series, it has nice replay value and lasting appeal, given the Forbidden Ruins’ fifty floors, arena battles, and so forth.

Overall, the original Arc the Lad for the most part was a great introduction to the franchise, given its solid battle system, great control, a nice narrative and translation, enjoyable music, and half-decent visuals. It does have its flaws, such as the typical Japanese tactical RPG flaw of wasted time on long but losing battles, and the graphical presentation could have certainly used more polish at times, but the other aspects largely redeem the franchise’s first title, making it a must-play among tactical RPG aficionados, and even those that don’t normally like games in the subgenre might just like it.

The Good:
+Great straightforward tactical battle system.
+Solid interaction.
+Excellent narrative and translation.
+Nice music.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Voicework left in Japanese.
-Graphics could have used more polish.

The Bottom Line:
A great start to the series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 9/10
Localization: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: 5-25 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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