Arc the Lad II

The G-Craft-developed and Sony published Arc the Lad was one of the very first RPGs for the fledgling PlayStation when it saw its release in Japan, although since Sony’s American branch detested RPGs then, it wouldn’t be until Working Designs stepped in to localize the first three games in the franchise. Story-wise, the first sequel, Arc the Lad II, picks up where its predecessor left off, and allows for data transfer from the first game, which provides players additional scenes and preserves the levels the main cast of the first game had when the player completed it. The first successor builds highly upon its predecessor, but is this a good thing?

Whereas its predecessor was for the most part a straightforward strategy RPG, the second Arc the Lad is for the most part a traditional RPG that has a tactical battle system, with explorable towns and dungeons. A step down from the first game is that whereas the original allowed all seven of its playable characters in battle, the sequel decreases this to five, with a party selectable at the beginning of a dungeon and in most instances unchangeable unless the player leaves said dungeon. Enemies and the player’s character exchange turns and blows likely dependent upon speed, with no turn order meter.

When one of the player’s characters reaches their turn, they can move them around in a grid-based area, with the character needing to jump over allies or enemies, accounting for occasional traffic jams in combat if the battlefield is tight. When a character approaches the edge of a dungeon’s room, the player receives the option of leaving the chamber, although if they say no, the character moves back one space instead of allowing players to move them freely in their movement zone, with occasional instances where the player is thus forbidden to move across the edge of a battlefield to engage and enemy.

Whereas the original game only had equipment slots for accessories, with fixed attack types, its sequel allows characters to equip different kinds of weapons in addition to a piece of armor and an accessory, with certain weapons having alternate ranges of effect. Unless the player devotes sizeable intervention to grinding, enemy levels tend to rise quickly as they progress through the main storyline, and in most instances, if a character is even one level below the enemy, their normal attacks will almost always miss, even if attacking a foe from the sides or behind, with no accuracy stat determining this, thus forcing a dependence upon MP-consuming spells.

One character can capture monsters for use in battle, although the player can only equip them with a weapon, and they die easily due to their inability to wear armor. One major area where the developers got lazy is the fact that foes only face southward when low on HP, a step down from the first game that didn’t suffer from this issue. It can be hard to keep the massive playable cast up to speed in terms of levels, as well, and while one character can distribute all acquired experience to weaker characters, finding upgrades for him requires a sidequest consistent of several dungeons. In the end, combat is serviceable, but suffers from many mentioned issues.

The controls don’t fare any better. Whereas the original had limitless item space and stackable items, the sequel greatly restricts inventory, meaning that the player needs to regularly dispose of items to acquire news ones with a loaded inventory. There’s also occasional poor direction on how to advance the main storyline, with plot advancement sometimes necessitating the player to speak to certain NPCs with specific selectable characters. Another nail in the coffin is the awful placement of save points at times, with sometimes up to an hour between save opportunities if the player doesn’t play compulsively and back out to save the game in case of a long dungeon. Ultimately, interaction could have been far better.

The story is also pretty much garden variety, with the new protagonist Elc yearning for revenge for his family, and ultimately crossing paths with Arc and his companions, whom he initially suspects is responsible for his clan’s death. There are plentiful predictable moments throughout the narrative, in addition to the poor direction on how to proceed in the main plotline, with almost all enemy soldiers, for instance, transforming into monsters to fight the player’s party rather than fighting in their human forms, and the idea of an ancient evil sealed away has been done well before the sequel’s time. In the end, the plot hurts the game more than helps.

Although Working Designs typically receives much adulation for their localizations, the sequel actually fares somewhat worse than its predecessor in this department. As in the first game, the voice acting remains in Japanese, and there seems no reason, for instance, why anyone would think it natural for a character to proclaim, “I can scarcely believe it!” There are also occasional conversations that go thus:

Yep, it’s their cell, alright.
Prison!

There are also moments where the translation team just didn’t care, with quite a few skill and enemy names untranslated, for instance, “hemo-ji” and most of Iga and Tosh’s abilities, and one point where NPC sprites, after a dungeon, are invisible. Finally, naming the ancient evil “the Dark One” has already been done by the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga, and overall, the localization team could have given this area a thorough once-over.

In spite of some recycled tracks, the music is pretty much the high point of the game, with plenty of tracks old and new, although the Japanese voice acting actually sounds like gibberish at many points, and as usual they butcher English words instead of saying them properly.

The graphics are at a greater resolution than those in the first game, although the character sprites still make them look more like hobbits than humans, with plentiful palette-swapped enemies, as well, alongside the aforementioned issue of foes only facing southward when low on HP, which the player’s characters do as well. There are a few CG cutscenes, although they only feature scenery and no characters, and more or less get the job done. Overall, the visuals are average.

Finally, the sequel is much longer than its predecessor, somewhere from sixty to a hundred and twenty hours to complete, with plentiful sidequests, but little replay value given the point of no return towards the end with no opportunity to leave the final dungeon.

In conclusion, the first Arc the Lad sequel is at best a mediocre successor, although it does have positive aspects such as the general solid tactical gameplay, abundance of sidequests, and nice music. There are, however, plenty of strikes against it, particularly with regards to the high miss rate of normal attacks in battle, the save point starvation at quite a few points, the rare potential to freeze, the garden-variety plot, the localization team’s laziness in some instances, the untranslated voice acting that only those who truly comprehend the Japanese language will appreciate, the average visuals with the mentioned laziness, the minimal replay value, and the fact that the game generally puts quantity above quality. It’s overall a step down from its predecessor, but is by no means a bad game. Even so, those that liked the first installment should approach its first successor cautiously.

The Good:
+Enjoyable tactical gameplay.
+Plenty sidequests.
+Nice soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Normal attacks miss way too often.
-Save point starvation at many points.
-Could freeze.
-Garden-variety plot.
-Localization incongruities.
-Voice acting left in Japanese.
-Average visuals, with some laziness
-Little replay value.
-Puts quantity over quality.

The Bottom Line:
A step down from the first game, but not terrible.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 3/10
Story: 5/10
Localization: 4/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 6/10
Lasting Appeal: 2/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 60-120 Hours

Overall: 5/10

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