After the debacle (or sheer genius) that was Deadly Premonition, it seemed that Access Games was destined to fall into obscurity, or set to become one of the greatest cult developers to ever hit the industry. While DP garnered some very unfavorable reviews, it holds such an amazing campy quality that it’s hard to not just sit back and admire the blend of inappropriate music, phenomenally bad dialogue, and the greatest supporting character to grace an open-world game, “Zach.”
Having skipped their second lukewarm Ace Combat iteration due to the inevitable absence of “Zach,” I had hoped that Lord of Arcana would see his glorious return. While disappointingly not the case, it may be well worth it; Lord of Arcana is somewhat decent… isn’t that right, Zach?
Very much a Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star Online clone, LoA looks to improve upon the well-established mold with the hopes of creating a more in-depth, engaging story, yet like most of the sub-genre, it fails rather miserably. Before the game finishes introducing the world of Horodyn, which can only be saved by the power of Arcana, you’ll have forgotten how you set out on this quest, or why you’re even doing it. Conveniently unlocked only by the player, Arcana is sealed away by – you guessed it – powerful monsters that slayers (hey… that’s you!) must defeat. It’s a rather generic and overly forgettable story, even moreso than any of its more notable “cousins,” MH and PSO. Though if you’re familiar with other titles of the genre, then I’m sure you’re not here for the plot.
In terms to the story, Lord of Arcana’s combat shines in comparison. Sticking with a familiar setup, you’ll hack and slash your way through Horodyn with the help of six different weapon classes, crafting agents, various magics, and some ultimate attacks derived from bosses and sub-bosses to help keep things fresh. Hacking and slashing breaks down into two different types of attacks: normal and special. Special attacks, along with sprinting, will slowly deplete your recharging stamina bar, and like your weapon and magic skills, specials will level up and provide longer, more powerful combos. Six classes may sound like a pretty sizable amount for a PSP title, but at least three of the classes play almost identically, and besides the one and only single-handed weapon class – which is by far the only one worth playing as – the other five classes are relatively useless.
While combat is, for the most part, very similar to other hack and slash ventures, the addition of magic and ultimate attacks definitely help to freshen the formula, breaking up the monotony of the hack and slash grind, as well as adding a deeper sense of strategy in order to deal with the more physical and magical resistant enemies. QTEs (Quick Time Events) have also been introduced, as each enemy can be dispatched with a cinematic move ala God of War, and every boss fight contains at least two separate QTEs. Though they definitely aren’t new to the party, anything that disrupts the eventual tedium of repetitive combat plaguing the genre is a welcomed change. Even with the overly utilized QTE system, Access Games doesn’t abuse it, keeping them to concise, visually pleasing sequences used as a way to stagger or finish a boss, rather than a main focal point of each battle.
Besides the rather enjoyable combat and the quirky, yet fitting sound work provided by famed veterans Nobou Uematsu and Hitoshi Sakimoto, Lord of Arcana is a relatively average experience. Regarding its visuals, there’s nothing really to write home about, as it looks just like other titles of the genre, and the cinematics are genuinely entertaining, yet it feels a little dated. The character generator is limited to just a handful of different faces and hairstyles that aren’t quite up to par in terms of the game’s competitors, and their bland, generic look doesn’t help with the lack of variety, either. Initially, the locales hold a certain mystique that helps mold the world of Horodyn and your experience with it, but as you grind away in the same uninspired setting, especially after the 40+ hours that can be spent there (even more with the 4 player multiplayer), a necessary desire for variety takes hold, leaving a yearning for more detailed locations that never seem to appear.
For its first foray into Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star Online’s realm, Access Games’ Lord of Arcana definitely dabbles with some interesting ideas; unfortunately, there is too much mediocrity keeping it down. Whether it’s the boring character generator or bland locales, multiplayer quests that need to be repeated for everyone to get credit for the quest, or the eventual questing repetition that'll take hold, it's hard to recommend Lord of Arcana. Though you'll be graced with a stellar soundtrack from one of the industry's best, it's not enough to divert you from what the game really is: horribly average.