Enchanted Arms (360) – Review

Enchanted Arms - CoverCalling itself “one of the first true next-gen role-playing adventures”, “Enchanted Arms”, developed by From Software and distributed by Ubisoft for the Xbox 360 and now the PlayStation 3, the game may be the first next-gen RPG, but it definitely falls short of being a memorial title. The game does try to add a few elements to the standard JRPG format that would make non-RPG players more comfortable with the game, but the end result is a very lackluster performance that doesn’t compare well with the established likes of Square Enix and other long-time standbys in the RPG world.

Story: B-

The story centers around Atsuma, a student at the Enchanter’s School in Yokohama City who himself cannot enchant but instead is able to draw magic power out of others through unknown powers of his right arm. On the fateful day, he, along with his best friend Toya, are about in a festival celebrating the end of the long-ago Demon Golem wars when the city is covered by a layer of ice and putting most of the people to sleep. Unaffected by the cold, Atsuma finds that the Ice Queen, one of the Demon Golems supposedly defeated long ago, has arisen and before he can do much else, the Queen unleashes a massive blast of ice onto the city, shattering people and buildings alike. Atsuma falls unconscious to find himself in a jail cell, supposedly the only survivor of the Yokohama disaster and possibly wanted as the one that caused that. Aided in his escape and quest for any other Yokohama survivors by a somewhat snotty Karin, her quiet bodyguard Raigar, and the feisty money-loving golem hunter Yuki, Atsuma learns that the horror that the Demon Wars of old is about to be re-released on the world, and his right arm, actually a remnant of that war, is the key to preventing more death and destruction, but that stopping it may cost him the life of Toya.

Unfortunately, while the story does have the same sort of world-in-danger theme that Final Fantasy stories invoke, it never really feels massive or pressing. The world, as it is, seems underpopulated and the NPCs that you do meet seem unaware that something is going on. The characters are a bit flat save for Atsuma, and even then, he’s not a deep character to understand.

The story has a few pre-rendered CGI cutscenes but otherwise uses a gimmick found in many 2D RGPs, in that the two speaking characters (some with acted lines, some just text only) appear on opposite sides of the screen, with some lip-syncing to the words. However, in this game, the characters are rendered in 3D, and do switch between several poses to match the emotions of the dialog. This approach is fine as a way to allow the story to progress without having to watch characters act out every little scene, and in addition, you can quickly breeze through the dialog with a button press if the story gets a bit old for you.

Enchanted Arms - ScreenshotGameplay: B-

The game world is divided into several sections that are connected in a way as to make up the world map. In each of these sections you may find people to talk to or parts of the environment to interact with such as switches, ladders, grappling points, and more common in the late game, machinery than needs to be injected with Ether that is found about the levels. Most of the paths through these levels are linear though you can find some nice goodies by stepping off the main path at times; however, there is a lot of repetition in reusing the levels as I found that I had to run back and forth across some of them 4 or more times, and it can get rather tedious once your characters are above average skill. There are are two special objects on most maps: a “shop” gem that allows you to buy skills, golem cores, recovery items, and more, and a “heal” gem that restores your team to health. Unlike most standard JRPG’s, you can save nearly everywhere within the game as opposed to just at save points, which makes the game a lot easier to play in short segments, though it does become rather easy to forget to save at times, given how friendly the game is towards preventing an early Game Over. Monster encounters happen randomly and without visual warning.

Combat is done in a turn-based manner with some strategy elements. Your 4 active party members and your opponents are randomly placed on two 3×4 grid areas. On each turn, you can move each character to another grid point within range and then either use a recovery item or use one of the character’s skills for attacking the enemy or healing your party. The attack skills have various ranges, from as simple as an attack directly at the space in front of you to hitting a whole column of enemies. With these different ranges, it is possible to set up combination attacks by two or more of your characters to attack the same foe which helps to magnify the damage that you deal, as long as you’ve built up a combo meter from battle. Each skill takes a number of Ether points to perform, and so if low, you can also have a character just standby to recover an amount of points. Once you’ve completed your attack, the other side gets their shot, and so you need to carefully plan how your team is positioned after all offensive attacks are completed to minimize the damage to your side, using strong characters to cover the weaker ones, if necessary. If a character does fall in battle, you have three turns to revive him, otherwise the character will disappear, to the benefit of opening that space in the grid. Successfully taking down the other side rewards you with experience and skill points, money, and special gems that are used to create Golems. Alternatively, if your side should fail, the game’s not over: you’re presented with the option to restart the battle in addition to loading from the last save point. This is a very helpful feature for an RPG, as you don’t have to traipse over a lot of ground should you make a stupid mistake in battle, or if you find a boss with a pattern of attacks that you need to learn and develop the right strategy for.

Enchanted Arms - Battle screnA character falling in battle is not necessarily a bad thing as long as you win. Another addition to the game that varies from other RPGs is Vitality Points. As long as a character has non-zero vitality, they’ll start the battle with full health and ether points. However, taking damage, falling in battle, or escaping from battle will result in the loss of vitality at the completion of battle. Once a character is down to zero vitality, they’ll still be active in battle, but with 1 hit point and 1 ether point, which means they need need to recover as soon as possible or else will drop quickly from an attack. Vitality can be restored to full at the various healing points across the landscape, but you can also swap your 4 main party members with up to 8 other Golems (more on them later) at any time outside of battle to replace a companion with low vitality. While there are a few sections in the early part of the game where healing points are few and far between, they become a lot more common in the latter half of the game and make it easy to stick with your four main characters at all times.

As mentioned, the game expands your party with the use of Golems, special robots that you synthesize using Golem cores and the gems collected from the spoils of war. The golems do not have much varied power as the characters, but instead generally have a set of skills of a certain type to help out offensively or for recovery. The cores for the Golems can be purchased, found as a result of a boss battle, or can be fought by facing a pumped-up version of that Golem at various points across the landscape. There’s also a handful of weapons that you can synthesize for each of the main characters in the same fashion.

Both your main characters and any Golems in your party gain experience for each battle, and those active during the battle also gain skill points. New skills can be purchased and then learned by your main characters using up skill points, or alternatively, you can increase the base statistics of both the main characters and Golems with skill point expenditure. New skills comes in three main classes: support skills which, when equipped, provide always-on effects such as increasing the character’s hit points by 20% or making that character resistant to certain status effects. Standard skills are the ones that you use in battle, and while it took me a while to realize it, thinking there were so many options, there really is a limited number of these, arranged similar to Final Fantasy’s “fire, fira, firaga” ranking of more powerful effects without changing the target area, so they become drop-in replacements for the weaker attacks. Both support and main skills have to be equipped by the characters, with only 5 of each slots available, so there’s some customization of attacks depending on what range you want them to have for attacks or how much offense verses defense you want. Also, the main characters will learn EX Skills with both plot progression and with leveling; these are uber-powerful attacks that consume EX from a shared meter for the party. Each characters (including Golems and foes) and several of the battle skills also have specific elements associated with them, with the usual strength and weaknesses against the opposite element, so it’s possible to arrange Golems in the party to help out when specific attack types are needed in some areas of the world map.

Despite features that would make the game more amendable to a Western RPG player’s introduction to a Japanese RPG, the game has a number of non-technical shortfalls to make it a lot more mediocre. One of the available battle options is to allow the computer to automatically run the characters. The AI for the computer will not necessarily get the battle over fast, but it will make reasonable rational decisions about what actions to take (for example, healing via skills if necessary), but it will not use items nor use EX powers. You are able to select this option on a turn-by-turn basis, so it is helpful if you see you’re party’s getting nailed and to step in and correct it, and it’s definitely a bad idea to use on a boss unless you’re in the finishing stages of it. Regardless, I found that once I understood the battle system (which took 5hrs, a restart of the game, and then about 20% of the way through that one), I pretty much let the computer run things, only taking over when things got hairy. The game becomes more of battle party management than an RPG, making sure you always equip the most powerful skills, weapons, and management low vitality characters. Only during certain random encounters and boss fights would I need to step in and actually run the battle. Normally, computer-run battles isn’t necessarily a bad thing (see, say, Final Fantasy XII or the last few Namco “Tales” installments), but those games generally have an active-time battle system; in a turn based system, it feels like a way for the game to allow the player to back out from really learning some of the strategy for the game.

However, on the other hand, there are two main reasons that I quickly turned to the auto battle use. First, the game. First, another ‘failure’ of the game, to a point, is the battle animation speed. These are slooooow, even for quick attacks, and don’t get me started on how long the EX attacks seem to take (not as bad as FFX summons, but still…). You are at least able to “fast forward” with the animations once all the actions are set by holding down a button, but these still seem slow, particularly when a character is removed from the field. (I should note that the entire game just has a slow feel to it) What basically results is that simple random encounters take a minute or more to resolve, and given the frequency of encounters, this really slows down the game. Thus, using the auto battle feature cut that time in half really helps. The other aspect of the auto battle mode is that the game has a skewed learning curve in terms of how your characters power up. The first 10, maybe 15% of the game is actually pretty steep, partially because you have only 4 characters, low experience rewards, and a limited number of Golems; there’s a particularly early stretch of dungeon that has almost no heal points for a couple of sections and found that I was pushing my characters to the limit of their vitality. However, after that first point, suddenly the difficulty seems to drop significantly below the rate of character progression, and remains that way for most of the game, save for maybe two or three bosses. By the time I was hitting the final levels, the random monster encounters were absolutely no challenge, and felt like a waste of time beyond the boon of experience points. Hence, auto-battling made the most sense for the bulk of the game.

I should note, as another negative point, that I have yet to finish what I know as a fact as the final series of boss battles prior to the end, simply because the difficulty curve takes a huge stair step over your characters’ abilities, and the only way I would be able to finish it was to level several for several hours, something, by this point in the game, I had absolutely no interest in doing. I could argue Final Fantasy X, for example, had the same problem, but at least they had a series of “dungeons” prior to the last series of boss battles (without save points, mind you) that, if the monster encounters there gave you trouble, you’d likely have no chance against the big bosses, so they were a good judge of where your characters should be at. On on the other hand, here in Enchanted Arms, you don’t have any of that; a mini-boss before the final point of no return is simple as long as you’re in control, but I’ve barely been able to dent the first boss form in the end game. Maybe at some point, I’ll come back and complete that, but the game doesn’t really compel me to do so.

There’s a lot more other meagerness in the game; I mentioned that everything feels slow, from the battle animations, to movement around the fields; even the time to load up menus and save the game just feel like they drag (It doesn’t help that the game does NOT track where you last saved your game and asks for the storage device each time). Parts of the game that have little combat but require you to run around a level talking to people feels very tedious and through in as a last minute addition, and the plot itself just wanders a lot.

Value/Replayability: C-

Enchanted Arms hit (or would hit should I eventually finish) the usual 40 hour mark that most RPGs seem to have, though it doesn’t feel like you’re getting a lot for those 40 hours. The game itself has little replay value should you run through the campaign again as with most RPGs (no carryovers into the new game, etc.), though there is the option of taking Golems you’ve built up in play and challenging others through Xbox Live.

Graphics: B

It is a next-gen RPG, and while there’s nothing wrong with the graphics, they’re not pushing anything amazing on the 360. There’s a lot (a LOT) of bump-mapping, and the environments are rather varied; however, within each environ the color palette is rather flat with only a few splashes of color around (this is particularly noticeable within the cities). You are able to at least have full camera control around the main maps, and you can alter the view of the battle field if you need to see characters hidden by another.

Audio: C

There’s definitely little of note here. Battle music is repetitive, and there’s little other in-game music, with the game trying to go for a more immersive approach, but it didn’t really work for me. Most of the voice acting is ok, but Atsuma’s actor has a strange, subtle lisp that seemed to get to me moreso early in the game, though I think disappeared with much of the later dialog.

Overall: C+

While Enchanted Arms tries to add a few elements to a JRPG game that makes it more amendable for those that may have never played JRPG before, it fails to break much else in terms of new ground beyond being the first RPG for the 360 (and technically the PS3 as well). The gameplay has a few problems, both being sluggish overall and having a poorly tuned difficulty curve throughout the game. While the battle system is nice with a lot of possible options for the player to use, the presence of that auto battle feature is very tempting given how tedious much of the game play and story is. I think the core gameplay has potential, but it basically needs to be wrapped in a better story and overall approach to the game. This is definitely a title, if you’re still interested, to rent or try used rather than buy new.

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2 Responses

  1. i didi not understand the game but now i do

  2. There is a lot more to the game. Review does not mention existense area that contains Omega golem.

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