Almost every modern video game has some kind of RPG element. Whether through a leveling system or a skill tree, RPG elements are neigh unescapable. Though the genre has evolved and made its way into all sorts of different games, it first grew to prominence back in the 1980s and 1990s with games such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.
Many fans consider the 16-bit era to be the golden age of turn-based RPGs, with games such as Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and Final Fantasy VI being lauded as some of the best in the genre. While the occasional turn-based RPG makes its way to consoles today, few seem to compare to the games of old.
Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition is a game that was made as an homage to past retro games. Ara Fell began development back in 2007 using RPG Maker 2003 as its primary engine. The game received a full launch on Steam in 2016 to a mixed reception. Four years later, the game has returned, improving some issues with the original release and making its way to consoles and mobile.
Though Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition touts itself as a return to the golden age of Japanese roleplaying-games, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the classics. The game takes place in Ara Fell, a world comprised of islands floating above the “abyss.” Ara Fell is, in many ways, a typical fantasy world. It is inhabited by trolls, elves, dwarves, and all number of mythical creatures. Magic flows throughout everything, with the mightiest warriors typically being spell-slinging sorcerers.
The game’s plot centers around Lita LeCotta, a sixteen-year-old human with a taste for adventure. When she accompanies her friend Adrian on a quest to retrieve a mythical ring, her fate becomes entangled with that of Ara Fell itself. Aside from the fact that the world is a string of floating islands, everything about the world and plot of Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition feels like things I’ve seen a million times before. The plot, in particular, is riddled with tropes. The game is chocked full of cutscenes delving into the main story that can be incredibly tedious due to their length. This would be excusable if I actually enjoyed the story but, alas, I didn’t.
Players looking for a JRPG that primarily focuses on combat need not play Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition. Though I found myself really enjoying the game’s turn-based battles, it kept pulling me back into its boring story, so I never felt that I could really have my fill of the combat.
After playing through the game’s tutorial, players are set loose in a completely open world. While you can, theoretically, go anywhere in Ara Fell, I never felt much need to. The most exploration that I ever really did in my time with the game was spent on side quests and gathering items for crafting, which, admittedly, was more enjoyable than following along with the story.
The game’s open-world aspect makes it incredibly easy to get lost. Though it is an open world, the experience is cursed with one of the worst maps I have ever seen. Many quests and story events make it clear where to go, but I found myself continually getting lost. I probably spent around an hour of my time simply trying to figure out where the game wanted me to go, which, due to it being relatively short, is far too long.
The best thing about Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition is its graphics and music. The game features beautiful pixel art, with each new part of the world being a joy to look at. Characters and creatures are also incredibly well designed, with some of the more unique monsters making an impact due to their design alone.
The music is fantastic. As far as indie games go, Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition might have my new favorite soundtrack. Each time a new piece of music would begin to play, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling and humming along.
Though even these aspects of Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition aren’t perfect. The more detailed versions of characters that appear next to their speech bubbles can be ugly. While many characters look very nice in battle and the open world, up close, they simply look off.
Even with some of the best music that I’ve heard recently, the fact that the game doesn’t have a battle song feels a bit strange. Whenever players enter a battle, the music that was playing in the open world just keeps going. This can make fights a little less exciting than they could be and really takes the wind out of victories.
Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition features a relatively simple leveling system that I liked more than I thought I would. Whenever a character levels up, players are given ten points to put into the attack, defense, agility, and magic. These four aspects make up all of a character’s stats. Pouring points into attack makes a character deal more damage, while defense makes them take less damage; its all pretty self-explanatory. Though this process is simple, I found myself enjoying how it streamlined the leveling process. This process does, however, make it slightly harder to fully customize your characters.
Another way that characters can be made more powerful in the game is by upgrading their equipment. This is done by crafting upgrades with materials found all over the open world. Finding these materials scattered across Ara Fell and crafting potions, items, and equipment was perhaps the most fun I actually had with the game.
Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition isn’t a terrible game; it just feels like one that I’ve played a million times before. The trope-filled story left much to be desired and, even though the combat can be fun, it is still the same turn-based combat gamers have seen time and time before. The game is clearly trying to have the impact of some of the excellent RPG classic of our time, but these clear inspirations are what make the game fall short.
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