When the niche RPG genre started becoming more prominent in the west, the Neptunia series emerged despite negative criticism. It’s because of this that I find myself more attracted to these types of games – to find the next hard-hitting niche title to come west. Compile Heart’s Arc of Alchemist is not that title and probably won’t gain the success that other titles from the developer have garnered. Instead, we are left with this strange and outdated game that doesn’t fit anywhere in this generation.
Players assume the role of Quinn, the captain of an expedition team, sent in search of a rumored “Great Power” to save the world from collapse. Many have set out on this journey, but none have succeeded. The beginning of the game introduces us to Quinn, and the already established party of explorers, as they are questing to find the Great Power. At first, I felt like there would be a flashback to how each of these characters met up, but no, you have to figure that out through events that occur each time you return to base. It’s a strange way to roll out the story, and it makes it tough to care about any of the characters other than Quinn. However, there are some moments of decent storytelling for those that enjoy dark themes and complex narratives.
Players are more or less tasked with exploring a desert and making their way to event points. These points can either be more story scenes or a boss battle. It will be this way throughout the entire game and doesn’t ever become any more complicated. Sure, you can explore new areas to find items, but it’s never worth the time invested. The game also contains light puzzles that become a bit more complicated in the later parts of the game. This requires the player to use the Lunargear systems, which allow them to utilize the power of elements and can be used to do things like create blocks and execute magic abilities.
Let me be clear; there’s very little about the gameplay that is fun outside of mindlessly attacking enemies throughout the same desert layout. Enemy spawns are incredibly annoying in that you’d wipe out a group of them, and they’ll immediately respawn around you. Furthermore, the game will only pair enemies together of the same type, which makes these encounters feel like something you’d find in a PlayStation 3 game. The enemies are aggressive and only know how to attack, which makes things fun if you can position strong enemies behind a box or plant and just attack them from afar since they don’t seem to know how to go around the object.
Players traverse the dungeon in parties of three, which is strange given that there are seven playable characters at the beginning of the game. While the teammate’s AI is limited, there are some unusual combinations that you can put together to take on tougher battles. Taking in a magic user and healer is an excellent combination, given that you are fully covered in all areas of the field. Still, sometimes your teammates will rush into battle and disregard things like field gimmicks that can kill you.
The game’s action-focused battle system is also a bit wonky. There’s an aim button, but it doesn’t seem to work if you are pressing anything else. Dodging in the game is reliable, but you can’t dodge out of an attack. Interestingly, new attack combinations are tied to different weapons, which encouraged me to build up my bases’ armory to buy new weapons.
Aside from traversing the dungeon desert, players are tasked with improving their base. This is where you can buy new facilities and equipment for your team. It’s also necessary to train your party to improve their base stats. Players can use and sell materials found in the desert to construct new buildings and develop their characters. The extent of the base feature is basically just that. You’ll be returning to the base and doing the same actions over and over until you’ve maxed out everything.
The saving grace of this adventure is the characters themselves. They are incredibly charming, which makes the story a little more enjoyable. Given that the story is dark at times, I enjoyed watching these adorable characters get emotional. There are also some exciting storylines to follow if you end up paying attention to the story scenes when returning to the base, but this does require a bit of investment from the player. Furthermore, the music is incredible, which I wasn’t expecting at all. Each track fit the mood of the adventure, and it made things just a little more enjoyable.
There’s a lot of things that frustrated me while playing Arc of Alchemist. Throughout the entire adventures, there’s a variety of things that just make the game unpleasant. Had I played this game ten years ago, I might forgive it a bit more because of the unique mechanics that it introduces, but it just doesn’t work today.
Anything good about the game is immediately overshadowed with the things that players need to look past, which is terrible because I really enjoyed the dark premise of this game. As unique as Arc of Alchemist tries to be, and as much as it stands out in the lineup of games that Compile Heart has produced, I believe this a huge step back for the developer. Still, if you are just trying to fight monsters and look at cute chibi characters save the world, then this is the game for you.
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