If Arc of Alchemist was a paint colour, it would be magnolia.
- Developer: Compile Heart
- Publisher: Idea Factory
- Release date: 7th February 2020
- Genre: 3rd Person Adventure JRPG
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Switch
- Reviewed on: PS4 Pro
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
After such great recent new IP form, the Compile Heart / Idea Factory combo was gunning for a third successive great new IP here with Arc of Alchemist, but like the saying goes, all good things come to an end, and their run of great new games ends here.
It’s not that Arc of Alchemist is a bad game though, or indeed broken, it’s just it’s not a very memorable one, and has a curious targeted audience. Is it aimed at full-grown JRPG experts, or younger first-time players?
The reason for this apparent confusion is that the story setup is of a very adult theme. The world has gone to ruin after a world war, and the land has literally turned to dust, but there is rumour of a power that can revive the world if four key stones are located and re-united. You play as the leader of the expedition to find them, Quinn Bravesford, who, with her six companions, set out to restore the world to its former glory. As the story progresses, there are also some darker themes explored in the narrative of the characters, that justifies the game’s 12 rating too, however, that’s where the “mature” content ends, and the confusion begins, as the rest of the game seems to be aimed at players under the age of 12.
It starts with the extremely simple chibi character designs and settings. The graphics are very basic, both in the dialogue presentation, and dungeon crawling, real-time exploration and combat. The game looks, for want of a better way of saying it, very last-gen, and more like a glorified mobile game. There are very few in-game assets, environments are bland, action effects are simplistic, and character and enemy designs are quite basic. On the one hand, this gives a very clear, clean and crisp view of the world, but on the other, it’s frankly a bit dull and uninteresting. Although graphics are not the be-all and end-all of a game, the core gameplay matches the rest of the game by also being very average.
The game loop goes as follows. You and two others that you choose from a roster of six other playable characters arrive at a location or dungeon and have to explore this area. Battling enemies as you go, you then make your way to a location on the map signified by an exclamation mark, which will then set off either a cut scene or a boss fight. Players keep doing this until the level is completed.
Combat is very simplistic as there is only one attack button, although you can launch more powerful elemental spells too. The attack pattern of enemies is limited to basically charging straight towards you, so there is a very limited amount of tactical awareness required, and encounters can often be won with simple button mashing. Deficiencies in the AI mean you can position yourself in such a way that the attacking enemy becomes stuck on an obstacle between you and it, and you can simply spam spell attacks until the enemy is dead.
Collect materials, find save point, go back to base, upgrade, go back, and go further until the end. It is overly simplistic and very repetitive.
The only obstacle to this journey is some simple puzzle solving that is required in order to progress, which is done via your elemental spells. Sometimes with a fire element equipped you need to melt a block of ice to pull a lever, or when equipped with the ice element you’ll need to freeze an item in place, and maybe, later on, you need to build blocks to get over an obstacle. That’s about it.
One aspect of the game that is actually a little deeper is the base building. As you collect items in the field, you can use them to upgrade your home base (and satellite bases in the field), and unlock better, stronger weapons and armour to equip your team with, which then increase the team’s base stats to make combat that much easier, especially when returning to dungeon areas you’ve already traversed.
Even if you clear an area of enemies, if you return to that area shortly afterwards they will have spawned again. There are occasionally enemy traps that lock you into a bubble until the harder enemy trapped in there with you is defeated, and the occasional difficulty spike of a much harder fight than what you have experienced up until that point.
Adding to this learning curve the game literally throws all it’s mechanics at the player in the first twenty minutes of gameplay. It is presented in a very boring and overwhelming style of simply reading about things a few pages at a time before they have even happened, and without giving you a chance to try them. It is very easy to feel confused in the first couple of hours, but once you have mastered them, you soon come to realise that there isn’t anything extra to the gameplay mechanics than what you have already been introduced to.
There are some redeeming features in the shape of the interesting characters, and great audio, especially the soundtrack and voice acting. Each member of Quinn’s team has their own personality, as do the enemies you find in the game. The narrative and exposition for these is generally fun to read or listen to, and gladly pulls the player through.
The audio, although lacking in sound effects in battle, is very pleasant to listen to as well, and makes the at times boring dungeon crawling, a little less so. Music is always subjective to the person, but you would be hard-pressed not to enjoy what was on offer here.
However, all of this can’t mask over what is essentially a very basic, by the numbers, simple JRPG, that likely won’t have enough depth for seasoned JRPG veterans, but could be appealing to those interested in the genre, and wanting something “lite” to start off with.
If Arc of Alchemist was a paint colour, it would be magnolia. Simple, clean, effective, it does the job, but it’s not very special or memorable. The game and everything it does is just average at best. It feels like an HD remaster of a Playstation 2 or mobile game, rather than a built from the ground up, current-gen masterpiece. However, it works, it is simple, clean and effective, and with its chibi art style and simplistic game design, it’s maybe something a younger JRPG player or a newcomer to the genre would enjoy.