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'Lord of Arcana' Review (PSP)

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

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Lord of Arcana Boxshot
Square Enix
Lord of Arcana is definitely not a game for anyone new to RPGs, but die-hard fans of the genre will find it a worthy challenge, especially if they like their gaming social. A solo gamer will find hard going here, but a group working together -- as if you were taking a real party into dungeon -- will have a much better time. Comparisons to Monster Hunter are inevitable, and sadly, Lord of Arcana doesn't fare so well by that comparison. Too bad, because I really wanted to like this game a lot more than I actually did.

Title: Lord of Arcana
Publisher: Square Enix
Date: January 2011 (North America)
Format: UMD
ESRB Rating: M (Mature 17+ - Blood and Gore, Violence)

Pros

  • nice looking graphics and decent soundtrack
  • fairly simple combat system
  • multiplayer makes the game more fun

Cons

  • camera is very difficult to control while moving, making battles harder than they should be
  • many battles -- especially boss fights -- are extremely difficult for a solo player
  • a lot of level grinding is required just to progress, meaning you'll play missions over and over just to level up and/or acquire healing potions
  • requires a large install to run smoothly

Good Genes

Lord of Arcana has a decent pedigree, that's for sure. It's brought to us by Square Enix, fan-favorite developer/publisher of the much-loved Final Fantasy series. One would expect, then, some resemblance to FF. If that's what you're thinking, well, you won't be completely disappointed. There's a storyline involving crystals and the odd FF creature makes an appearance (no chocobos, though), and some of the visuals are similar.

But that's about where the resemblance ends. Where Final Fantasy is beloved for its evocative stories (among other things), the story in Lord of Arcana is primarily just a thin frame--an excuse to send characters off to fight monsters. Not that a game is necessarily bad when it hasn't got much of a story. As long as it's fun, a thin story or no story at all can work quite well.

So Lord of Arcana isn't really that much like its cousin RPGs from the same publisher, beyond a certain family resemblance. Instead, it's more like -- or tries to be more like -- a certain huge blockbuster monster-fighting game from a different Japanese publisher. Instead of a Final Fantasy-inspired game, Lord of Arcana comes off as more of an attempted Monster Hunter Portable clone.

Nature or Nurture

If the Final Fantasy games are so great, and Monster Hunter Portable is so much fun, shouldn't it follow that Lord of Arcana combines the best of both and is thus even better than either?

It's what I hoping for. It really, really was. Unfortunately, while Lord of Arcana isn't a bad game in many ways, it just doesn't quite live up to its family pedigree or to the game it emulates.

That's not to say there isn't a lot to like. Lord of Arcana did do some things right. Or almost right. For one, it looks pretty good. OK, not astonishingly beautiful, but not too bad. And the soundtrack works. Again, not blow-me-away great, but pretty good just the same.

There's a reasonable amount of character personalization--not enough to absorb you for hours, but just enough to make your character your own. You can create new weapons and other items by collecting materials during your quests, which is cool. You can use magic as well as blades to combat your enemies, and work out the best combat style for yourself (within a small range of possibilities.

And, best of all, you can play with friends. Sadly, not over the internet, but only via an ad hoc connection, so you have to get your friends together, but still. You'll probably need the help of those friends to get past many of the boss battles.

At first, too, I really thought Lord of Arcana was that great FF/MH combo I wanted. The opening sequence, when you get a taste of what it's like to be all leveled up and powerful, was really great. But then the rest of the game starts and you're a newbie again.

Clone Syndrome

In the world of biology, clones tend to be sickly in comparison to their genetic donor, and the same can often (but not always) be said of games. Sadly, that seems to be the case with Lord of Arcana, in a lot of ways.

The absolute biggest problem I had was the camera. Bad cameras are the bane of any gamer, of course. The problem here was that the camera was controlled by the d-pad and the character movement by the analog stick, making it nearly impossible to move character and camera at the same time. Add to that the fact that in order to lock on to an enemy, you have to hold down the left shoulder button (no option to stay locked on--and some baddies could break your lock-on even while you're holding the button), and you're trying to control the three most essential in-battle controls (aside from the actual attack) with the same few fingers. It's just not possible, and it makes boss fights (or any fights) far more difficult than they should be.

Other things counting against this game are the endless leveling-up and re-playing of missions you have to do to gather enough items in order to progress, and the fact that you pretty much have to find some friends to play with to have a chance at beating some of the bosses (a problem I also had with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker). A little more consideration for the solo player would be nice.

So hardcore RPG fanatics with three hardcore-RPG-fanatic friends will find Lord of Arcana to be the perfect challenge. Most of the rest of us will just find it frustrating.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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