Enchanted Arms (360)

Pre Blue Dragon, Eternal Sonata, Lost Odyssey, Mass Effect…….you get the idea. The only competition at this time was Oblivion (an entirely different sort of RPG) and Phantasy Star Universe (again pretty different), so it got a much easier ride than it would now.
This review wasn’t written for any site, just because I felt like it.

Enchanted Arms has reminded me of all the great things that come with RPG titles such as the satisfaction that comes from a well utilised strategy that pays off. However, it also brings to mind the odd and out of place quirks, that in turn diminish the light that should shine on this title. Enchanted Arms was the first Japanese RPG to come out on the 360, which is both a blessing and a curse for the game. At the time of release it was good to see a Japanese RPG at last, but how does it fare now that it’s starting to gain competition in the genre?From Software developed the game, a Japanese software company founded in the late 1980s, developed the game. They’ve managed to be perennial underachievers, developing fairly average games such as Lost Kingdoms for the Gamecube, the King’s Field series and the Tenchu series. All reasonable games, but all flawed in some way. It looks like From Software has managed to continue this trend with Enchanted Arms.

The game itself is based around Atsuma, a student at the Enchanter’s University of Yokohama City. As with many RPGs it has a fairly typical story based around saving the world while meeting up with new friends from different classes and cultures. The characters are the kind of characters that some people could identify with. As students of the University, Atsuma, Makoto and Toya are fairly young, in their late teens. They study to become enchanters, learning about powerful golems that populate the world, once dominating the world during the ‘Golem Wars’, but now servants to mankind. Suddenly while minding their own business, an earthquake occurs and they realize that golems are attacking humans once more, and it’s all associated with the ’sealed ward’ and the Queen of Ice, an extremely powerful golem sealed up thousands of years ago. One of the more interesting features in the storyline is the addition of a gay character. Makoto has an obvious attraction to Toya and although he doesn’t play a huge part in the game, it can get a bit irritating at times. It feels a bit like the developers overplayed the homosexuality so that it was irritating rather than an interesting piece of the plot. Note to future developers: its fine to have gay characters, just don’t make a fuss out of it! Overall though the story has some great twists and turns to keep you occupied.

The voice acting isn’t too bad considering past experiences, but could have been much better. Even though you can have the voiceovers done the way they were meant to be, in Japanese, they were still lacking. Following behind the voice acting, the music score is fairly poor. Compared to the marvels of the Final Fantasy series and Oblivion, it struggles to inspire at all with the music and is distinctly bland.

The graphics however were extraordinary in my opinion. Looked really impressive on my 19? widescreen TFT and it certainly took my breath away a few times. It may not look entirely realistic at times, but it evokes a great feeling of being in a fantasy world and sucks you in wonderfully.

The core of the Enchanted Arms experience is in its battles. They are turn based like many RPGs but are slightly reminiscent of a chessboard in nature. Anyone who’s played Vandal Hearts may find this familiar, with the characters being able to move square by square and thus be able to attack others depending on how far they are from each square. However, unlike Vandal Hearts, it is a much smaller setting so in that respect is more like the Final Fantasy series.

The battle system offers a surprisingly deep experience. At first it looks fairly simplistic, but as battles become increasingly more difficult, the depth to the strategy becomes apparent. You quickly learn that opposing elements cause more damage to both you and your opponents so it is wise if, for instance, you are fighting an ice based enemy that you keep Atsuma on the back row with other characters in front of him to minimize the damage caused. As with many good things the battle system and the menus provided are easy to pick up, difficult to master.

You’re able to use up to 4 characters in your party at any time, with around 155 playable characters available. The reason why this number is so high is because of the presence of golems. Golems are ancient creatures with limited skills and Atsuma has the ability to attract them like ducks to water. However they have limited capabilities compared to the human characters, and you can only improve their stats but not their available skills. They can prove very useful in certain instances however, especially later on in the game. Unfortunately golems feel criminally underused bar the main few that are incredibly easy to get such as Odin, Apo and Marlin Glave. Golems such as Omega are harder to gain, but incredibly worthwhile. However they then make the game far too easy to beat. It’s a tricky one, it feels a bit like the golems could have been better balanced and instead they were rushed for some reason. Perhaps the worst sin is the lack of an achievement for collecting all the golems, meaning if you’re an achievement whore you end up skipping it all and missing out on a huge portion of the game’s fun. There is however online capabilities to have golem battles online which can extend the fun a bit more. It just feels like some wasted opportunities in there, but we can always hope for some DLC with an extra 250 achievement points revolving around golem collection.

There are 4 human characters available; you are able to improve both their skills and their stats. Skills are improved by purchasing items offering the skills and spending Skill points (or SP) to learn them. Stats are improved both by leveling up (in a traditional exp based way) and by buying skill gems which offer between 1200 and 8000 skill points to use in any way you wish, you can add skills, improve HP, EP (points used for attacks), direct attacking ability, ranged attacking ability, support ability and agility. One potential problem with how this is conducted is if you have plenty of money you can forego leveling up the traditional way and just buy your skills and stats. This can (and does) make the game a lot easier.

Personally I found in early stages that the game was maybe a bit too simple. Achievements are unlocked as you progress through the game (with the exception of the last one, there is no way of not getting all the achievements if you complete the game); you’re able to save anywhere and you don’t even have to heal after a battle. Yup that’s right. Finish a battle and all your characters are automatically at full health. All they lose are Vitality Points (VP), once VP hits 0 they start each battle with 1 hp and 1 ep so are effectively useless. However if you use refresh terminals (which are all over the place most of the time) their VP is restored. No finishing a battle then healing up with potions and hoping you won’t run out of potions like in other RPGs!

The game does manage to get its revenge near the end, just as you think it’s going to be an easy ride to completion. Throughout the game I never had a problem beating bosses, then in the last 10% of the game suddenly it was impossible to beat a boss until I’d increased Atsuma’s HP from 2k to 7k, which seemed a bit unbalanced!

The game also has some rather odd quirks that make you wonder what the developers were thinking. For example, you can only buy 9 of almost any item. Then again, this does make it a bit more strategic in your use of potions, especially in the final moments of the game where you have to fight 7 (yes 7) bosses in a row with only 9 of each type of health potion available to your 4 member party for all 7 bosses.

The only mini-games available are within the casino which you encounter around a fifth of the way into the game, and to be honest, it’s pretty poor in there. I only used it, combined with a guide for how to crack the system, to make a lot of money so that I could buy skills and skill gems. That’s also one extremely frustrating aspect. To make money from the casino you have to buy items from the casino’s store with your acquired chips. You can only buy 9 items at a time so you can end up going back and forth many, many times in one trip to the casino just to make some money. Would it have been so hard to have implemented a way to just get money from the casino?!

About 2/3 of the way through I couldn’t help but wonder if the developers had got a bit bored as they start making you backtrack to get places which did get a bit tedious. However, despite all this, I did actually really enjoy it. It was worth the 35 hours or so I spent playing it, and there were some extremely satisfying moments. Although none of the bosses were hugely difficult until around 75% of the way through the game, it still felt immensely satisfying defeating one.

I reckon it could take a player around 40 hours if they completed it fully. I played through the main story but there were a few side quests that I missed. The only parts that I did not complete were the side quests, and as I don’t really gain anything from going back, having completed the game now, I doubt I’ll bother. It all depends on how much of a perfectionist you are really, or if you’re just after the relatively simple (albeit time consuming) achievements! If only there was that achievement for golem collecting. I would have loved to have seen an achievement for gaining all the golems available in the game. I only acquired around 35 when there are 150 to gain. Seems a waste of a good opportunity for an achievement.
Even though I doubt I’ll play it again, it was such an enjoyable experience that one time round that it was well worth my money. And for that I would recommend it to others. It’s an excellent RPG to play to fill the gap until Mass Effect, but it’s starting to show its age compared to the likes of Blue Dragon and Eternal Sonata. It won’t convert anyone to the RPG genre, but if you like them anyway, you’ll love this and forgive it for its failings.