The hardest games to review aren't the really good or really bad ones, but rather the mediocre titles that don't leave much of an impression one way or another. Arc Rise Fantasia is such a game, a title that is perfectly functional and even occasionally fun, but also utterly unoriginal and unfulfilling in every way. This is one of those games that many will likely never finish, not because they've grown disgusted by it, but because it's so boring that it's difficult to muster up the interest to invest any significant amount of time.
Arc Rise Fantasia doesn't just borrow from stereotypical JRPG plot clichés; it absolutely wallows in them. Players take on the role of L'Arc, the same old "unassuming teen with dormant, world-saving powers" we've been leading around by the nose for 20 years. He is, of course, flanked by a mystical, mysterious woman (Ryfia), a straight-shooting childhood best friend (Alf), and every other archetype that has plagued so-so RPGs for an eternity. The plot is a paint-by-numbers affair that never manages to elevate itself to anything more than forgettable.
Making the story even more unbearable is the voice acting, which is atrocious even by RPG standards. No one in the voice cast seems to have the first idea about inflection or how to read a line, and the monotonous, repeated battle cries will have you reaching for the mute button. The lip-synching is also laughably bad, making the whole thing one giant distraction. If you absolutely insist on playing this game, then please immediately go into the settings and mute all the voices. You'll thank me later.
Then again, cutting out the chatter only helps a bit, as the translation and localization is sloppy and juvenile. I can only assume that since games are expensive to make, the development team didn't want to spend a large chunk of the budget localizing the game, but in RPGs, the plot is more integral to the experience than with most other genres, so extra attention needs to be paid. When it isn't, you get a game like this, where almost every scene has some harebrained or groan-inducing line that makes you want to reach through the screen and slap the characters.
Those who are so inclined can also learn extra plot tidbits by tapping a button when prompted, à la the Star Ocean or Tales series. Of course, you'll then be bombarded with more inane chatter that adds nothing of value to the proceedings. Think Twitter, but even more pointless.
It is in the gameplay that Arc Rise Fantasia shows promise, but again, none of the featured mechanics really shine as anything new or innovative. Battles are turn-based, but the player has nearly complete control over the flow of combat on his side. Each round starts with a pool of action points that can be allocated in any way the player sees fit. Thus, you can distribute attacks, magic and item usage among your party, as is traditionally done in RPGs, but if you'd prefer, you can simply let one character use all the points to repeatedly hack at your foes.
Most battles can be won by blindly tapping the attack button, but bosses are more challenging affairs. Unfortunately, the game doesn't have a difficulty curve so much as a difficulty plateau, which ends in a sharp incline up the Mount Everest of difficulty levels every time you meet a boss. Many players will plow right through regular foes only to be continually stymied every time they hit a boss, who can wipe out their whole team without even breaking a sweat. At that point, it's right back to level grinding for hours on end, which wasn't fun when the genre began and sure isn't enjoyable now.
Arc Rise Fantasia also offers a great deal of customization in weapons and armor, and it will be easy for most players to set up their characters just as they want them. Each weapon has intrinsic abilities built into it, and by using the same weapon enough times in battle, players can unlock most of these abilities and swap them between weapons. While some skills are permanently attached to a single sword or wand, you're mostly free to mix and match the abilities any way you want. The only restriction is each skill's Tetris-shaped piece, which must be able to be slotted into the weapon before it can be utilized. Magic works similarly, with players slotting elemental orbs and changing their alignment to unlock new spells. The whole system is quite cool — though also a bit basic — and is one of the game's few legitimate bright spots.
Some folks will proudly proclaim that Arc Rise Fantasia is one of the best RPGs on the Wii, but that's merely because there's so little competition. With almost no other titles out there vying for the crown, it's a pretty easy title to claim. When stacked up against the best and brightest from other systems, Arc Rise Fantasia is quickly blown out of the water, utterly exposed as a shameless copycat and a game that can't hang. This is a title that thinks that by copying franchises like Final Fantasy and Tales, it can earn a place among them, but as we all know, that is simply not the case.
What hurts Arc Rise Fantasia most is the fact that it isn't long after you boot it up that it stops feeling like fun and starts turning into work. There may be less enjoyable moments in almost every title, but when those moments comprise the entire game, then there's something very clearly wrong with its core design. Arc Rise Fantasia is a struggle from beginning to end; it's a game that makes very little effort to make you like it. While that may be a mysterious and sexy characteristic for a stranger at a bar, it doesn't work as well for games. Furthermore, a title that so blatantly copies genre greats should really be a lot more fun to play. If you only own a Wii and desperately need a JRPG to play in a pinch, then this game will do, but that doesn't mean that you're going to feel good about it later.
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