Developer: From Software
Release Date: August 2006
Come On, What Was Wrong with [eM] -eNCHANT arM-?
Horse armor and wizards' towers won't keep Oblivion players saddled up forever. Well, maybe they will, but at some point, you'll need to take a breather and find something other than shutting down Oblivion Gates to do with your Xbox 360 role-playing time. Excellent RPG alternatives remain scarce, much as they always were on the original Xbox, so it was disappointing to find the Enchanted Arms demo station somewhat under-mobbed next to the tangle of squirming E3 attendees trying to get a peek at Assassin's Creed in the Ubisoft booth. Billed as the first Japanese-style RPG on the Xbox 360, Enchanted Arms is also a potential antidote to the lack of role-playing opportunities suffered by Xbox loyalists pumping their pennies into Live Marketplace for all those Oblivion mini-expansions. Enchanted Arms has already debuted in Japan, under the more entertaining title [eM] -eNCHANT arM-. Stateside, we'll have to wait until August for the localized version of this Xbox 360 exclusive.
In making the move from East to West, on top of the oppressively sense-making new name, Enchanted Arms is currently getting the full English-language voice and text translation treatment, while maintaining the Japanese version's story and setting. The trouble brewing in the fantastical world of Yokohama City has its roots in some 1,000-year-old bad decisions about the proper use of magic. The ancestors of our hero, Atsuma, were a bunch of misguided mystics who created magical creatures to fight their wars for them. As they grew increasingly corrupt and power-hungry, the creatures got larger and larger until someone finally mustered the good sense to lock them away.
As anyone who's ever banished a dark entity to a phantom zone knows, such prisons never hold. In current days, the giant warfighting beasts have been loosed upon the land. Playing as Atsuma, student of magic and wielder of the special arm, you'll have to work with pal Yuki and others to defeat the monsters and absorb their energy into your enchanted limb before the forces of darkness overrun the realm. A heard-it-before kind of plight, to be sure – and though I dare not confuse novelty for quality – such journeys are rare on the 360 in its infancy, and I'd caution against dismissal on the grounds of familiarity.
The action complementing the story of Enchanted Arms is made up of third-person, turn-based battles in which you kill the monsters and leech their mana into your arm. Battlefields are built on a grid system that you're free to move around – without using a turn – during the course of the fights. This promises to add another tactical layer to battles, as your position relative to enemies will determine the type and effect of available attacks; it won't always be a simple matter of planting your party in one spot and attacking and healing until it's over. From the mid-level boss fight playable at E3, it looks like you'll have to be engaged and moving if you want to stay alive long enough to use your special attacks. Monsters have their own specials, too, making the overall first impression one of lively and entertaining fights.
If what attracts you about the descriptive phrase "Japanese-style" is the potential for loads of exuberant, melodramatic spell effects unleashed by hyper-chiseled characters against equally flamboyant monsters, Enchanted Arms will hit that particular spot. In terms of visual style, it's the near opposite of Oblivion's ye-olde palette, with swirling streams of magic energy alternately knocking off HP, healing and congealing into anime-style dragons to put enemies in their place. Absorbing magic into Atsuma's arm also delivers a graphical cataclysm that, while being beyond familiar to RPG fans playing on other platforms, may still be unexplored territory to those whose experience is limited to the Microsoft console RPGs.
Ubisoft promises 50 hours of gameplay in the solo campaign. That will include plenty of side quests to pursue when Atsuma's arm gets tired as well as casinos and other minigames to win weapons for use in-game. As you defeat a stable-full of monsters, you'll unlock them for use in turn-based online matches similar to the single-player battles.
Xbox 1 always could have used more top-tier RPGs, and with the ghosts of Morrowind and KOTOR still haunting the role-playing landscape, the 360 still suffers from that dearth, at least in these early days before its first birthday. Again, scarcity and novelty don't automatically make a title that fills a void good, but they do make it worth some fair consideration. What I saw at E3 made me optimistic about Enchanted Arms' prospects, and though I'm not yet ready to abandon Cyrodiil to Oblivion's hordes, I am looking forward to a more in-depth tour of duty with Atsuma and his arm.
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