Enchanted Arms Review
As usual, it has been difficult find a solid RPG worth playing during the first year of the next generation. For now, it appears to begin and end with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, even though plenty of promising entries in the genre are on the way. But PS3 owners do have a decent option in Enchanted Arms, a game released for the Xbox 360 last year and recently ported to Sony's new console. While there really isn't anything all that original here, and despite a decided lack of "next-gen" elements, the game manages to remain both appealing and entertaining for fans of traditional RPGs. The only real question is, does it interest to you? Well, read on to find out, and bear in mind that this title offers at least 40 hours of gameplay, but will also cost you the full $60 price tag.
The graphics consist of a deeply contrasting blend of dull and generic combat detail and some nice environmental design. Too many of the areas are devoid of life, but some of the backdrops can be downright breathtaking; Yokohama has some magnificent views of the bay, for example. But during battle, there are a lot of grays and browns, as the dark colors of the combat grid dominate the presentation and put a serious damper on the overall graphical appeal. And while the towns and cities look great - for the most part - the dungeons and exploration areas tend to pale in comparison. Character design is slightly better than average; RPG veterans will immediately recognize the standard Japanese art design, and while certainly nothing special, the design should satisfy its target audience. Overall, though, the graphics aren't impressive for the PS3.
The sound is in the same boat. It's not bad, but it hardly represents the epitome of musical and effects achievement. Among the more significant problems are a mediocre cast of English voice actors, some generic and repetitive battle sayings, and a less-than-inspired soundtrack. But on the other hand, the music consistently fits the atmosphere, and the effects for a few of the bigger combination attacks are pretty cool. There's a good amount of clarity and sharpness throughout, and despite a basic set of somewhat bland battle effects, there isn't too much to complain about. But again, there have been far better examples of sound on the PS3 to date, and we certainly would've liked to hear a larger selection of tracks for the more intense portions of the game. In general, the sound won't offend staunch fans of the genre, but it's hardly remarkable.
The gameplay revolves around traditional linear progression and a strategic combat style that holds much of the game's attraction. Those familiar with strategy/RPGs know all about the battlefield presented as a grid on which characters move and execute actions, and that format is featured in Enchanted Arms...to some degree. Rather than moving from one large battle grid to the next - ala Final Fantasy Tactics or Front Mission - this one plays out much like a standard RPG. There are random encounters, and when battle starts, you're immediately brought to this rudimentary grid. You can't move across to the enemy's half of the field, and they can't move onto your half, which is certainly different than any strategy/RPG you may have played. Beyond that, it's standard stuff: one move and one action per turn, skills hit certain squares on the grid, and you use EP for skills.
You can also use multiple characters for combo attacks, which adds another dimension to the fairly straightforward gameplay. The last feature that enhances things a bit more is the Vitality Points, which decrease with each fight you complete. While HP and EP are completely restored after every battle, your VP will continually decrease until you hit a refill station. If you run out of VP, you will no longer be able to regenerate between battles, which of course increases the difficulty tenfold. But provided you utilize your available characters appropriately, you should be able to conserve your VP throughout the adventure. Some battles do tend to drag on a bit, though, and the longer they take, the more VP you will expend. Therefore, there is a good deal of strategy involved here, but not enough to call it a "strategy/RPG."
You follow a story, explore dungeons and new towns, and watch the small cast of characters develop as time goes on. It's a standard RPG format, even though the combat consists of a semi-strategy theme, so we wanted to clarify that. And while we're on the subject, the story is - like many other aspects of Enchanted Arms - traditional RPG fare. Atsuma is the main character, who is a student at a university that trains Enchanters. Of course, he has a hidden and undiscovered power, and he's not a very good student (falls asleep in class, skips school, etc.), but he has plenty of ability. He also has the unique skill that lets him nullify an enchantment, which freaks out his fellow classmates, and no professor is willing to offer an explanation. Only when the golems start to go nuts once more does Atsuma begin to realize what's he's truly capable of, and that doesn't happen for at least a few hours.
Yes, golems. The majority of the story focuses on these golems, which are artificial beings once created by magically endowed humans. At first, they did everyone's bidding, but the golems rebelled and became Devil Golems. Later, during Atsuma's time, the Devil Golems are a thing of the past, but as you might expect, the battle is far from over. You will encounter these golems - and the humans that control them - during combat, and it's here where the game shows off a bit more depth: you can "recruit" these golems (after a fashion), and use them in battle. Of course, there are many to find, and if you wish to locate them all, it will significantly up the play time. Each golem has a unique set of statistics and abilities, just like the human characters, so they're plenty effective during combat. In the PS3 version, there are 30 additional golems to find.
The last feature we need to address is the Sixaxis interactivity, which is a colossal waste of time, unfortunately. You can shake the controller quickly to increase your EX gauge, which is used to execute the more powerful attacks in the game, but this isn't exactly entertaining. We'd much rather just quickly tap a button like you would do in the 360 version. Both versions suffered from a problematic camera during combat, though; regardless of the version you're playing, you'll quickly notice this damaging flaw. There are only a few set camera positions during battles, and sometimes, you can't even see an enemy until they attack. You'll soon learn to check all the camera positions before assigning commands, but that's something we shouldn't have to do. To sum this up, the motion sensing parts of the game are completely superfluous, and the camera has its drawbacks.
The difficulty rarely reaches a point where it could be considered "challenging," but at least there are plenty of options during battles. It's not as deep as you may think, and the balance seems a little out of whack at times, but for the most part, there's enough here to keep you occupied and entertained. Whether you're a micromanagement fan and love the idea of collecting all the golems, or you appreciate some great character banter (several lengthy dialogue sequences add a healthy dose of charm), this game does have a lot going for it. The story and battles will drag at times, there isn't anything you haven't seen before, and the technicals leave something to be desired, but RPG fans looking for a solid experience may want to consider Enchanted Arms. Just remember, there are plenty of issues, some of which are severe enough to hamper your enjoyment, so take all this into account before making a decision.
We anxiously await the likes of Final Fantasy XIII, Mass Effect, and White Knight Story, because even though Enchanted Arms is an okay effort, it's just not a "next-gen RPG."
6/6/2007 Ben Dutka