ArcaniA: the Complete Tale Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Lately, many games have been seeing re-releases or HD-remakes, and it seems the same can be said of the 2010 title ArcaniA: Gothic 4 from developer Spellbound Entertainment. Labeled now as ArcaniA: The Complete Tale, we not only see the latest in the Gothic series bundled together with its only expansion, The Fall of Setarrif, but it also marks the first appearance of the title on the PlayStation 3. Can this fantasy adventure still hold its own three years later, or will it fall by the wayside with other failed titles?
In ArcaniA: The Complete Tale, players take control of a nameless protagonist, who is a member of a small village on the island of Feshyr. Your past is unknown, as your character suffers from amnesia – with the only hint of your origins coming through terrible nightmares. In this quiet place, you live a simple, honest life as a shepherd, with the hopes of marrying your long-time sweetheart. However, during your quest to earn the blessing of your love’s father, you encounter a witch in a dark forest, and she reveals to you that you are capable of learning magic. Believing her, you let down your guard and close your eyes as she asks (which is always safe to do around random witches, right?), and then awaken in a dark cave where you start to unlock your hidden magical talents.
During your spelunking adventure, though, the war that is ravaging the continent’s mainland (led by King Rhobar III) makes its way to the peaceful island Feshyr. This invasion completely destroys your village, killing your friends and loved ones, and leaving you as the only survivor. Swearing vengeance against the raiding king and his armies, you set out to the mainland to sabotage the occupying force by any means and hopefully take the life of the seemingly evil monarch – as retribution for his deeds. Yet, not everything is as it seems in this tale. Mysterious forces are at work behind the scenes, and players will question how much of the war is actually controlled by King Rhobar III.
In terms of length, ArcaniA: the Complete Tale offers a fairly long and engaging fantasy adventure. This is due to the sheer number of (often long) side quests available. Side tasks can include mundane tasks like collect mead, find a peg leg, hunt some goblins, and collect some goods but can also span into hunts for treasure, larger monsters, and other important quests. While these tasks feel as though they don’t exactly pertain to the main story, they do actually add to the total amount of playable hours, getting you the most for your buck – especially when you factor in the game’s expansion, The Fall of Setarrif, which helps to tie off loose ends left by the campaign.
Taking the title down a peg is the low quality script, which feels as though it has been written with little to no effort. When answering questions posed by characters, the gamer’s persona usually responds with the exact same sentence, just rephrased as a statement. An example of this would be “Have you brought me the amber?” which would be responded to with “I have brought you the amber” – feeling like a cheap cut and paste to save time. Instead of this setup, having a reply more along the line of “Yes sir, I found it in the cave where you said it would be” would make it not only more diverse, but a lot more enjoyable. Furthermore, many lines of dialogue feel cut short or incomplete, ending long before they seem like they should. Say that you’re investigating into the location of an item that’s said to be in a cave. You ask a local spelunker about the cave, who says something along the lines of “Oh, you’re searching for that item, huh? I hear it’s in a cave!” and your conversation abruptly ends. There were several times during the story where I felt confused about either the nature of the dialogue or why it ended so suddenly, and other gamers are going to share in my confusion.
One also cannot forget the fact that your character remains completely nameless the entire game, possessing neither a given title (such as The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia) or a custom player-created one (as with Dragon Age: Origins). Not only does this create an awkward wall between the player and their persona, but it also further degrades the script, as characters go out of their way to mention the game as ‘you’ or ‘that guy’.
Not all is wrong with ArcaniA though, as it supports some unique and appealing gameplay mechanics. For the most part, one could relate the title to playing an Elder Scrolls game in third person. Gamers take full control of their character, with the ability to move, melee, and jump freely. For defence, you may use either your weapon or equipped shield to block, and a quick flick of the left thumbstick while defending will result in a shift roll in that direction. For alternative offensive moves, a bow and a spell can be both be equipped. Simply press R1/R2 to bring up your spell/bow, and then press the same button again to unleash your attack. Both abilities can be charged by holding their respective buttons in order to either deliver a more powerful spell, or simply loose an arrow with more force.
Something else handled a little differently is ArcaniA’s skill tree, which is set apart from other games in the genre. In most other titles, you first select a class, and spend skill points on learning new skills within your specialization – with most of the stat development happening automatically. Here, however, you do not pick a class and are given a generic progression tree. Sounds like a step backwards at first, I know, but this system is actually more diverse than most RPG systems. Each branch of the tree is dedicated to either Strength (like attack power), Skill (bow skill and stamina), or Magic. Along each branch are special passive or triggered skills, with different stat enhancements in-between. For example, when going down the fire magic branch, you’ll start with the base fireball spell. Between said ability and the next unlockable one are six tiers that enhance the magic regeneration and magic damage stats. By selecting only the skills they want, and the stat augments they desire, players are able to create a highly tailored character to match their unique playstyle.
There are also various items, weapons, and armours for the player to utilize as well, each having their own effect. In terms of weapons, players may utilize both single and two-handed weapons, though the latter will deal 50% more damage than a smaller weapon with the same stats. Certain melee weapons will also increase your magical ability, as will specific sets of armour, which allows magic players to utilize equipment they would otherwise ignore.
With all these items and abilities to fiddle with, one would assume switching between them all (especially in the heat of combat) would be a pause-heavy pain. Thankfully, this is not the case as ArcaniA features a helpful quick-equip system. All players need to do is assign the item, weapon, spell, etc. to a direction on the D-pad, and then a press of that same direction outside of the menu will equip the desired device. An alternative set of four directions may also be assigned, which you can swap to by holding the L1 button. Regardless how advanced your playstyle is, you’ll be able to get to what you want, when you want it, without having to pause, dig, and dive through your menu every ten seconds – something that holds back many other RPGs.
Unfortunately, while the game plays quite well from a mechanical aspect, it’s lacking in the visuals department, due to lower quality textures and odd character animations. Characters in-game move in a clunky, incomplete kind of way, with your persona somewhat floating around in certain instances. This mostly comes from jumping, where you simply move up into the air with your body in a wide floating stance. The same can be said of enemies, who also suffer from terribly predictable actions. Foes seem to only have one animation per attack, giving you obvious signs as to what action to take, and every power attack sees your enemy moving as fast as molasses while coated in a distinctive green fog – hardly leading to any challenging duels.
Aside from the blocky animation, several other visual anomalies plague ArcaniA, including lighting and texture pop. A weird issue occurs several times throughout the game’s scenes, which is centered on a glitch in the lighting system involving characters’ mouths. If a character stands in front of a fire or other light source, and the camera faces said person on a generally centered angle, their tongue and inner-cheeks will glow a bright yellow/orange colour – which generally resembles magma. Furthermore, ArcaniA seems unable to hold a smoother texture for more than a few seconds, as every few moments the skins on characters and environments alike will lose their polish and become blurred – some cases for longer than they were smooth! These mishaps occur so often, they usually appear several times in the same conversation. Overall, the visual quality of the title is extremely low, and degrades the title considerably.
Sadly, while one would hope that good audio contrasts the downtrodden visuals, this just isn’t the case as the sounds of ArcaniA take the same road as its graphics. While the voice acting veteran Troy Baker plays the role of our nameless protagonist, he utilises a weirdly stiff English accent that feels quite out of place from the rest of the cast, and his overall performance makes it feel as though he is acting – killing believability. As well, the rest of the vocal ensemble simply under-acts, never really taking anything too seriously, which leads to a generally lackluster presentation. Thankfully, the original score for the game is beautiful, being composed for full orchestra. Players will hear quiet and laid back motifs when hanging around towns or exploring nature, with dark, heavy, brass-based tones used for combat and instances of sorrow. This soundtrack is actually quite reminiscent of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
All in all, ArcaniA: The Complete Tale, while a solid title in itself, is let down a bit by a few factors. The clever and engaging gameplay mechanics are slogged down by an underdeveloped script, several visual anomalies, and a voice cast that never quite reaches the mark. Luckily, these issues are mitigated by unique gameplay mechanics and RPG elements that will surely attract players looking for another RPG to dive into. If you’re looking for a new RPG, especially if you have played and enjoyed ArcaniA: Gothic 4 before and are looking to revisit the experience, then this release would be right up your alley.
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