IGN Review of Enchanted Arms
Faithful Xbox and Xbox 360 owners have had to endure some hard times while waiting for quality RPGs to arrive. Sure, there have been some real gems, but the overall quantity of solid role-playing games hasn't quite kept up with the competition. With the release of Enchanted Arms, Xbox 360 owners now have access to the first next-gen traditional RPG. We're not looking at another
Metal Dungeon either. Enchanted Arms is a game that does many things quite well and is definitely worth playing if you're one of those aching for that old-school RPG flavor that was missing from Oblivion. A few nagging annoyances keep Enchanted Arms from reaching the upper echelon of role-playing experiences, but they aren't enough to steer away anybody looking for some turn-based action.
We'd like to get one thing out of the way before beginning the review. Thank you Ubisoft for having the foresight to include the option to listen to the Japanese voiceovers instead of the English ones. With that out of the way, we'd like to give a big no thank you to the English voices. Enchanted Arms has some of the most grating voice acting we've ever heard. From the high pitched Yuki to the Shogun that sounds like they were trying to make you press mute, the voices in Enchanted Arms extend through the full range of bad. The Japanese voices are much better and, once we made the switch to a language we didn't understand and just read the subtitles, the game became much more enjoyable. You can switch the voices at any time during the game. Do it.
If you've played a turn-based RPG before, you know exactly what to expect in terms of the gameplay. Battles appear randomly as you make your way through the wilderness or dungeons. The fighting takes place on a grid system forcing you to position your team of four purposefully and use attacks that have a specific range. As you might expect, oppositely aligned elemental attacks do the most damage. Nothing new or groundbreaking has been added to the gameplay, but some thought was clearly put into keeping the game flowing. Despite the fact that random battles occur way too often (sometimes approaching Skies of Arcadia on Dreamcast levels), you won't have any trouble progressing through dungeons rapidly. This is because you'll quickly learn that the auto battle and fast forward buttons work extremely well. So well, in fact, that you'll probably come to rely on them and let the computer do most of the fighting for you. It's hard to say that you're better off watching the battles than playing them, but the occurrence of battles is so frequent that the fighting can become tedious.
Exploration is limited to the regions that you have access to at that point in the storyline. Even then, there are simple paths that lead from one point of interest to the next. There are side paths, usually with a little chest or golem waiting at the end to reward you for taking the extra time. However, this is a linear game. You can only complete the existing side quests at the end of the game after you've already visited everywhere. That means if you grow tired of the task you're on, then you're out of luck. You'll just have to grin and bear it until the next part of the game.
The difficulty in battles ramps up at an appropriate pace, preventing you from having to "grind" for hours on end just to complete a new region. In fact, the game itself presents few challenges at all. You'll be hand-walked through every puzzle, even to the point of having detailed explanations on how to use a ladder despite the fact that a prompt appears on the screen when you approach one. Add to this the ability to save anywhere, the option to retry a battle if you lose it, and the fact that you get all of your HP and EP back after each fight and you have a game that requires little mental effort. There were times when this became oddly enjoyable. It's a rare thing to play an RPG without experiencing huge bouts of frustration, be it from forgetting to save or making the wrong choice and we found Enchanted Arms to be refreshing in that respect. The one exception to this lack of difficulty is the boss fights, which can be quite a challenge. They often require multiple attempts until you figure out the proper method of attack. For these, the auto battle function won't work and the enemies have some interesting tactics making these fights tense and rewarding.
The main draw of the game is the huge number of collectable golems. These golems are magical dolls created by humans and infused with ether to do their bidding. The golems have some serious style. They range from cute and cuddly to comical to dark and foreboding. Even the ones that aren't great in battle are fun to collect and synthesize just so you can see what they look like. Our personal favorite is the Straw Shaman, a voodoo doll with a giant hammer and a smiley face nailed on with an oversized stake.
While some blueprints for the golems can be purchased, the best golems must be hunted down in the wilderness and battled for the rights to create them. Each golem has a unique set of skills so you'll have to pick and choose which ones to take into battle with you. Setting up a team that has a good bench is necessary, especially later in the game, since your Vitality Points will slowly whither away after successive battles which will ultimately make some of your fighters unfit for battle until you can reach a restore point. Gameplay mechanics aside, hunting down the best golems is extremely fun. Synthesizing them and then checking out their base stats will have you giddy with anticipation as you play through the different scenarios where the newest golem can help. The only downside to the golems is that they don't learn new skills or change dramatically when you level them up, making the golems that you find at the end of the game drastically better than any you've been trying to improve. They become more of an item to be used for a few battles and then tossed aside. That's a small issue, especially since the golem design is fantastic and the ones you find at the end of the game are pretty "boss."
The story in Enchanted Arms isn't the most compelling we've ever experienced. It deals with the archetypal RPG themes of companionship, humanity, and obligation. The unlikely hero, in this case a dimwitted student with a freakish arm, even gets to save the world from total destruction! It's not that the overall plot is worse than other games. It's all typical, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It more comes down to the way the story and characters are presented. The story arc follows a basic formula. Walk to a new town or area, learn that one of the party members has a past there, and then help them when things go foul. The extended conversations that occur during these plot points are thin and oftentimes annoying, especially if you have the English voices turned on. The way the conversations play out makes you feel like they're trying to explain things to a four year old. Granted, the main character is supposed to be a bit dull, but that doesn't make us feel any better when the same things are repeated ad nauseum. While the main characters do develop through the story, their motivations and actions seem to shift abruptly at plot points rather than being a sum of their experiences.
We couldn't bring up the characters without talking about Makoto. Makoto is the overtly homosexual friend of Atsuma who begins the game in your party. This character is completely one dimensional and stereotypical in a most unflattering way. While it is important for the videogame world to expand and include characters from all walks of life, it's a far stretch to believe this would be welcomed by the LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered) community.
The graphics in Enchanted Arms are, for the most part, beautiful. Most notable are the use of lighting, particle effects and golem style. Nearly everything in the game is infused with some shifting lights, making for unique world flair. The real impressive visuals come during the battles. The small animations each character has look great in high definition, and the particle effects during fights are quite impressive. EX attacks, the equivalent of summon spells, are the most spectacular of all with swirling lights and well directed camera work.
Toward the end of the game, the environments seem to become emptier and less alive. Vacant halls abound and huge dull areas become the norm, a stark contrast from the beginning of the game. While the short load times are great considering the size of the areas being visited, it seems that the power of the 360 isn't being put to the best use when you find yourself strolling down a mostly static environment. For those that want to get picky there are a few other graphical anomalies such as low resolution number icons for your combo count and floating shadows. There are only a few prerendered cutscenes with the majority of the non-interactive moments coming from the in-game engine. These are phenomenal and really got our blood going. The other cutscenes are, of course, less spectacular, but by no means ugly.
Aside from the annoying voice acting, the sound is decent. While some of the battle cries are in English, others weren't translated at all which makes for some odd confusion. The music that plays in the background is mostly orchestral and reminiscent of many other games of this type. In other words, it is completely workable. This isn't the sort of soundtrack that will become a classic as many other Japanese RPG soundtracks have, but it also won't dance through your head after you turn the game off, slowly driving you insane.
Outside of the main quest, there is a fair amount of content to keep you amused. First of all, collecting all of the golems will take you a long time. There are a few side quests that you'll have to do some exploring to find and complete towards the end of the game that add a fair number of hours to the already 40 hour quest. There's also the casino, where you can play bingo, roulette, slots, or pit your golems against preset teams in some gladiatorial combat for prizes. There aren't a ton of things to do or places to explore, but what's there is a nice addition.
The best extra is the Xbox Live battles that you can partake in. There, you can load your golem team and pit them against the rest of the world. Rankings are there, so you can see just how strong of a group you've amassed. The online interface could use some work as there isn't a good lobby system or an easy way to rematch somebody once you're done fighting. The basic outline is there, though, and it's completely functional. Hopefully other RPGs in the future will take the blueprint laid out here and expand upon it.
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