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Arcus II: Silent Symphony (X68000) artwork

Arcus II: Silent Symphony (X68000) review

"Arcus II is clearly not like other RPGs. I've played some streamlined games that worked, such as Riviera, but this one is so minimal that it's pointless. By skipping cutscenes and using the "run and only kill bosses" method, it can be completed in about an hour. Yes, this is a roleplaying game that you can beat in ONE HOUR!"

And... Ten Years After

When the screen fades to black and the reprise of Masaaki Uno's timeless Arcus theme subsides, when four short words flash across the darkness and a strident fanfare introduces a new chapter of Wolf Team's legend...

...actually, let's back up a bit. Instead of leaping into the middle of Arcus II: Silent Symphony's animated introduction, we'll start at the beginning. Much like Valis 3, the game opens with an illustrated glimpse into the past, conveniently written in English:

ARCUSAS kingdom, where surrounded by richlands and natures.

Well, it's almost English.

This prosperityes were achived 10 years ago by 6 braves. Because, "ORDEALES" was caused.Bat noone were knew about it.

Er... yeah. I'll spare you a few paragraphs and cut straight to the dramatic conclusion:

"ORDEALES" had brought to an end and Picto had going to the journey of life. What was going on him? What was causing him to do? May by... a roar from long past..... Now!! RUNE-BLADE had awaken up and waiting at daybreak........"

For those of you who never earned a B.A. in Engrish, the story goes something like this: in the original Arcus, Pikt Aneksios Piyont was an orphaned half-elf. Being only 12 years old, he was terrible with a sword, but he was able to summon powerful elemental spirits. Alongside five other champions, Pikt defeated the golden dragon Rig Veda and saved the Arcusas kingdom from chaos, ushering in a new era of peace yada yada rah rah.

Afterwards, the six heroes who are referred to as the Four Elemental Knights split up and went their separate ways. Pikt spent the next ten years searching for his long-lost, mack-daddy father (who vanished after knocking up Pikt's forest elf mother). Finally, finally, Pikt heard some useful information. Apparently, his dad disappeared while searching for a mysterious sword called the Runeblade. Pikt believes that if he locates the Runeblade, he'll finally meet his father.

Pikt acquires the Runeblade early on in the game, and that's when the adventure really begins. A maniacal demon lord named Warren has also been searching for the magical sword and, much to Pikt's detriment, the blade acts as a beacon for evil. This adds a lot of suspense, because you never know when Pikt is going to be ambushed by the Chaos Furies that serve their blue-skinned master. The plot's clearly inspired by Lord of the Rings, and it's still an entertaining premise.

Unfortunately, this is a game, not a novel.

No matter how stylish and menacing the characters look during the cutscenes, that doesn't change the fact that they look like pixellated stick figures on the overhead map (which takes up less than half the screen). To be fair, excellent games like Wasteland weren't exactly graphical powerhouses, either. Unfortunately, Arcus II lacks some important RPG elements:

The only items in Arcus II are healing and magic potions. When Pikt acquires the Runeblade, it's purely a cosmetic storyline twist. This sought-after, mystical blade is no better than his shortsword.

Killing enemies doesn't earn anything except for gold. The only things you can purchase with gold are healing items. You heal automatically, even while walking... so why bother fighting?

Enemies are visible on the playing field, which was unusual for a 1990 RPG. Unlike Lunar 2, opponents can actually be avoided with ease. That would normally be a good thing... however, since there is NO EXPERIENCE to be gained, observant players will zig-zag through each straightforward map and fight nothing but bosses.

Levels exist for a reason without character improvement, enemy diversity is severely limited. Even RPGs that lack experience systems "level up" your characters somehow, even if only at pre-determined plot points. Arcus II doesn't do anything like that. Hobbit thief Chinopu's maximum hit points are 130 at the start of the game, and they're still 130 at the end of the game. His defense and attack power never improve, either.

Balanced Characters
Since your characters never improve or learn new abilities, monsters become progressively harder to hit as you advance further into the game. Due to inadequate dexterity ratings, half of the characters are eventually rendered incapable of slashing anything other than air. Since he can't hit enemies, the axe-swinging dwarven warrior is WORSE at physical combat than the butterknife-wielding hobbit!

By the way, the clumsy fighters don't know any magic. They're completely useless in that respect, too.

Arcus II is clearly not like other RPGs. I've played some streamlined games that worked, such as Riviera, but this one is so minimal that it's pointless. By skipping cutscenes and using the "run and only kill bosses" method, it can be completed in about an hour. Yes, this is a roleplaying game that you can beat in ONE HOUR! Chalk up Arcus II next to Basted as an RPG for retards.

Even if the game weren't pointless, its combat system an important aspect of any RPG is broken. For example, when a character selects a monster to attack, his target is set in stone. If Pikt kills the hobgoblin, then the next character swings at empty air instead of attacking the fire imp. Also, when you start a new battle, your magical power inexplicably plummets to zero (or close to it), even if you had a FULL GAUGE of mana before entering combat! The only way to regain power is to successfully hit the enemy. Do this often enough and you'll be able to hurl a fireball that inflicts less damage than a physical sword strike.

By now, you're probably thinking that Arcus II sounds pretty lousy, which it is, but it's not complete rubbish. Even though the cutscenes aren't handled quite as stylishly as they could have been, the storyline is actually intriguing and occasionally surprising. I've already addressed the broad scope of the world, but the small moments demonstrate an admirable degree of flexibility.

Consider Suu-Ni. In the forgotten Elf Village (which takes all of two minutes to find), a young elvish archer named Suu-Ni tells you about an ancient shrine buried deep in the mountains. When she offers to help in your quest, you're provided two choices:

1) "Yes, I could use a guide."
2) "No, I don't think little girls belong in dangerous places."

If you pick the second choice, you get to insult Suu and the game listens. She actually gets mad and refuses to help, forcing you to recruit other (less talented) adventurers! Arcus II may be afflicted with "suck" syndrome, but at least it avoided the dread Dragon Warrior disease.

Even if you don't piss Suu off immediately, there will be plenty of other opportunities. In the capital city Prudencia, there's a banquet hall full of blue stick figures dancing girls. You can flirt with one of them. If you flirt over and over and over, Suu eventually throws a jealous tantrum and runs back to her village in the forest. It's completely optional and completely awesome!

I have to admit that I love Arcus II: Silent Symphony's concept. Take the 12-year-old orphan from the first game, make him the hero, and fast-forward ten years into the future that's definitely a fresh premise. Now combine that premise with engaging characters, a legendarily diabolical villain, loads of cutscenes, and a brilliant soundtrack composed by the ridiculously talented trio of Masaaki Uno, Motoi Sakuraba, and Yasunori Shiono. On paper, this sequel was a damned good idea.

Unfortunately, the execution sucked and the world immediately stopped caring about Arcus.



zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (July 20, 2006)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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