"Is it really an arc if the game essentially stays at the same level with very few highs or lows?"
Back when I was reviewing a bunch of Kemco's mobile RPGs, my main challenge eventually became finding new ways to describe games that connected enough dots to provide a tolerable gaming experience, at least for diehard fans of the genre, but struggled to earn adjectives more complimentary than "competent." While the majority of them didn't have horrific flaws that made it impossible for me to gain any enjoyment while playing, they also didn't do anything to stand out and get me giddy about sitting down to type my review.
Idea Factory and Compile Hearts are not the same as Kemco, but here I am with the suspicion that much of what I wrote about those other games could be carried over to the PlayStation 4 action-RPG Arc of Alchemist. The main difference is that game's cost at its time of release. I obtained most of my Kemco games while taking advantage of steep discounts, often paying about one dollar for each disposable bit of entertainment. To purchase this game upon its release, I'd be forking over $39.99, according to the PlayStation Store. That's simply too much, considering it took a mere 16-17 hours to do everything except defeat a handful of optional super-bosses in a simplistic game that, graphically, more closely resembles something released early in the previous generation of systems than it does one arriving this late into the PS4's lifespan.
What we have here is a post-apocalyptic world where the final remnants of humanity have formed various tribes and are searching desert ruins for a great power they hope will extend the lifespan of their species. You start in control of Quinn and her rag-tag group of soldiers which run the gamut of generic character tropes--the really dense second-in-command and his long-suffering sidekick-with-a-crush, the aloof loner and the childish one demanding to be treated as an adult all put in appearances--as they start their search.
Early on, I could sense some potential. Quinn chooses two subordinates to join her, setting up the mechanic that three of her company can enter the field at once, and they started exploring. After fighting a few weak scorpions, I came to a branch in the path. However, one way led to a dark tunnel housing a far more powerful scorpion that was essentially impervious to my attacks while cloaked in darkness. If I lured it into the light, I could kill it, but that confrontation drained my party members' health to a degree that made it obvious I was meant to find another way around it, which likely could be provided by a switch that currently wasn't working. And so I went the other direction and quickly died after stumbling across a new side path leading to a few tougher monsters, as well as one of those super-bosses: a machine capable of killing my party at the same instant it noticed them. Avoiding that path, I eventually found a machine covered with ice.
Fortunately, Quinn comes equipped with something called a Lunagear, which can be equipped with four elemental orbs that help her progress through the world. Even more luckily for the lass, while she only begins the game with one orb, it happens to be the Fire Orb. Melt the ice, go back to that switch and now the dark tunnel has lights! Even better, the gatekeeper scorpion will have disappeared from existence, making it child's play to advance to your first potential camp.
Throughout the game, you'll find checkpoints where you can teleport to and from your base. Many of them, such as this one, also can be turned into a camp if you're willing to fork over some cash, allowing you to recover health and Lunagear charges without leaving the area. Or, if you're itching to make your party stronger, you can take all the goods you've been obtaining through your exploration and take them back to your base in order to start improving things.
You'll obtain a lot of materials from treasure chests, collection points and enemy drops. They are used to create additional buildings that grant you the ability to buy superior equipment, as well as to learning passive skills and improve character stats. While Quinn and friends aren't anything special in the beginning, with enough work, they can become juggernauts capable of delivering critical hits with regularity while watching their health get replenished every few seconds. With a good balance between pushing forward in the game and sprucing up your base, it will be child's play to reach the end of the introductory zone and earn the Earth Orb, which allows you to place blocks you can use to reach high ledges that normally would be out of reach of a standard jump.
Your growing abilities allow you to advance through a number of desert zones that blend together until the final one, which is dominated by a large base that, while drab, at least offers a change of scenery. None of these areas are particularly thrilling to explore. They're too sparsely decorated, with few points of interaction. You'll take many long walks over uninspiring terrain while regularly battling the same tiny handful of palette-swapped animals and robots on your path to gaining the final two orbs, which also are mainly used to get past obstacles that previously had blocked your path. Hole in the ground? Use the water orb to fill it up with instantly-freezing liquid you can walk over! Big sandstorm blocking the way? The wind orb will dissipate that to open your path!
For the bulk of the game, you'll utilize the same few basic activities, along the way engaging in repetitive battles that all wind up feeling the same due to Quinn and company being so one-dimensional. Weapons come with two different attacks--a powerful melee strike and a weaker ranged one--but it seems the only real "strategy" is to lock onto foes, run up to them and whack them until they are gone. Upon running into a boss that proved powerful and durable enough to outlast me, I'd warp back to the base and throw all my materials and money into improving things. New buildings meant better weapons, new skills meant better passive abilities and increased health and stats obviously proved beneficial. I found myself only using Quinn and her two opening-mission sidekicks because, unless I wanted to grind for ages, it was far more cost-effective to constantly upgrade three members, as opposed to everyone.
And it's not like the game's story was capable of distracting me from the constant cycle of killing stuff and building up my base and characters. The closest thing to intrigue in Quinn's race to find the mysterious great power is a rival tribe also searching for that same reward. Its leader is built up as a cold and vicious man, and many of your party members are of the opinion that you should take him out before he inevitably decides you need to be removed from his path---an attitude that winds up looking kind of villainous, considering that every interaction with him presents him as a reasonable person who works to calm his more reckless subordinates and shows no desire to pick a fight with your team.
Worse than the main narrative arc are the skits that play whenever you go back to your base. They have a purpose in showing the relationships between characters and what motivates their actions, and at times do so effectively, but a lot of them felt like awkward and unnecessary comic relief and blunted any effectiveness the actual plot possessed. For example, throughout the game, Quinn comes off as a melancholy character who is a bit obsessed with finding a meaningful death in a dying world. Then you teleport back to camp and watch her in a series of lighthearted skits concerning possible material for a musical performance at a base-wide festival that results in her spitting out an amateurish rap, before being told her "performance" was just a distraction to get her out of the way so her comrades could prepare a surprise birthday party for her. That's…uh…something!
Arc of Alchemist isn't particularly interesting, but my time with it did pass pretty quickly. That was good, considering how mindless its action could be. The only time I was remotely thrown for a loop was with one particular boss encounter that happened to be one of those "just survive for so much time" battles, instead of something I was expected to win. Aside from that, I spent my time enduring a simplistic combat system, simplistic puzzles, simplistic level design and a simplistic base-building mini-game. It was competently crafted and I have no major "everything is ruined!" objections, but this isn't something I'll be replaying…or likely remembering any details about in the near future.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 08, 2020)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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