Yea~rs ago, I bought Arc the Lad Collection, partially because it was an RPG and I will try out almost anything with those three letters appended to the game’s description (although my tastes are more, m ay I say, refined nowadays). But also because it was released by Working Designs, who I felt could do no wrong (and then I played Vay… but to be fair, I’m not sure anything but a complete remake could save that game).
Anyway, I started playing AtL before I did these blogs. It’s the archetypical example of why I began blogging in the first place. I could not bring myself to beat this game. This was back in the day when I had over 60 incomplete games sitting on my shelf, because I would get half way through a game, then buy a new game and put down the old one.
As anyone whose played AtL can tell you, it’s a long game. … If you count AtL 1 and 2 as the same game, which you should. If you count AtL 1, 2 and 3 as the same game (which you shouldn’t; 3 is definitely a sequel, and a damn good one at that), then it’s insanely long. What’s funny is how hard it is to explain just how long AtL 2 really is. You see, AtL 1 is not a long game in itself. You can easily beat it in 12 hours; significantly less if you skip all side quests – maybe 20 if you do everything, but that sounds like a stretch unless you count the 1,000 arena battles (in retrospect, I really didn’t need those items).
AtL1 is really just an introduction for AtL2, which picks up the story with a different cast of characters, whom unite with the cast from AtL 1 about a third of the way through the game. From there, they go on to finish what was started in the first game, and it all leads up to one of my favorite game ending quotes since the final boss of Valkyrie Profile‘s insane death scream. I wish I could repeat it here, but it’s a major spoiler.
Anyway, before I started my blog, I tried playing through AtL twice. Yes, twice. And both times, I got up to the point where my party was reunited in AtL2, and then I stopped.
After that, I avoided the game for years, even when I started blogging. Just, I really was not looking forward to playing through the games a third time, and doing the 1,000 arena battles (optional) in AtL 1 again (I repeat, in retrospect, not worth it). So I just sort of puttered around the issue for a while. I played other games, whatever I felt like. Yet still it sat there, in its thick box (the package for AtL is standard Working Design’s fare: as many disks and random omake as they can fit in as large a box as they can convince the producers to make; oh, if only WD had been around for Kickstarter…). I would occasionally glance up at my shelf, and that the AtL bible, a 500+ page full color strategy guide for the first two games. And still I said to myself, “No, this game is insanely long; I’ve played it twice; some day, but not today”.
Then I started playing through games chronologically. I went to Wikipedia, found the oldest RPGs I could, and started playing through them in order. Honestly, many of them suck by today’s standards. I hate to tell this to my fellow long-time gamers, but for every Chrono Trigger, there are five Dual Orb IIs (a game with all the artistic quality of someone’s first RPG Maker project; the one they’re kind of proud of, kind of embarrassed by). But I’m getting off-track.
I get up to the ’90’s, and AtL shows up on the list. And Im saying to myself, “damn, I can’t keep avoiding this”. So I stall. I start playing every other game around the same year, every game at the same year, and every game that’s in the same year category. Until there’s really nothing left to play. And so I sit down for the great project: finally beating Arc the Lad.
Thanks to a poster on GameFAQs, MadJak91 who solely composes the entire expert community on AtL 1 & 2 (he shares the honor with another poster, decoy51, for AtL 3), I was able to gird myself for some of the more draining parts of the game: for you see, this game is long. There are over a hundred jobs to do and wanted monsters to fight; practically all of which are optional. There’s a secret character, Choko, who is perhaps the greatest secret character of all time: not only is she amazing – she gets her own major side quest, including a massive 74 floor dungeon, loaded with goodies; and her back story is interesting too. Then there’s the other optional character (whose not so secret); Diekbeck! Who has a bunch of optional monster romp dungeons for himself, including a special quest for him at the very end of the game. There’s just so much to do in this game, and that’s not even minding the main quest, which is long by RPG standards, not even including AtL1. And then there’s the grinding at the very end. You see, the game is unbalanced. In the last act, monsters’ levels begin scaling ludicrously quickly. Even with doing all the game’s optional quests, I was in my 70s when monsters were in their 90s. The last boss has over 14,000 HP divided between two forms (for reference, the penultimate boss has 2500 HP). He is insanely powerful, and will annihilate your party through sheer attrition unless you either have a good team (Choko or Gruga or cry yourself to tears), an impressive set-up (you didn’t bring the Romancing Stone? Oh, you poor dear…), or high levels (at least level 120… how high do levels go? I have no idea – over 150); also, it helps if you ported your data from AtL1 and did everything you could in that game, or else you will not be quite so prepared. Yes, yes, this is exactly the kind of thing I expect from a game ported over by Working Designs.
The game is awesome in just how long it is; and not just how long – but how important every bit of the plot feels. I remember games like Lufia II, which, despite being awesome, has quests like, “The bridge is out! Well, why don’t you go down into the Ruby Cave and fetch me a ruby while we wait for the plot to work itself out? Thanks. Hey! Now the bridge is back. Huzzah!” There really aren’t any mandatory fetch quests in AtL. I mean, sure, sometimes the game meanders a bit, but it’s hard to think of a quest which didn’t reveal something interesting about the world or involve character development.
So, after many hours of playing, I finally beat it. It’s done. Arc the Lad II was the last great game on my list of games I always wanted to go back and finally beat. And I am happy.