The Random Arc the Lad Post

There will be spoilers for Arc the lad all over this post. It’s time for me to talk about some of the details of the Arc the Lad series that are really more for the people who have already played the games. The following is an assortment of random thoughts.

Velhart gets the most character development of any character in the third game. Really, he and Tosh are the only characters in all the games with much in the way of character development. Oh, other characters change, but it’s only with them that we really see anything.

Velhart looks less manly than I expected. He’s very, well, effeminate looking. I don’t think it works well with his character concept. The appearance doesn’t evoke the desperate self-esteem issues of the character. He just looks… well, pretty. And in a game where most of the characters have really cool designs, Velhart’s just looks strange. Or maybe the artist just sucks at drawing androgynous guys.

Choko got a bum deal in the third game. Mini-game mascot status isn’t a good sign.

Did Andel’s plan make any sense? I like to think that he was stringing along the heroes the whole time and fully expected he’d need to sacrifice himself at the end. I’m not sure. Some of his actions don’t make much sense in light of that theory.

Seriously, they give you an opportunity to time travel in the second game, and they go back like, what, ten years? Man, I wanted to go back 3,000 years – meet the original Braves.

Chongara. Oh man, that guy gets a bum deal. Emaciated, mentally ill, and I don’t think he’s fully recovered by the end of the third game.

Lutz talks a lot about how awesome his items are. You know what? He sucks. He never really uses items throughout the game. He talks big, and there’s some mini-games where he’s all about that, but… they don’t show a stunning display of confidence.

Do we ever find out what Cheryl’s past is? I guess she was orphaned, but it sounds like she was really hurt by someone.

Poco… oh man, he drove me crazy in the first game, talking about food all the time. Give it a rest, man.

I hate the designs of the four Guardians. They look just terribly ugly. The light guardian looks like some kind of mutated frog. And they never fixed it, in any of the games. Hell, I thought they were going somewhere when the second game featured that really badass looking version of the Fire Guardian. Sadly, no.

“Arc the Lad”. What kind of title is “the Lad”? It’s a terrible title. I wouldn’t want to be known as “the Lad”. And isn’t that what you’d really call a child. I mean, Arc is in his teens in the first game, and he doesn’t come across as especially naïve.

Iga’s temple doesn’t accept women. Why not? I’m surprised he didn’t get more worldly after traveling with female companions for two games.

Okay, you know that cave that Madame Claire’s in? The one that you have to send monsters through? That cave is some BS. “Too dangerous for humans”, right. I’m not going to believe that a few cave bats will slow down the Seven Braves.

Was Odon ever any good?

What’s my vote for saddest moment in AtL 2? It’s hard to say. I’m going to go with the ending. “We didn’t stop the end of the world. We survived it.” The corpses floating in water was pretty fucked up. A close second is the part where Elc has to kill his best friend. Tosh killing zombie dad isn’t sad – it’s awesome.

At the end of AtL 3, I stopped caring about treasure. I just ran rampant through dungeons because I had the best equipment.

I was hoping for more with Diekbeck. His story in AtL 2 is… eh. I’m glad he gets his own dungeon at the end, but it’s not quite enough.

The reveal at the end of AtL3, about the hunter who rescued Alec was… underwhelming. “Oh, hey, we fought once, and I used to be a hunter and hi, and now we fight, okay, I’m dead, cya x.x”

I regret doing the 1,000 battles in the Arena. Not worth it.

Choko’s asura form is cool, but I wish she could keep using her other special moves. Also, Stimulant is a weird name for transforming.

Why did AtL2 think it was a good idea to still have chests you have to jump to get to? It’s used so rarely that it becomes strange.

Speaking of chests, it wasn’t worth it to pick up chests in the first game.

I do kinda miss the way speed worked in AtL1. Extra turns up the wazoo.

My favorite Chongara outfit is in AtL 2. He looks good in blue and dark glasses. Definitely a costume change for a better.

Really, Elc is astoundingly competent. In the second game, I’m pretty sure he’s a teenager. But he’s cool, collected, confident, and he flies a badass little airship. Hell, he’s driven enough to nearly kill himself trying to catch Arc when he thinks Arc is a villain. I really felt for the guy. And in the third game, he’s even cooler: he’s like a god of fire, slagging anything that stands in his way.

Of course, Alec comes pretty far too. He starts out as a nobody from a little village at the beginning of the game, and by the end he is giving commands to guilds across the world.

But you know who doesn’t develop much? Arc. The guy the series is named after. I mean, the game implies that he’s grown, but we don’t really know much about him other than he wants to do good and he loves Kukuru (which I insist comes out of nowhere).

Shu, combining everything that is good about ninjas and machine guns.

Diekbeck is kind of an ass in the third game. Then again, it’s still better than “I am generic helper bot”, which was his personality in the second game.

Don’t you wish Paundit counted as a first tier cast member?

I’m really uncomfortable with how things leave off with Anriette in the third game. Sure, she’s a stuck-up brat, but I don’t feel like there’s a satisfying moral lesson with her: you can take her with you, in which case she’s a brat who gets what she wants. Or you can leave her behind, and she talks about how it’s her proper place in the world and, well…

Also, the lady at the orphanage, refusing Anriette’s charity. I get that Anriette’s motives for being charitable were questionable, but the caretaker’s response is along the lines of, “it’s not fair to take money we didn’t earn for ourselves”. I get the moral lesson there, but this isn’t the kind of situation where you refuse a handout: you’re living in a postapocalyptic world, in its worst city, trying to care for half a dozen children. I think the childrens’ immediate welfare is the bigger concern.

Coming back to it ten years later, the Arc the Lad Bible (i.e. the 500+ page strategy guide) is not as funny as I remember. The same goes for lots of the writing in Working Designs’ instruction manuals and strategy guides. I mean, it’s all still kinda funny, but it’s not the comedy gold I thought it was when I was younger.

I wish I could reorganize Diekbeck’s skills in the second game. Because they’re tied to units, the game won’t let the player do that.

Despite how creepy Spicy is as a character, I do think the final mission involving him is pretty funny: the triplets thing caught me by surprise.

So what exactly was the weapon that the King of Romalia used in the second game? The third game seems to imply that it was the Dark Lord, but I’m not certain.

Speaking of which, the Dark Lord is… a dead king? Honestly, the series’ ancient mythology is fundamentally important to understanding the nature of the modern world, but it gets glossed over so badly.

I wish the Beast Lord stuff had been tied more into the games’ plot.

Seriously, this is a good example of a game that would have benefitted from at least an in-game journal explaining bits of history about the world that the player might want to know.

I call the villain the dark lord, because subconsciously, I don’t’ want to admit that his name is the Dark One. It’s a terribly stupid name on the level of The Bad Guy.

Remember that plan where Tosh wanted to take the townsfolk north to Gislem? That was a stupid plan. Three reasons: 1) They have to go through a dangerous cave; 2) Gislem is the most dangerous city in the world; 3) there is literally another city just south of them.

I don’t think we ever learned how Yoshua managed to delay the end of the world by 10 years.

I was a little weirded out when I saw Andel’s hair for the first time. I guess I’d always assumed he’d be gray or bald.

I don’t understand why they had to unseal the arc at the end of the first game. Which is important; that was a big deal.

When I got to the house of endless treasures in AtL2, I was surprised to find some treasure chests were empty. I suspect they are filled only if you didn’t import data from AtL1.

I don’t know why the team didn’t fight back at AtL 1. Sure, there were a lot of enemy soldiers there. But they’re the Seven Braves, and they just fought demons. This is the fate of the world we’re talking about.

Most developed character in AtL 2: Gruga.

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We Didn’t Start the Fire: The “Arc the Lad” 1-3 Review

So, now I’ve finally beaten Arc the Lad 1-3. What can I say about all of it?

Well, for starters, 3 is a far better game than I’d expected. Judging by all the reviews of the game, I thought it was going to be silly, ugly, and downright unfaithful to the series. I can tell you that none of those things are true.

AtL 3 is relatively lighthearted compared to the second game, but all three games have a different tone. Um… if you can consider “generic” a tone for the first game. Honestly, AtL 1 is the most boring of the three entries. The game really does boil down to “collect the four McGuffins to stop the big bad of a fantasy setting”. Sure, there’s some anacrotech, and the ending is “WTF?!”, but the first game doesn’t really stand out from the sea of JRPGs. It has its highlights, but even Dual Orbs II has its virtue (I decline to suggest there can be more than one good thing about DOII).

The second game is dark. It pulls back the scope to show a world that’s a fusion of fantasy and modern elements; I hesitate to call it steampunk only because the elements often aren’t well integrated. Countries tend to be very modern or very early renaissance fantasy, and there’s not much middle ground. Still, it’s fun to see monks of an ancient order debating how they’re going to stop the nearby militant country’s gigantic train cannon from blasting them from one continent away. Anyway, dark: yes. It’s… well, it’s superficially dark, most of the time. By that, I mean, there’s things like characters making sacrifices, people being turned literally into monsters, zombified family members, and a really fucked up ending. But it’s superficial because the game doesn’t spend a lot of time helping you get to know most of the characters. Oh, everyone has a basic motivation, but most of them boil down to, “save the world because we’re the chosen ones” or “save the world because our friends want to save the world”. The game presents dark material, but doesn’t dwell on it long enough for it to have much of a meaningful impact, and sometimes misses opportunities to show the player some good material that would really reinforce the tone (the time travel to the past segment should have gone back 3,000 years, in my opinion; not… like, 5-10). The game has breadth, but little depth.

So, what I like about AtL 3’s take is that it is a relatively deep game. You encounter the same NPCs repeatedly across the world, in a variety of situations, and watch their stories develop. You see how the ending of the second game has impacted people across the world. The third game even serves as an epilogue for almost every character of the second game, and its treatment of Tosh is one of the game’s highlights. And that’s why it’s not really a silly game; the tone’s different, and lighter, but it never forgets that the first two games happened. If anything, the third game gives meaning to the events of the first two games.

All that said, the game does have its silly moments, but they’re lampshaded.

I also made the observation that I thought the game would be ugly. I mean that literally. For some reason, I thought the game would have crappy 3D graphics. Yes, the graphics are different than the first two games, but they’re still roughly the same style. Maybe a little more realistic, more detained. The graphics in the first two games are a little… square. It’s actually a modestly pretty game, although I do think the tone “gray” is used a little bit too much.

So, wow, I just talked quite a bit about the games’ stories and appearance, but what about the gameplay?

It’s… okay. The games use a tactics-style layout for combat. The nicest thing I can say about their presentation is this: it’s smooth. I’ve never played a tactics game where character actions and movements are this fluid. Especially in the third game, which fixes the delays caused by monster death in the first and (especially) second game. But beside that, the tactics are fairly ho-hum. No cover. No terrain slowdown. No range factors. NO environmental factors. Tactics boil down to “how many enemies can I get in my area effects?” Also, the games like to pretend characters have a lot of different techniques they can use, but it’s not so: many techniques are either inferior in every respect to other techniques, interchangeable with other techniques, or actually less useful than using a normal attack. The series never perfects its combat system (although the third game is by far the best attempt), which is a shame because the system has such good flow.

Gee, what else is there to say? Maybe you want to know about the games’ length? AtL 1, as I’ve said many times, is a very short game. AtL 2, however, is one of the longest games I have played. And AtL 3 is… average. Really, though, AtL 2 is ridiculously long if you want to do everything. It’s maybe an 80 hour game. Is that rightr? It feels long, but maybe it’s just all the oddjobs you can take. Which, honestly, aren’t usually all that interesting.

See, one of the features of AtL 2 and 3 is the Hunters’ Guild, an organization which takes jobs for the common folk to solve their problems, and usually involves adventure. In AtL 2, there are a lot of jobs, but there isn’t much story or personality to them. They’re… jobs. Ya~y! Occasionally, a character has a few lines of dialogue, but it’s sparing. And most of the jobs are “kill [#] of monsters”. AtL 3 is, as it is with many things about the series, better about this than the second game. Most of the jobs feature at least one of the characters chiming in. I don’t want to say that it makes the jobs or the characters feel especially deep, but it does make them more memorable. And I must emphasize, some of the jobs really are amusing: I eagerly anticipated anything with the Rainbow Bridge Gang and their “flashbacks”, and the singing competition had enough effort put into its design that I’m surprised it wasn’t somehow worked into the main plot.

Dungeons: Did you ever play an RPG where there weren’t really any dungeons? Tactics games are often like that and AtL is… kind of an exception. The first game is almost entirely straight-up tactics, but the second and third game have actual dungeons. No random encounters, mind you, and every room with monsters in it features an unavoidable encounter, but they do have treasure chests and save points so… they’re… kinda dungeons? Look, they’re trying here. One of their dungeons is the streets of a city. That’s cool! How many games make you run around an entire city as the dungeon? … what, Vagrant Story? That’s, well, okay, yes, that is one damn fine example. But if we start comparing games to Vagrant Story, there will be nothing but hurt feelings: it’s like being reminded that you’ll never be more than silver medal material. To be fair, I’m going to do an article on the quality of games in general, but that’s for another day.

Not to say that a game needs dungeons to be good. Only that these dungeons are not the puzzle-fests you’d find in Wild Arms or the battles of attrition that make up your average Dragon Quest game. They are visually appealing, and the ruined castle in AtL 2 is spectacular.

Oh, I gotta talk about item management. This changed the most between the three games. See, in the first game, there is an item screen, where every item in the game has an icon. If you’ve found every item in the game, then all but one of those squares is occupied. Characters can equip four items, and that includes what people would traditionally think of as equipment, such as swords. There isn’t traditional equipment in this game: you don’t go to a shop and buy a sword or a pair of boots. It’s a little counterintuitive, but basically this means that Arc, the main character, fights with a sword whether or not you have a sword equipped in an item slot – the item slot sword just modifies his performance in combat, like any other item. It’s a little strange, but effective.

The second game includes traditional weapon and armor selection, although such items can improve as they’re used. The part I want to talk about is the item management: you have a limited number of item slots, and about a third of the way into the game, this will become a nightmare. Every individual healing item occupies its own slot, which tells you something. It becomes burdensome when you get a mind to carry a bunch of individual accessories for preventing different status effects, but you have no idea which ones you’ll need, and you’re also keeping some items because you want to take them to the Combine Shop later (tip: the Combine Shop is useful for pretty much one item – the Romancing Stone), plus there’s those stat boosting items you want to hold onto until you get a certain party member on your team, and you can see how this gets out of hand fast. I shuffled so many items onto extra party members that it got ridiculous. Didn’t help that a lot of items have misleading descriptions. For example, Tosh’s Yukari’s Crest says “causes counterattack”. What does it do? It doubles his attack power every turn (Charge, for those familiar with the game’s terminology). What does that have to do with the description? Practically nothing, but if you sell it, then you got rid of one of the best items in the game.

Side-note: Counterattacking is insane in AtL 2. About a third of the way into the game, you should just assume that any melee attack, from any side, will cause a counter attack. It removes some of the fun of what’s already a vanishingly small tactical challenge in the game.

And this side-note reminds me of something else: monster levels in AtL 2 are equally insane. I don’t know what Max Level is in this game. I know it’s over 150 (although the game can be beaten at 120, maybe 100, maybe less). What’s important is that the monsters scale ridiculously quickly compared to the party. Let’s say that you stick with the same team for the entire game, and you do every hunter mission and wanted monster you come across. You’ll be about level 70 when the monsters are level 90. So yes, expect to grind if you want any hope of beating the final boss. The curve if one of the biggest complaints about the game, and rightly so. Anyway…

The third game, as it does with so many things, improves the item system. There’s an option to leave items behind at an inn, but I never used it because I could carry as many items as I wanted, and they were actually sorted. Huzzah! I will make a brief complaint that the game’s synthesis system, where items are combined, is for the most part unintuitive, so low marks there (combine the Palo Nut + Rune Knife = Palo Knife… of course!).

I’ve got more thoughts on the games, but I’m going to save some of them for another post. For now, I want to say something about the series in general.

Arc the Lad is an interesting project. It’s a series of three games, each with their own story, that are connected to each other. Together, they tell a complete tale, and it’s the best example of video game sequels I’ve ever seen. The characters are consistent between the games, and there are many familiar locales and even NPCs. The stories are connected to each other, and the stories of 2 and 3 are direct consequences of the games that precede them. I won’t give them a perfect grade: I’m still ticked at 3’s excuse for why the lands you visit look so different, but I will say that some serious effort was put into making the games coherent with one another. Together, they take a generic concept presented in the first game, and expand it into something so much richer. So, for all the games’ flaws, there’s some really neat stuff in this series.

I want to say that AtL is the game I’d show somebody if I was introducing them to video game RPGs. It covers a lot of bases, and it does that well. It’s… well, I guess AtL highlights a lot of things I love and hate about RPGs. It tries to hard to do everything well, and it’s impressive, but it doesn’t perfect anything. All its virtues are tagged with a “but…”, and it’s got its own design flaws. That’s really it, then. Arc the Lad is a series of excellent ideas compressed into a game that is merely good.