The PSP has its fair share of role playing games, and there is one in particular that justifies the existence of Sony’s portable platform in Japan. Let’s face it, Monster Hunter games move thousands of PSPs with every iteration of the series and I cannot help but feel that Square Enix wanted a piece of this commuter culture pie. Thus, Lord of Arcana was born into existence. The game is a straight up clone of Monster Hunter and I would be doing both games a disservice if I didn’t compare and contrast them. Both games are similar, but there are some key differences that separate Lord of Arcana from the Capcom behemoth that rules this portable genre.
Lord of Arcana (LoA) is and action RPG that has you playing as a courageous warrior on a quest to collect the stones of Arcana. The basis of the game is to kill the seven minions who guard the Arcana stones. What they don’t tell you is that you will be collecting a whole lot more than just some Arcana stones. LoA comes with a heavy emphasis on character progression through the development of spells, weapons, and equipment. The catch for this style of game is that you get to craft all of the goodies yourself, and no one is going to sell you the materials. This means you have to traverse the dungeons, kill all within and use the body parts to craft equipment back in town. Sound familiar?
Do you have the stones to take this guy’s stone?
Everything begins from the hub town, from shops to crafting and more importantly grabbing quests from the Slayers Guild. When you accept a quest and you are instantly transported to the dungeon. The dungeons come in all different shapes and sizes from dank caverns to lush forests. As you travel throughout the dungeon you will encounter the minions in real time and this is where Lord of Arcana differs greatly from its Monster Hunter cousin. When you attack the minion in the dungeon you warp to an instanced battle that has you and the minion(s) in a battle circle pitted against each other. This style of encounter is a little jarring and takes you out of the immersion as you are constantly switching from the dungeon view to the battle screen between each fight. While in the actual battle you can move freely around the ring and need to be pretty quick on the controls, something that the PSP struggles with. Square Enix had the intuition to include a lock on targeting system in LoA which is a saving grace for the battle system, as I struggled with the camera throughout my whole time with the game. When you are not battling the camera you actually get to fight some minions and the battle mechanics are pretty enjoyable.
The actual quests themselves require some medial tasks such as fetching 20 of item ‘X’ all the way to killing 10 of minion ‘Y’, but the real action comes when you are sent to conquer one of the boss minions to free an Arcana stone. Boss battles quick turn into a slugfest ballet and your actions are limited to the ‘pulse’ bar which is essentially your stamina. Do too many awesome moves in succession and your character will be tired and will have to recover in the middle of battle - leaving you vulnerable for a period of time. The battles can become intense and the boss minions are exceptionally challenging because they have quick time events thrown into the mix, just to keep you on your toes. When you finish the battle by slaughtering everything you are rewarded with experience for your character as well as your much needed crafting materials.
Excuse me but I require your arm for my new boots.
Lord of Arcana takes the crafting a step further; in addition to being able to build your very own weapons and equipment you can opt to use your hard earned minion-guts to craft yourself some spells. Being able to toss a spell out once in a while not only breaks up the monotony of mashing the square button to kill minions but also serves as part of the strategy. For example, when battling skeletons they will hold their shield and you cannot damage them. Throw a fireball and break open their defense so you can get a couple good attacks in. Adding magic was a great step ahead of Monster Hunter but I’m afraid that it isn’t used nearly enough in the game. This seems to be a common theme throughout the whole crafting system - the idea is there but it is not fleshed out enough. The most addicting part of the game is the crafting and it is supposed to act as the carrot on the stick, but I can’t help feel that Lord of Arcana is lacking in both the amount of gear that you can create and the frequency at which you can craft your desired items.
Lord of Arcana allows up to four players to play co-op. To get a co-op party going you simply have to create a ‘room’ (session) within the game and your friends hop in via Ad-Hoc or Ad-Hoc Party. Once assembled you are free to take on multiplayer specific quests or get some help with story quests. Nothing changes in the game other than the missions you are able to do, and some of the bigger enemies are only accessible in multiplayer. In single player I found that the enemies could take an unusual amount of hits, acting as meat shields. Unfortunately these meat shields do not scale when you bring your slayer posse along. This causes the cooperative experience to be a breeze and you can usually kill most of the enemies without any trouble. It is great to be able to travel as a party and show off all your crafted equipment, but when the game is too easy the cooperative element becomes negligible. The challenge of the game is replaced with a grind-fest, and I really don’t see this as enticing as other cooperative RPGs. Some sort of scaling would easily solve this problem, but unfortunately once you have some buddies the game is a breeze. Games are usually better with friends, but having more people in the game essentially breaks it.
I can see where Square Enix was going with Lord of Arcana and I can’t fault them for trying to copy something successful. In the infant stages of the game LoA definitely seems more accessible and simple than any other addicting grind fest, but it is paralyzed by a list of faults that make it very frustrating to play. It is a streamlined version of Monster Hunter with a fantasy style that simply isn't engaging enough from a storytelling perspective or game structure to allow it to compete with single-player focused RPGs. It will not bring anyone over to this style of game, but it is probably good for those people waiting for the next Monster Hunter game to be released. Even having friends along for the ride did not overcome the trouble I had while trying to get addicted to this grind fest. I have seen this game before, and it was done much better.