Quality Control – Arcana

The Title Screen for Arcana on the SNES
Get Arcana for the SNES from eBay

The problem with picking RPGs for Quality Control picks is I often don’t have the time I need to give it the consideration it deserves. Normally, when I’m reviewing a platformer or some other, more traditional game, I’m able to beat the game in an emulator in a day – or at least get far enough in the game that I can get a pretty good feel for the game. Not so with most RPGs – so I basically had to play this game over a weekend (though you can’t tell, because I wrote this in advance).

The Premise

Many years ago the land of Elemen was torn apart in a bloody war between the forces of Light, lead by the Card Masters, and the forces of Dark, lead by Empress Rimsala. At great cost, the forces of light triumphed, and the Empress Rimsala was sealed away – imprisoned forever (or so everyone hoped). Decades later, Elemen had been split amongst many kings, and over time these kings started warring amongst themselves. The leader of one of these kingdoms, King Wagnall of Lexford was overthrown by Galenon, his court magician. Galenon, now usurping the throne, sent out his armies to conquer all the neighboring kingdoms. However, he had a darker and more sinister agenda – to destroy the Card Masters and free Rimsala from her imprisonment, so she can rule the world. The player plays as Rooks, the son of one of the last Card Masters, as he seeks to prevent Rimsala’s awakening.

The Good

The problem with a lot of Wizardry clones (and Arcana is a Wizardry clone) is, in some form or another, the game lacks an automap. The player has to bust out some graph paper, a pencil, a ruler and a clipboard, and map the dungeons by hand. The problem is, going from personal experience, it’s really easy to mess up the map, partially because it’s really easy to lose your place. This is even more likely when you have to set down the game for a week or two because life has gotten in the way. Fortunately, Arcana includes an automap feature, which makes the player’s life much easier, and taking the challenge off of the act of mapping the dungeon, and onto dealing with the dungeon’s residents.

Additionally, the game has an enjoyable story. Most Wizardry-style games have a minimal story to them, while Arcana not only has a story, but cut-scenes which carry the story along, while using the Tarot Card motif that the game sets up.

The Bad

The game’s translation isn’t great. There is a fair amount of Engrish in the game’s cut-scenes, though it didn’t effect my ability to comprehend the plot much. While the game’s story is good, the interface in which the story is told (using the card sprites in the rather small gameplay window), doesn’t have the same sense of characterization as sprite-based cut-scenes in Final Fantasy IV (and later VI).

The Ugly

The game has a limited inventory management system, no in-dungeon checkpoints, though there are items you can purchase that allow you to quickly escape from the dungeon. But, again, you have only 42 item slots in your inventory and duplicates of items don’t stack.

The Verdict

This is a surprisingly good Wizardry style RPG, which conveys it’s narrative very well. If you own an SNES (or a SNES clone), I would strongly recommend picking this game up, if you can find a copy.

I managed to find a Let’s Play for this game on YouTube. The guy doing the Let’s Play doesn’t have a great microphone voice, but it does have narration, which is better than nothing.

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