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Review: Enchanted Arms

Posted Oct-29 2007 by ron
For PS3, mandatory widescreen output (letterboxed in 4:3 mode)

The current generation of consoles is still in a low-supply situation when it comes to RPGs and because we like the genre, we often find ourselves playing yet another previous-gen RPG. There are so many of them that it isn't particularly hard to find a good one. So despite the obvious advantages of high-res shininess, a native PS3 RPG would have to offer something special to warrant shuffling it in front of the wide selection of PS2 RPGs of all calibers.
We took this particular plunge with Enchanted Arms, and if you read on, you're going to find out what happened.

Enchanted Arms title screen

Enchanted Arms, after going through the multiplatform grinder, is the first traditional RPG to come out for the PS3.

First off, Enchanted Arms of course follows many traditions of Japanese console RPGs, because that's what it is. Namely your party of characters will travel across the world, have lots of dialog among themselves and with townsfolk, solve a few simple puzzles and in the process unravel ancient mysteries, some of which may threaten their entire civilization. Treachery, love and redemption will all make their appearances in due time, and we dare say that the story told by Enchanted Arms, cliched as it is, is sufficiently epic, technically competent and round-about good enough to carry the game.
Unfortunately Enchanted Arms makes a horrible first impression by peppering the initial couple of hours with an abundance of over-the-top gay flirting. It would be bad enough already if it were the same amount of hetero flirting, holding you back at every turn when all you want to do is coming to grips with the game system. The choices that were made here seem all the more catastrophic when you realize that these aren't actually the characters you're going to spend the majority of the game with. Two hours later, they'll be just gone and your real party for the following 30+ hours may be much more conservatively designed, but even though they aren't so agressively pursuing the noble goal of humping each other, they still manage to have more interesting relationships and developments.

Dialog interface

Dialog is presented as an overlay of the involved characters over the exploration view. The character models are lip-synced and act out certain scripted poses to better convey emotion and humor.

Enough blabbering about the story. Combat is the other centerpiece of any console RPG.
It would be reasonable to expect that, over the course of an RPG, you will go through literally thousands of encounters and it's not an easy task to keep a combat system fresh across so many repetitions. This is where every self-respecting RPG nowadays tries to differentiate itself.
Enchanted Arms implements a two-dimensional combat grid, separated between your enemies on one side and your party on the other, like a hybrid tennis court/chess board. Combat is strictly turn-based: you enter commands for all of your characters, and then the individual actions are carried out in the same order, before the enemies, or whatever's left of them, get their own round.

Combat grid, showing the area of effect for Karin's EP drain dance

Attacks can target more than just one cell of the grid. Ranged attacks are a necessity of the system, because characters can't cross the dividing line in the middle of the grid, but the areas of effect for the many combat actions are much more diverse than just "ranged" and "directly in front". They take all kinds of different shapes.

Every turn, characters can move on their respective side of the grid, usually up to two tiles, and then perform an attack, a buff or a healing skill, or use an item. The effects of any such action are only felt inside a certain pattern on the grid that is positioned relative to the character. E.g. a curative skill might heal characters that are directly in front or to the sides of but not behind the healer. Some attacks hit the whole column in front of the attacker, while others hit an x-shaped area, or only a single grid cell at a specific distance.
Because you will rarely be able to one-shot enemies, you will want to overlay the attack patterns of two or three party members in just the right way to remove enemies before they get their first (or next) turn. Because the starting placement on the grid is entirely random, it's hard for a routine to settle in. As long as you aren't actively seeking out low-level foes, each and every encounter calls for a new optimal solution.

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