Arcana
by FreezingInferno





Oh hey, it's you again. Here for another round of me blabbering about old video games that are near and dear to my heart, eh? That's okay, I know you like my particular style of doing so. Alright, so let's talk, you and I. Let's talk about RPGs on the Super Nintendo. Immediately big names rush to the front of your mind; those three Final Fantasies, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana. Maybe you thought of some more obscure things, like Lufia or Ogre Battle or somesuch. The point is, there are lots and lots of classic RPGs on that grey rectangle with a dash of purple. Today's focus is on an earlier one, one that's quite linear compared to other RPGs. Stick with it, though, and you find something that has a certain old-timey charm filled with hack and slash as well as deep dungeon exploration. Welcome, everyone, to Arcana.

Arcana was made in 1991, by HAL Corporation. Yes, THAT HAL Corporation, the one that made Kirby and Adventures of Lolo. This was actually the first RPG of theirs to come out in North America, but not the first one they worked on. That honor is bestowed upon good old Family Computer classic, Mother. 4 years later HAL would strike cult classic gold with Mother 2, or as we know it, Earthbound. You've probably heard Earthbound fanboy gushing before though (if you've ever taken a three-second glance at starmen.net), so we'll save the rants about Ness and friends. Right now we are talking about Arcana, yeehaw. Arcana's cute little gimmick has nearly every object in the game represented as a card. Characters, enemies, and items all have this fancy-ass little card border around them. It's a nice little design choice that makes sense given the game's plot, which involves the last of the "card masters" on an island kingdom that got ravaged by civil war and backstabbing. There's some betrayal along the way, and ancient sealed demons that you know damn well are going to get unsealed because this is a JRPG from 1991 and trope subversion wasn't around yet. The plot isn't all that essential, though. You don't play a game like this to find out what happens next, you play it to explore new places in-game. Arcana's pretty old-school in that regard.

One thing to mention upfront about the gameplay though; Arcana is linear. Very VERY linear. It's so linear that you could call it a stage-based RPG in complete fairness. There are five "chapters" to the game, and each one has just two places for you to be. There's a town, where you can do all sorts of RPG towny things like heal at an inn (inns being your only means of saving, too) and buy equipment. There isn't all that much else to do in towns, as they really are more of a safe haven and a place to save the game. Leaving a town shows little SD non-card versions of your characters walking to the "dungeon" of each chapter. It could be a temple, a forest, a cave.. there's only one in each chapter, but they're by no means quick affairs. For one, they're pretty damned large, and in a first-person mazelike perspective (think Phantasy Star). In a bit of a gracious twist though, you do have a map that fills itself in as you explore the twists and turns. You may not always know where to go next, but you'll know how to get the hell out if you need to.. which you might. As you'd expect from an old-timey dungeon exploratory affair like this, each dungeon is chock-full of monsters. Random encounters litter the place as you search for treasure or the right way to go, and you'd best be careful with them. There aren't any revival items in Arcana; if one of your human characters dies, it is a game over. This one will require you to do a little levelling to get the best weapons and armor from each town, but even then some things can still screw you over. Certain squares have miniboss encounters, and there's no way to tell if it'll happen unless you have an outside source of info. One wrong step forward and bam, there's some boss ready to rape your shit. Did I mention that you have pretty limited item space, and similar items don't stack? This one isn't exactly a cakewalk, but if you like a challenge, you've got one.

The characters in this game adopt the Final Fantasy 4 school of shuffling in and out of your party; the only constant is your main character, Rooks, the last Card Master. Additional characters include Teefa (no not THAT one), who's not quite what she seems, her sister Salah, a dwarf named Axs, and a wandering swordsman named Darwin. Adding to THAT, Rooks finds and recruits elemental spirits as he goes along his journey. He starts with Sylph the wind spirit, and is able to find ones for fire, water and earth in due time. You can have one spirit at a time in your party, and they are able to die and not count as a game over (though you'll have to revive them in town). You can also switch them out for another spirit, if you want some elemental coverage. Overall, the characters are good tools for cutting a path through hordes of monsters.

So, is Arcana a good game? I really think so. It's pretty antiquated and lacking the bells and whistles of most other JRPGs, but I honestly like the dungeon exploring and the hack-n-slash aspect. The enemies are fairly well-animated, and though the plot is kind of lacking and predictable, it does its job well and takes you to plenty elaborate setpieces in order to kill monsters and save the world. Sometimes that's all you want out of a game, and Arcana gives you just that.






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