Approximate Release Date: May 5, 1992
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: HAL Laboratory
Arcana tries to be interesting but doesn’t go far enough.
The trappings are here for something special, with everything in Arcana having a Tarot-inspired aesthetic that is consistent and looks cool. Enemies appear in battle as animated cards and your party is displayed as cards … but that’s it. You are able to call a card into your party, but that is no different from swapping between active characters in Final Fantasy II. I normally dislike card-based battle systems in RPGs, but here it would have made sense instead of the bog-standard combat we got.
Speaking of combat, battles in Arcana take forever. Every monster has a few attack animations, and they get very old after a few times. None of the battles early on are difficult, but there’s such a huge number of random battles that it feels like a slog. I usually don’t have a problem with random battles, but this feels like busy work given the low amount of experience and money. But leveling up doesn’t seem like a big deal except in terms of how much health my characters had. Buying weapon and armor upgrades at the town shop made a much more significant difference.
As a design choice, I’m not sure how I feel about that. Obviously equipment should factor into a character’s performance in battle, but so should higher levels. One design choice I don’t like is the high MP cost of magic early on. Why does my level 1 heal spell take more than half of my mana pool at level 5?
You explore dungeons in a first-person perspective, clearly inspired by Wizardry and other computer RPGs of that kind. Arcana looks great in motion and while it isn’t as fully realized as Phantasy Star‘s take of dungeon crawling, it’s fine in practice. Certainly helps the game stand out, but that just makes how standard the rest of the game is seem bland.
I’m so negative on Arcana because I feel let down by it. It tries so hard to appear different from other Japanese RPGs of this era, but all of that promise is just surface level. A decent story or a novel battle system would have benefitted Arcana greatly.
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