Game Review #501: Arc of Alchemist (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Robert Krause
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory
Category: JRPG, Action, Adventure
Release Date: 1.30.2020
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Buy Arc of Alchemist from the Nintendo eShop here.
Minor League effort by a Major League developer
Developer Compile Heart for me has become a Nicolas Cage of video game developers. The creators of top notch JRPG games like the Hyperdimension Neptuna series, also release what feel like contracted filler games that are vanilla attempts at JRPG games that struggle to run at a steady frame rate. For every Fairy Fencer F they release, there is an Arc of Alchemist to follow along with it in between the major series releases. Unfortunately Arc of Alchemist is more of a Left Behind and less of a Raising Arizona if we're using Nic Cage examples.
Arc of Alchemist follows team commander Quinn and her already-assembled team of 7 explorers who are trying to find the "Great Power" of legend that will bring the world back from the brink of being a desert wasteland. It's not a very original storyline as the Atelier Dusk series is based off this exact thing from earlier in the decade. Quinn wields a mythical weapon called a Lunagear that is the key to finding the "Great Power" by collecting its 4 gems. The other characters in your party are vanilla stereotypes that you only learn about through flashbacks when returning to your base. Even then the stories they tell are silly and out of place compared to the dark, tense tone that Quinn takes. The lone bright spot of your team, at least for the Switch version, is that you can take control of all of them in gameplay instead of just using Quinn.
Dynasty Warriors Meets AOL Dial-Up
You have two main areas in this game, the desert map and your base. In the desert you can explore, battle, and unlock new areas by completing what I would loosely call puzzles. Your base is where you can level your characters, change your team, purchase upgrades, and upgrade the camps on your map. Upgrading your camps will unlock new abilities you can get when returning, like health regeneration and restocking. For the first few times out you'll just be looking to trigger "events" on the map that will advance the storyline or provide you materials to sell so you can use the money to level your characters and upgrade weapons.
Combat in the game is similar to a Dynasty Warriors game as opposed to the usual JRPG turn-based action. Each character will have two attacks with A and Y that you can spam on an enemy. Quinn can use the Lunagear with ZL that will fire a weapon, create boxes to reach other areas, and other abilities that the gems provide. The biggest issue I had with this game is the poor frame rate and freezing during battles. Trying to roll out of the way or position your character for an attack is almost impossible to control at times as the frame rate will drop and you won't know where you are or your enemies. Several times I died from freezing with just under half health, only to see my character had been surrounded or an area effect attack had hit without the ground warning appearing. Being able to control the other characters to see how their attacks or weapons work does provide an enjoyable game play if you can get past the performance.
Just out of Focus
Arc of Alchemist has cute chibi characters that are decently designed. Keeping them and the background especially in focus is an issue. The camera seems to not know what to focus on during exploration or battle and will blur different areas. Along with a frame rate that is probably around 20fps, the graphics gave me a headache trying to get my eyes to adjust. Almost all of the game is in a desert map that provides no real variety or the color that most JRPG styles are known for. The audio is basic and you won't really even notice it.
This is a disappointment from a good developer that will just flood the market with another mediocre JRPG when the Switch already has numerous good JRPGs to play. The good news for Switch owners is that I've looked at PS4 videos of this game, and the performance issue isn't only on the Switch. With a price tag of $39.99 it also is very overpriced considering the storyline only takes about 10 hours to play. If you really want to play this game, I'd wait for a good sale. Even then I would recommend the Atelier Dusk games instead.
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*A game key was provided for review purposes