The first 360-exclusive RPG from Ubisoft & From Software.
Enchanted Arms claims to be Xbox 360's first exclusive RPG, which I found confusing as Oblivion is without doubt one of the best games on the console. Then I realised - Oblivion is also available on PC. Regardless: apart from the NPC characters you have to talk to, and leveling up to increase your power, the two games have almost nothing in common. Oblivion is a shining example of what RPGs are capable of with next-gen power and graphics; Enchanted Arms on the other hand seems to have both feet planted firmly in the past.
From the outset, the game harks back to Final Fantasy and a Japenese RPG stereotype seen in so many FF rip-offs. Trying to add something different, it decides its best bet is to borrow from another RPG staple: Pokémon.
Stereotypes can provide a template for games and indeed every genre benfits from them. Enchanted Arms is so entangled in them that the game designers have had their hands tied behind their backs whenever an original idea popped into their heads. The game often feels like it was designed to be the Final Fantasy X follow-up that never was, but while FFX was a great game, it's now four years old and entirely last-generation. Enchanted Arms also looks like a PS2 game, with very few stand out graphical moments. Outside of the pre-rendered cutscenes, only London Castle impresses. Unfortunately, even the cutscenes are not nearly as dramatic, for the most part, as the scenes in FFX.
The opening involves a 'flashback' scene from later in the game, pitting you against a huge boss in a fight you cannot hope to win. Once you have been beaten, the game intro kicks off and you find yourself with a super-manga-haired-big-eyed Japanese hero, sleeping through a lecture at university. For the next 4 hours you can expect to continually press A while two characters, superimposed on a near static backdrop, talk. Again, the power of next gen is entirely disregarded. The characters animation flicks between one pose and another as they talk. Frequently, a hand will land on a characters mouth in mock surprise as they say "What?....". Otherwise, characters stand around and their lips move as they talk.
Speech is another missed chance for Enchanted Arms. While after most cut scenes the characters voicing is good, it abruptly stops as you carry on conversing with characters through the level. I've not been able to work out quite why some scenes have characters chatting away to each other (as long as you press A after every full stop) yet they suddenly go silent, leaving subtitles at the bottom of the screen as the mute characters lipsync to silence. Considering a certain other RPG mentioned above lets you stand next to non-player characters and listen to them talk about where they go for dinner, Enchanted Arms's speech comes off as plain lazy.
I really need to point out that the first four or five hours of the game are extremely tedious because of this. You listen to (or read) the endless prattle of various characters talking to each other, pressing A at the end of every sentence. Fights are very very few and far between. While this is setting the plot for the rest of the game to come, I was bored to tears. If it was not for the sake of this review, I may well have given up.
You'll not need to hit A just to communicate either. For most of the game, every time you encounter an obstacle you can expect to be told at great length that if you want to overcome said obstacle, you will have to "press A". Grapling hook, moving blocks, shops, healing stations, mining karts and more are all controlled by pressing A. You will also have to press A numerous times as you listen to one of your comrades explain this to you.
Not everything Enchamted Arms has to offer is bad. Once you are given the levels to run around in, after the first five hours, things do pick up. In Final Fantasy fashion, you're free to roam the (admitted linear) levels as you please, and you will face random battles every minute or so with a group of enemies. Battling is turn-based, with your team moving first unless you are surprised. Battle takes place on two grids facing each other, which are three squares deep by four wide. All your characters can move three squares left or right, however this is less when moving diagonally. Moving your characters is an important tactical part of the game, as some characters have ranged attacks, and they cannot share the same space.
Attacks cover various areas and each character and golem has their own unique skills. These skills have different attack patterns so while Atsuma, the main character, has a powerful punch combo, it only affects the square directly in front of him. Other attacks will affect three squares horizontally or vertically, or even areas bigger than these. Using the correct skills to ensure three or four characters attack the same opponent results in a combo. Combo damage is the result of each attack is added together and effects are added to all (so if one character uses a fire attack, all damage generated counts of fire damage).
Attacks and creatures are split into different opposinng elements; fire versus water; earth versus wind and lastly dark versus light. Opposing elements do double damage to each other, and creatures are resistant to their own elemental damage. You will need to ensure that you maximise your use of opposing elements to do damage quickly; a water creature who attacks a fire creature and fails to kill it faces a lot of damage next turn.
The creatures in the game you collect are magical powered statues called Golems. Collecting these as you progress is a major part of the appeal of the game. You can carry up to eight Golems with you at one time and with over 100 to collect in the game you'll struggle to decide which ones are your favourites as you progress! Any Golems that you do not need or want in your party are left at the numerous shops dotted around the world. Picking the right balance of Golems is important for fights, as a party made up entirely of one element can be vulnerable to another element.
Golems can be given custom names, and while not too important in the single player mode, it's great online where you can humilite opponents! Being able to give them cool names also means you form more of an attachment to your Golems. The online aspect of Enchanted Arms is good too. The one thing lacking in most Pokémon games was the ability to fight your friend's creatures. Online in Enchanted Arms you can pick your favourite Golems and get into a scrap almost straight away. Private slots are available if you want to choose to fight someone from your friends list. Creating games is a good idea if you are just starting at the game, as this allows you to set a limit on how high a level your opponent's characters can be. Going straight online with the default level 1 Golems is no fun when you come up against a level 300 Vampire who can wipe out your entire party in one move.
The fact that you will meet such characters, and see some of the awesome Golems you have still to come across provides great inspiration to get going through the one player mode and level up all your characters. New skills become available, attributes can be improved and new weapons can all be unlocked as you progress through the game.
For the disppointment that I had in the first five hours of the game, beyond it I am now playing quite compulsively. Hours and days will disappear as the game slowly draws you in. The plotline of the game also gets deeper the farther you get in, and there are some fine twists in the tale to keep things exciting. For all the game's unoriginal banality, it manages to be almost as addictive as Final Fantasy or Pokémon can be.
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Direct feed trailer (X360 - Ubisoft)
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