Role playing games (RPG’s) generally come in two forms even though it’s quite easy to class all games as “role playing” as gamers jump into the shoes of (insert action hero name here). Well traditional role playing games, usually orientating from Japan normally feature turn based random battles, which means using a menu to perform attack and defensive moves whilst the computer performs the actual animation of striking a target for you. Player involvement during these battles is one of planning which moves to use and then reacting to the computer’s own attack once you have unleashed your own. The winner is obviously the team who has depleted all of the opponent’s health or hit points (HP). Outside of battling the computer players are allowed to explore what ever the game world has to offer. The other role playing games are predominantly produced in the west and can feature full player controlled combat or hybrids of the turn based ideal although can be more solitary affairs. Both styles of RPG offer a rich a deep storyline and with turn based RPG’s often present a wide number of characters to either join your team or simply converse with.
Enchanted Arms is the first traditional RPG from Japan, produced by From Software and published over here by Ubisoft. The game has been available in Japan under the title [em] Enchant Arm for quite some time and so we are lucky that the game has been translated for English speaking regions. I must say right off the bat that if you aren’t into Turn Based RPG’s then perhaps Enchanted Arms is not going to appeal to you as it doesn’t deviate from the norm that is expected form games in this genre.
Enchanted Arms tells the story of Atsuma, a student of a university for enchanters. The setting is pure fantasy and mixes traditional fantasy environments such as the wilds, with modern looking structures. Atsuma seems to be a bit of a layabout and as we witness the opening of the game, he is seen snoozing through one of his lectures, which certainly sets the tone for what sort of character he is. Atsuma is somewhat different to his contemporise as he has an unusual arm which as the story progresses you learn is the key to great power and something that potentially could save or destroy the world. Well I’m not really going to go into details pertaining to the story, as it’s the story aspect that drives the player when playing. All I will say is that Atsuma is an unlikely hero and seems to stand by his convictions to rescue fellow and model student Toya from the clutches of an evil devil golem.
Firstly I am going to explain the whole random battle element of not only Enchanted Arms but also for turn based RPG’s in general. Random battles are probably what make players either love or loathe turn based RPG’s. Random battles as the name implies happen at random as players go from point A to point B as part of the storyline or sub quest. Players can’t decide when these happen and the number of encounters is not predetermined by the computer. If players hover around certain areas then they could encounter an infinite number of battles which stop players in their tracks and switch to a battle screen every time they are initiated. For the most part, if you are in any sort of hurry to progress the storyline then random battles are surely there to hamper your progress; the more cynical of you might argue, to bolster a games longevity. Whilst the latter might appear true, the bottom line is that players will need to level up their characters to make them more powerful and able to deal with the tougher foes the game throws at you. Players really need to focus on this aspect of the game, as random battles are the only way to truly level up characters. With the idea that as you are progressing the story, you also should be hunting for random battles to level up your character. With this mindset perhaps they shouldn’t be seen as a hindrance and more of a necessity.
Enchanted Arms does very little to change the traditional formula, although there are nuances that make it more involving. In the world of Enchanted Arms there are beasts or beings created by man to serve. These are called golems and once owned will gladly fight alongside your characters. Enchanted Arms features over 100 golems to collect and use in your travels and it is this aspect of hunting for and then using them that makes Enchanted Arms more compelling to play. Each golem has their own affinity such as with Earth, Wind, light, Dark, Water etc and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Players can choose to have up to 3 other golems or story related characters in their party at any given time. Golems or humans that aren’t being used remain on standby and so will still level up after gaining experience from battles. Obviously not all the golems can be left on standby and so players have to choose which ones to develop; the others remain in storage so to speak and can be accessed by visiting the many shop locations in the game. Golems come in all shapes and sizes and their design ranges from the awfully cute to the evilly menacing.
The combat itself presents players with an eight by eight grid which is divided in to two halves. One half is for your party and the other for the enemy. What adds some minor tactical element to proceedings is the fact that each character has their own movement ability (to move around the grid) and attack moves. Attack moves are related to direct to ranged and will be represented by reds squares which indicate the range of the attack. This means that players will have to not only use the best attacks against enemies but also position their character on the grid in the correct place to be able to attack in the first place.
Actual attack moves are handled by menus in which players choose from a list of actions for each of the characters in the party and then the computer animates the attack and does the move for you, damage dealt is indicated by numbers on the enemies that are hit. Once the players attacks have been performed, then the computer takes its turn. This menu driven automated combat combined with the random battle element is really what separates turn based RPG’s from other games; it certainly is an acquired taste. Outside of combat, players can move along linear paths in third person and with a camera control on the right thumb stick, means that players can take a good look at their surroundings.
As mentioned earlier it is the story element that drives the game as players feel an attachment with the characters and want to know what happens next. It works very well and constantly throws in a lot of humour. At times the story almost felt like a parody of other role playing games, which is always good for a few laughs and is great that amongst the serious nature of the story that there are quite a number of light hearted moments.
Enchanted Arms looks very nice and has some pretty amazing locations throughout the game. It is certainly much more detailed compared with last generation RPG’s. There are some impressive textures used throughout and as mentioned earlier, it is great that you are able to view your surroundings with a free camera. The characters are well designed, especially the golems which as I said come in all shaped and sizes. There really isn’t too much to fault with the graphics as they pretty much do as they are supposed to. If I was to nit pick then I would have to say that the running animation looks a little off as is the running speed which seems a tad too slow for me. Another minor gripe is the fact that the free camera should have been made available during the battles, there are several viewpoints players can use to get a good look at the layouts but none seemed to get close enough to the characters so you could have a good look at them.
The sound is actually very good, especially the English voice overs that were added. The leading character is acted well as are the supporting cast and although you have to press a button to forward each line it does feel fluid if you are paying attention to the subtitles as well. Sadly not all dialogue is spoken and so sometimes you are left with text only which is a bit of a shame and takes away from the immersion the game offers. Other sound effects are as you would expect, what with ambient sounds and the sound of attacks during battles. The music is rather hit and miss for me as more often than not you will be hearing the same battle music over and over, which after a while begins to grate. I wish they would have included a few more tunes to add some variety here. That’s not to say the music is not very good because in general it has high production values and is fitting for a game of this nature. I guess players can resort to custom soundtracks, however then you would be missing out on some of the non repetitive music the game offers.
Enchanted Arms offers a lengthy story to play through as with the added bonus of a side quest involving a very tough dungeon means that players can spend over 50 hours of playtime. There are also all of the golems to collect which can be accomplished by either battling, buying or merely finding them. There are some mini games thrown in as players can gamble by playing roulette, slot machines or bingo and whilst these aren’t requiring too much thought, does make for a nice distraction from the main game.
Enchanted Arms also attempts to appeal to the online crowd by offering an online battle mode, however there are very few players playing online that it might not even be worth considering as an option, unless of course you have a friend who you can arrange to meet. Overall with Enchanted Arms you aren’t going to feel short changed as there is a lot of game here for your buck.
Enchanted Arms offers a compelling yet comical story that will at times make you laugh out loud or at the least, bring a smile to your face. There are some wacky characters and a plot that seems more typical than anything else. The combat, whilst being an acquired taste is good and what you would expect from an RPG. I think the main feature of the game are the golems as these certainly add a personal touch to proceedings as players have a huge roster of beasts to include in their party. Enchanted Arms doesn’t rewrite the book in terms of gameplay but on the whole offers many hours of entertainment as the first turn based RPG on Xbox 360. If you don’t like the style of traditional RPG’s then I will have to say that it’s probably best if you stay clear of this one. If turn based RPG’s are your thing then Enchanted Arms is well worth a look. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing the game, despite a ridiculously hard last boss which I thought at one point was impossible to beat. Whilst the rest of the game is fairly easy and rather linear, it does offer a game that is fun and that is what counts. Enchanted Arms is a solid RPG on Xbox 360 that does little to change the formula. Will it be loved by the masses? Probably not. Will it be enjoyed by RPG fans? Most definitely.