Compile Heart has a substantial library of memorable adventures so let's see if their action-packed Arc of Alchemist is a worthy RPG.
Right off the bat; allow me to say that Arc of Alchemist has absolutely nothing to do with Gust's Atelier series. I've seen some confusion online so I figured this needed to be said. Heck, I don't even know why it's called Arc of Alchemist since little to no alchemy is actually done in the game. With that out of the way, Arc of Alchemist is basically a dungeon-crawling action RPG where you hack and slash enemies, gather loot, and upgrade your party back at home base. The story stars Quinn Bravesford who's on a mission to retrieve the Great Power which will save humankind. Meanwhile, giant machines terrorize the desertscape and monsters have been popping up as well. Throw in a rival nation that appears to have nefarious intentions and you're left with an intriguing albeit simple narrative.
Arc of Alchemist looks and plays like a PS2 game which is good for those who want to feel nostalgic but it certainly comes across as dated. On the other hand, I appreciate the cute character models who are mostly chibi-like chums that are voiced with talented and expressive Japanese actors who help bring them to life. Aside from that, the environments are bland and the music is suitable yet unmemorable. Overall, it's nothing to write home about as some games from 20 years ago are presented more impressively.
When it comes to gameplay, you divide your time between your home base and exploring somewhat expansive environments while hacking and slashing monsters and machines. The combat primarily involves unleashing 2 different primary attacks, a special attack, and jumping and dodging out of harm's way. Meanwhile, you're accompanied by a couple of party members who will act on their own and you can also command them to perform their special attacks whenever you wish. It's incredibly basic yet charming in a way.
While not fighting enemies, you'll explore which slowly uncovers the current area's map. As you do, you can utilize 4 helpful orbs via Quinn's Lunagear that gradually unlock throughout the campaign in order to uncover treasures and traverse difficult terrain. Namely, the fire orb can melt ice, the earth orb can generate blocks, the water orb can fill pits, and the wind orb can remove gusty blockades, etc. Plus, you can combine orbs to deploy new abilities such as using water and wind together to map out treasures. This Lunagear system actually makes exploration rather enjoyable as you can backtrack and uncover loads of cool treasures.
Back at the base, there are loads of options to strengthen your party. First, you can actually expand and invest in your base then plan where to place each building which will grant bonuses such as allow shops to stock more goods. Honestly, I don't understand why placing buildings in certain locations makes them more potent but I did enjoy experimenting until my base's stats increased to a satisfactory degree. Anyway, you can also purchase stat boosts and passive abilities for characters, set up camps that you can use in the field, alter tactics, and trade, buy, and sell goods. It all adds up to provide a supremely rewarding progression dynamic.
Finally, allow me to talk about 2 aspects that made Arc of Alchemist fall flat after playing it for a long time. First of all, the gameplay loop of going out to the field then back to base so you can level up is very fun at first but it becomes quite stale after only a handful of hours because elements stop getting introduced early on so you end up doing the same thing over and over again. Last but not least, the combat itself is incredibly mindless for the most part as all you do is lock onto an enemy, unleash a fury of attacks, and quickly move on to the next. Sure, you'll face tough foes from time to time but it's so easy to power-up back at the base that you can simply head back whenever the odds seem to be stacked against you then give it another go. In other words, very little strategy is required.
Action RPGs don't get much simpler than Arc of Alchemist but that's a part of its charm. So, if you're looking for a basic and surprisingly rewarding hack and slash adventure then give it a go. Just don't expect it to feel like a current gen experience.
- + Simple story and adorable character models with a fantastic Japanese voice cast
- + Exploration is satisfying
- + Rewarding progression systems
- - Although cute, graphics are rather dated
- - Gameplay loop gets very repetitive
- - Combat is quite mindless for the most part