Review: Lord of Arcana

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If you are a fan of the PSP you are likely aware of the Monster Hunter franchise. If you are outside of Japan you probably haven’t actually PLAYED anything of the franchise, but have read about how it is Pokemon-sized-popular in Japan and led to the PSP being the top-selling console in that country in 2010. This isn’t a Monster Hunter review, but more a case study in how copying a beloved product doesn’t always assure you of a beloved product yourself.

Remember the line from the 1988 Vice Presidential debate? “I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine … you are NOT Jack Kennedy!” Well, I played several Monster Hunter games … and Lord of Arcana, you are no Monster Hunter!

The game starts with a summary story setup about ancient powers that can only be unlocked by the chosen one, which of course happens to be you! You are told that in order to attain those powers you need to get past the eight Arcana! What are these Arcana? Large monsters, of course – but naturally there is plenty of ‘trash collection’ to be done before you get to the big battles.

Structurally, Lord of Arcana is very similar to Monster Hunter. You have a central village where you buy, sell and trade stuff, a world divided up into sections to explore and eventually work your way to the main boss enemy for the region.

Immediately there are problems: the village is tiny and sparsely populated, and there is basically nothing to do but trade. There are a few people around, but all you can do is engage them in pointless idle chatter that has no impact on the game.

The graphics are lackluster throughout the game, but the worst offender is in the dungeon areas. Going from same-looking area to same-looking area to battle same-looking monsters with same-looking weapons is bad enough … but the fact that nothing is particularly detailed nor attractive makes the game mind-numbingly bland. The audio fares no better.

When you encounter an enemy, you must contact them before you are are teleported off to some magical arena similar to Valhalla Knights … and I shared my thoughts about that one here (http://www.vgblogger.com/?p=3997)! As I said then, “I believe that real-time combat belongs on the normal field or at least a large enough area that you don’t feel constantly constrained by the space.”

Combat itself is uninspired and quickly gets tedious – you enter the circular combat area, lock on to the enemies and whack them repeatedly while avoiding being whacked by them. Rinse and repeat. Sure pretty much every hack & slash game does that, but I honestly think that being dumped into a separate area with all of the inherent delays makes it more tedious.

The sole saving grace is a rather expansive crafting system. As you take on various quests to gather certain items you will open up the ability to craft new weapons and armor and other items. These can add some variation to the numbing sameness of it all … but the problem is that you will have to endure that sameness just to get enough resources – unless you team up with others.

Lord of Arcana features cooperative multiplayer for up to four players, but in a move very much based on Japanese gaming norms, it is only local multiplayer. While it is better than no multiplayer at all, there is an inherent issue with not having online multiplayer for Western gaming audiences – especially when the Monster Hunter franchise isn’t particularly popular outside of Japan. There isn’t game-sharing or download play or any other means of trying the game before purchase (Ed. Note: Actually, there is a demo version available on PSN and on the UMD that can be shared locally). The reality is that you will never find anyone to play with unless you and a friend go out of your way to each buy this game – something I strongly advise against.

So as I said at the start, Lord of Arcana is NOT Monster Hunter. But OH how badly Lord of Arcana wishes it was Monster Hunter! The problem is that the cloning process is superficial and incomplete, and while I am not the biggest fan of the Monster Hunter games either, this sad knock-off makes me appreciate just how much that franchise has to offer. Do yourself a favor – buy one of those instead!

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Pros:
+ Reminiscent of Monster Hunter
+ Decent crafting system

Cons:
– Bland audio and visuals
– Lack of interesting content
– Everything it does, Monster Hunter does better!

Game Info:
Platform: PSP (UMD and PSN)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Access Games
Release Date: 1/25/2011
Genre: Action-RPG
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-4 (Ad Hoc only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!