February 19, 2008
To say there is a dearth of role-playing games on the 360 is beyond a joke, as barring an unfortunate blender meeting fingers incident, you can pretty much count them on one hand. So when one comes along people are prepared to jump on it feverishly; ready for their next fix of over the top characters and engagingly long storylines. Every time such a game is launched it is surely an event to be celebrated: until now. Playing Enchanted Arms pretty much means you are scraping the bottom of the RPG barrel in your desperation. When you consider that games such as Mass Effect and Oblivion have their detractors it’s hardly surprising that this game gets such a hard time, if such fine games can be called out for having flaws then this game seems like a prime example of by the numbers development in a bid to cash in while the RPG market was so wanting.
FROM Software are perhaps more commonly known for games such as Armoured Core, Tenchu and, to a lesser extent, Chromehounds. This being one of their first forays onto the 360, you would have hoped they would go all out in a bid to impress, but that is sadly not the case, as the whole game comes across as an extremely laboured example of what not to do. At the time this would have probably been overlooked in favour of the fact that there was very little competition, but with quality titles like Oblivion, Mass Effect, Blue Dragon and Eternal Sonata all readily available it just highlights what a below par effort this title was.
As seems to be the case in practically every RPG developed in Japan we have a young hero, Atsuma, and his friends pitted against evil doers who are seeking to awaken all powerful golems and take over the world. Suffice it to say the golems run amok and it’s up to our heroes to trek across the globe in a bid to seal up the most powerful Devil Golems. It also transpires that one of these creatures has become entrapped in Atsuma’s arm (hence the title) and he must struggle to overcome it while at the same time unleashing its formidable power. The story is nothing new to anyone familiar with Japanese RPGs in general and the only twist in the tale comes in the form of Makoto, the first openly gay character I’ve come across in any RPG. To say he is badly handled though is an understatement, as he is extremely over the top and, dare I say it, very annoying due in no little part to the dubious dialogue and voice work that has been bestowed upon him.
While the story is pretty generic stuff it is still pretty engaging, as you learn about the history behind the golems and why they were sealed away all the while having Atsuma struggle as his dangerous power emerges and his friends lives are endangered. Sadly though, unlike a lot of recent games of the genre, the whole plot is particularly linear with the player allowed next to no choice over their next destination. There is only a solitary optional dungeon available to play through and the rest of the game is a decidedly on-rails experience. It’s particularly grating as the developers have tried to keep the game varied by sending our heroes off to a myriad of locations, but with no real chance to explore outside of strictly defined boundaries there seems little point. While the major group of characters are pretty well handled; all of them having their own unique back story and reason for fighting the golem menace, it seems the rest of the cast are sorely underused. It will not take you long to realise that there is next to no point conversing with anyone not story related as there are no secondary quests on offer nor vital information or items for them to hand over, outside of a single inane line of conversation the people populating the game are little more than puppets.
The gameplay is of the instant battle variety. As you traverse each location you may be suddenly thrust into battle against invisible enemies, with the only safe spots being the various towns and cities you visit. Obviously such a system means you never know when the next battle will occur as the only visibly enemies in the entire game tend to be boss fights, probably to give you a fair chance to prepare, and this can lead to no small amount of frustration. It’s a much used and much maligned system but in this case you never know if you are going to get more than five steps without a battle occurring, then at other times you can run in circles deliberately trying to start a fight only for nothing to happen. Your party is initially made of the human characters you meet along the way but you can soon add golems to your ranks, these creatures can be made through various items, won at the casino or even conquered to add to your party and they all have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. They often have skills that are unavailable to the main characters but on the downside are unable to learn any new abilities or have as high a growth potential. Every ally and enemy also have an elemental ability: Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, Light and Dark, which need to be closely monitored as leaving yourself open to attack by an opposing element can be catastrophic.
Once you are in a battle the game actually starts to impress. Every fight takes place on a grid, with the enemies on one side and your team of up to four characters on the other, and you are required to strategically place your team before combat begins. Each character has Hit Points (HP) and Ether points (EP), if your HP hits zero then that character is knocked out until they can be revived or until three turns pass, at which point they are removed for the rest of the battle, EP on the other hand are used to power spells and abilities. The attacks and abilities on offer all have a certain range, blast radius and EP cost, so depending on where you stand will depend on what enemies you can attack and vice versa. It’s also worth noting that if one of your party is stood in front of another member they can also act as an impromptu blockade, shielding your team mates from taking as much damage. This means a lot of emphasis is placed on not only your initial placement but also that of the enemies, as you must calculate whether it is worth rushing to the front of the grid to unleash your most powerful attacks while leaving yourself vulnerable or whether you should hang back and dole out weaker attacks from long range at a far lesser risk.
A minor gripe comes in the form of the Vitality Point (VP) system. VP are used to heal any lost hit or ether points at the end of battle, but the longer a battle goes on then the more VP you will lose. Considering how often battles take place you can run out surprisingly quickly, and should you run out entirely then your HP and EP will be reduced to zero for the next fight. You can recharge at certain points or via certain items but it’s an unnecessary system to be honest. Speaking of items, the decision to limit the inventory to just nine of each item you can find is preposterous too as you will often run low on certain healing items when you most need them.
On the whole though battles are surprisingly fun and intuitive, with even basic enemies requiring some thought to overcome, which is just as well as the majority of the game will see you pushed from one fight to another. Success can also depend on the correct choice of both active and passive abilities, with active abilities being the battle techniques available in combat and passive abilities providing status boosts and resistances to a variety of harmful conditions. You are only allowed six of each type of ability which is not much of an issue at the start of the game when your choice is limited, but as you level up and gain stronger powers you will have to choose abilities to suit the enemies at hand. You also have the chance to acquire powerful EX gauge abilities which can be powered up over the course of numerous battles and then unleashed at will.
The visuals are pretty enough in game, but more attention seems to have been lavished on the cutscenes than anywhere else. They are certainly on a par with anything you will have seen from Square or the like but maybe more thought should have gone into the main playing experience. While the characters look nice enough the towns and landscapes are pretty drab, plus the developers have pulled out every cliché in the book; here we are in the desert, here we are in the ice, here we are in a ravine. Surely a bit more originality wouldn’t have gone amiss? It’s also never nice to run into invisible barriers anywhere or have locations strangely surrounded by mysterious cliffs, not every game has to be totally open ended but annoying tricks like this belong in the past. In battle the game picks up a bit with all of the attacks suitably flashy, especially as you increase in power and start to chain together combo and EX gauge attacks.
The voiceovers on offer vary in quality, as some of the characters seem to have definitely got the short end of the stick. As mentioned earlier Makoto in particular is strangely annoying, whereas Atsuma, Toya and Karin all come across as emotional and diverse characters – like a real human should be. Some of the dialogue strays too far into cliché for my liking as well, but on the whole the game balances out the rough with the smooth. The in game music though is entirely forgettable and repetitive, pretty much a given I suppose when playing a game that lasts a minimum of 20 hours. If you can’t take it anymore then you have my permission to turn on some other music.
If you play through the game you’ll get all of the achievements, simple as that. There is one minor and obvious choice required at the end to ensure a full 1000 but other than that it’s smooth sailing. The only exception to this rule is if you are playing the Japanese version of the game, as a number of achievements are glitched leaving only 700 points on offer. Other than that it is entirely the same game. A bit of originality could have been thrown in for finding certain golems, the hidden weapons or even winning big at the casino but clearly that would have required reams of extra coding. A major disappointment.
A mixed bag of voice acting on offer with most of the characters being pleasing on the ear but then it comes crashing down when Makoto opens his mouth. The music is repititive and bland, but nothing you wouldn't expect from an RPG.
Gorgeous cutscenes and some impressive battle animations, but as good as the characters are the landscapes are equally poor and generic. If the same attention had been lavished on the background as was given to the FMV then it would have been a totally different story.
A solid storyline plus a genuinely different and interesting battle system are enough to keep you playing, but I just wish the could have made the game a bit more open ended which is what an RPG is usually all about.
A pretty typical Japanese RPG which is a rare breed on the 360, constant battling backed up with beautiful FMV make this reminiscant of something Square could conjure. However, the similarities end there as the story never really takes off and the characters are a bit one-dimensional, plus the lack of anything other than the main quest to occupy your attention is a let down.
Play the game and get the achievements, very little thought and orginality have been put into creating this list. Also, avoid the Japanese version of the game as a number of achievements are glitched making the full 1000 impossible.
An enjoyable game that is just lacking that bit of extra imagination to make it stand out, with the glut of quality titles that have emerged to fill the RPG void it seems that there is very little reason to pick this up. If you've played the rest, however, then this could provide an entertaining enough diversion as the battle system alone should be enough to pique your interest.