It’s been years since I have tried actually applying the scientific method to something, but Arcania: The Complete Tale seems like as a good a place to start as any. If I remember it correctly, I first give a hypothesis, follow that up with some experimentation, and then deliver some results analysis. Simplified to be sure, but let’s have some fun with it anyway.
Hypothesis: Arcania: The Complete Tale is your run of the mill RPG and can’t possibly be made any worse by a compilation pack on the PS3.
Experimentation: Even for a game originally released in 2010, Arcania is an old, clunky game. The story follows a nameless “hero” from his humble origins on the island of Feshyr, through the destruction of his village and death of his betrothed, to saving the kingdom from the machinations of a demon lord.
If it sounds a little banal, it’s only because it is. At the start, I would have described it as a simple, by the numbers RPG, but by it’s end, the story’s utter dependence on the “fetch quest” ends up driving it straight into the ground. It gets so bad, that about 35% of the way through the story, the main character begins to respond to these quests and their givers with genuine disbelief.
Nameless approaches Town X. He is immediately stopped at the gate by the Captain of the Guard.
Nameless: Don’t tell me, you’re going to make me pass some sort of test to gain entry into the town?
Guard: Yes, in order for me to know that you have our best interests in mind, I’ll require you to get me 6 sets of eggs from the surrounding swampland.
Nameless: I just need to see your head librarian. I won’t be long, and I won’t cause any trouble, I promise.
Guard: Nope. Can’t let you in until you present me with some eggs.
Originally, I found this reaction to be almost meta in it’s usage, revealing the trope’s own ridiculousness as a wink and nudge to the player. By hour ten, I was not so amused. By hour twenty, upon reaching the end of the main game, when I was presented with my choice of 3 different fetch quests, I was ready to simply turn the game off, ending be damned.
While I am not ready to assign pure laziness to the design choices in regards to quests, I am more then willing to say that it is dreadfully lacking in anything resembling interesting content. This lack of content spreads out to the game world as well. The map of the island is expansive and thick with things that look like content. Forests and caves dot the landscape whispering of hidden treasures and mysterious wonders just waiting for you to explore and discover. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
While additional exploration may be met with a treasure chest, the rewards are paltry and unequal to the time spent in their search. There are collectibles to be found, such as statues of the God Innos, or demon skulls of an evil god, but besides being a check box in your quest guide, a reason to find them is never introduced.
What you will get through exploring is the opportunity to engage in some combat. Arcania presents a fair system, offering a chance for melee, ranged, or even spells depending on the way you spend your skill points. While nothing special to write home about, fights are not dull affairs. I completed the game as a traditional melee fighter, swapping between sword and board (1-hand and shield) and large two handed weapons. Choosing one does not preclude you from choosing the others, and switching from melee to ranged in the middle of combat is not quite smooth, but easy enough to not be annoying. As with everything, there is a clunky-ness to the switching, though it’s one that’s easily hidden behind the “well it would take you a stretch to switch in real life.” Naturally, I rationalize this while fighting a pack of magic wielding skeletons.
I’ve tried to include a few screenshots of what the game looks like to go along with this review. I want it noted that NONE of these are indicative of the game that I actually played on the PS3. The game I played is a graphical mess of ungodly proportions. Textures pop in as the game zooms in for conversations, only to then pop out or simply disappear during the course of said talk. The environment is covered by a thick grey cloud that surrounds you whenever you venture outside.
Things get no better inside buildings. Numerous times I had to walk around invisible architecture, and there was even one remarkable balcony that caused all the walls of the entire castle to turn invisible whenever you stepped out on to it.
My favorite graphical bug, though, is a combat-only scenario. Creatures you are fighting will routinely get stuck in walls or floors, only to teleport magically behind you with an attack queued, offering them a free hit. Against most enemies, this amounts to nothing but a scratch, but against large fare, especially Golems and Demonlords that have an area knockdown, these free hits lead to knockdowns that lead into beatings, especially when multiple opponents are coming at you. I can say while playing on the normal difficulty, this bug never lead to my death, but on harder difficulties where damage done by monsters is increased and mobility is a premium, it’s not hard to imagine these situations leading to unnecessary frustration.
Conclusion: My hypothesis was wrong. I gave this game far to much credit in my initial assessment prior to playing it. Arcania: The Complete Tale is a broken, boring mess of an RPG. This version is graphically inferior to just about anything in it’s class compared to when it was originally released, and not even worth turning on your TV for when compared against today’s standards. Were graphics the only issue, I am sure they could be over looked, but there is nothing else in this package that makes those mistakes worth enduring.
If you really feel a need to play this, get it on Steam or some other PC forum. From what I have seen, the pictures featured here, or anywhere on the internet for that matter, point in that direction. I can’t speak for the quality of the title there, but I can, emphatically and until I am out of breath, say this: Do not, under any circumstances, play this version. Leave it on the shelf. Don’t even purchase it on sale. Don’t play it. Just… don’t.