Arc of Alchemist is Idea Factory’s latest export to the west and this Action-RPG moulds some interesting ideas together in an attempt to stay above the pack. Sadly, those ideas are either poorly executed or become suffocated in the game’s crumbling framerate and frustrating design choices. The cast of characters are given plenty of personality but little in the way of substance, with motivations and relationships feeling half-baked. This is presented in one of the dullest worlds I have ever seen in a videogame with a story that tries little to give this desert landscape any colour.
The world of Arc of Alchemist has been devastated by human war and corruption leaving behind sprawling sands where life used to thrive. An outpost of surviving humans sends out soldiers to collect resources and find “The Great Power” - said to solve humanity’s problems. Quinn Bravesford leads one of these squads through the endless desert where machines and monsters stand in their way. It’s a pretty tired setup, utilising generic post-apocalyptic tropes to craft its worldbuilding and fill out its lore. I never felt any sense of mystery while exploring this world as the soulless story made no effort in showing me anything surprising or intriguing.
If this world sounds hollow in its depiction through the writing, then actually seeing it offers little improvement. Arc of Alchemist looks like an early PlayStation 3 game with its bland textures, barley-detailed models and garish colour-pallet. The chibi character designs are really the only interesting artistic flourish that the game has going for itself, but they’re hardly breaking the mould of a JRPG featuring a cute anime influence on its visual direction.
I feel warmer towards the game’s core gameplay loop, which sees squads of three characters heading out into sections of the desert to pick up resources for upgrading the home base and advancing the story. The lure of new weapons, armour and items from developing my base was enough enticement for me to get lost in the game’s exploration. Growing the base is a pretty simple process, however there is some strategy in positioning the different facilities correctly in order to produce the best goods. Overall, this all feeds into Arc of Alchemist’s strongest element and I would be lying if I said didn’t get hooked into bettering my base and characters.
Combat is also simple but hides a handful of nuances behind the infinite button-mashing of standard fights. The variety of weapon types can be fun to experiment with and choosing the appropriate trio of characters for a boss fight requires a thin layer of strategic thinking. With that said, the lack of attack combos is embarrassing, and I found hardly any use for some weapons such as the staff.
The orbs used for alchemy are the most dynamic part of Arc of Alchemist’s gameplay. The fire, water, earth and air orbs can all be used separately for either basic elemental attacks or manipulating the environment in a subtle way. However, each orb can also be combined with another for a creative special ability. For example, air and fire can be used together to call forth a powerful flame tornado, or earth and water creates a statue that sends out pulses to heal the party. I still wish it was taken further, but it’s an intelligent system that affords the game some much needed gameplay novelty.
Of course, I often had to struggle through the game chugging like an old steam engine for even the simplest of actions like movement. The framerate on PlayStation 4 wavers between manageable and disastrous, which would be more catastrophic if the gameplay wasn’t so watered-down to begin with. The technical issues don’t end there, however. There is an incredibly annoying glitch which made me unable to open chests if I attempted to interact with one during combat, and it wouldn’t be rectified until I had retreated to my home base and returned. Even having to go back to the base to switch out my playable character and save felt like an unnecessary timewaster designed to pad out an already pretty boring experience.
I will say that the character scenes that play before entering the base menu could be rather endearing and cute. The scenarios that play out don’t affect the main story at all but serve to flesh out the cast’s personalities and show some fun interactions between them. I didn’t connect too deeply with any of the 11 playable characters, but these small cutscenes did help to salvage them from being completely forgettable stereotypes. Although, it is weird that those 11 characters are the only characters seen in the game. Despite having an ever-growing home base, there are no NPCs or other travellers in the desert to cross paths with. It makes the whole experience feel even more empty, but not in a way that feels like the developers were going for an intentionally desolate tone.
Arc of Alchemist puts in minimal effort in its worldbuilding, story and combat. It cements itself in tired clichés of both the JRPG and post-apocalyptic genres, while delivering its experience through woefully unpolished technical issues. I was endeared by the game’s addictive exploration and cute characters, however, my journey through the endless desert ultimately left me feeling dehydrated and glad to be over with it.
Arc of Alchemist (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
I doubt any Great Power could save this game from being the soulless wasteland that it is.