To say that the Wii has been a bit lacking in the role-playing game department would be a gross understatement. Not only have there been very few releases for the genre, the few we have seen haven't exactly offered much to get excited about. With Arc Rise Fantasia, Ignition Entertainment are looking to change all that. And while the game certainly offers up a very typical JRPG experience, you can't help but feel like it's something you've already seen and played many times before.
The first thing you'll notice about Arc Rise Fantasia is the way it never strays too far from the typical Japanese RPG formula we've been seeing now for the past 25 years. You'll do most of your traveling across a glorified world map, doing battle with enemies in order to gain experience points and money for your party. Along the way you'll come upon various villages and cities where you'll be able to spend said money, not to mention take on the various quests involved in each area that generally unfold sections of the overall adventure. If it all sounds overly familiar, that's because, for the most part, it is.
Combat is handled in standard turn-based fashion, but the game does introduce a few gameplay twists here and there, although they too will seem like something you've experienced in other popular RPG franchises throughout the years with other names attached to them. During each round of a fight your characters are allotted a certain number of Attack Points to work with. Each action, whether it be attacking, casting magical spells, or even using a particular item, takes a certain number of AP, so you'll have to make use of them wisely if you're to have any success during some of the game's tougher battles. You'll even be able to choose which characters will attack and which ones stand back and watch, and also move them around in order to avoid devastating enemy attacks. It may sound a bit complicated, but it does add a nice added layer of strategy to the battles, which is certainly a good thing considering how often you'll find yourself in combat situations given the game's sometimes lofty level grinding requirements.
Another unique feature of the game involves your character's weapons. Not only will you be able to outfit your characters with new weapons as you visit new cities and towns, but you'll also be able to unlock special powers contained with them. You can even transfer some of these special powers over to another weapon if you so choose. As if that weren't enough, you'll also be able to level up the weapon in much the same way you do the attributes of your characters themselves. You'll quickly find that outfitting your characters and leveling them up play a key role in your survival, especially given the rather sharp spikes in difficulty you'll encounter during your travels.
Even with the few gameplay twists the game offers, it still comes off a tad bit generic at times. So many of the mechanics are basically just rehashes of what we've already seen many times in other RPGs, and some of the fresher ideas, like the ability to allow the characters to fight their own battles using various tactics, feel like they rely too much on blind luck and tend to take too much control out of the player's hands to be of any enjoyment or help. The controls themselves work quite well and are laid out intuitively on the various controllers, and fans of the Classic Controller will certainly appreciate the option of using it rather than the standard Wii Remote/Nunchuck combination generally forced upon players.
From a visuals standpoint, the presentation in Arc Rise Fantasia tends to be a double-edged sword. On one hand you'd be hard-pressed to find a more vibrant and lush world in a Wii title, but it seems the more the developers try to push the console, the more flicker and jagged edges ensue. This tends to be further compounded by the fact that the characters themselves are quite a bit less detailed and almost look out of place against some of the gorgeous backdrops they often find themselves set against. It's still nice to see a developer try to push the console graphically, but perhaps a bit more polish for a little less detail might have been a better trade-off.
Musical scores have become a very integral part of an RPG experience nowadays, but they also tend to be rather hit or miss when it comes to overall quality. The beautifully orchestrated music throughout Arc Rise Fantasia is not only extremely moving, but also does an amazing job of conveying the varying moods of the game. It doesn't hurt that the quality seems to only increase the farther into the game you progress. Of course, this wonderful soundtrack also tends to highlight the rather bland voiced dialogue and make it that much more painful to endure at times. While the dialogue itself is well written, the acting does little to convey it with any type of conviction or feeling, which is disappointing considering the engrossing storyline it attempts to portray.
Arc Rise Fantasia does pretty much everything you'd expect a Japanese RPG to do - problem is, it doesn't do much beyond that. While the game does introduce a few unique twists here and there, they tend to be heavily overshadowed by the game's sharp difficulty spikes and hefty doses of level grinding. RPG fans will still likely find plenty to enjoy with the game, but that's only if they can keep their expectations in check and just enjoy the game for the rather typical RPG experience it offers up.