Review: Enchanted Arms (XB360)


Enchanted Arms
Genre: RPG
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 8/29/06

One of the largest problems that afflicted the original Xbox, software-wise, was the distinct lack of RPG’s that were available for the console. You could pretty much count the amount of RPG’s that were released for the console without taking off your shoes, and of those that were released, many were of limited appeal or simply weren’t very good. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be a repeat case for the 360; between the announced titles that are en route and the already released GOTY candidate Oblivion, Microsoft looks to be heading up as many people as they can to bring this genre to a legion of fans who are heavily craving it.

Which brings us to Enchanted Arms. Originally documented as eNCHANT arM, which is a pain in the ass to type if nothing else, this little gem comes to us by way of From Software and Ubisoft, and holds the distinction of being the first traditional RPG on the 360. First-gen RPG’s tend to be average-to-poor in this day and age (Ephemeral Fantasia, Beyond the Beyond, Evolution, the list goes on and on), but From seems to be seriously bringing the goods on the 360; aside from Chromehounds, which we discussed before, they’re also looking to bring the Armored Core franchise to the 360 in style, and it’s only a matter of time before Kings Field sees a 360 release date (I hope, anyway). That said, From’s not exactly known for their traditional RPG’s (the only ones I can come up with off the top of my head are Evergrace, Forever Kingdom, and Lost Kingdoms 1+2, which probably speak for themselves, especially if you’ve not heard of them), so it’s understandable to be skeptical of the quality of Enchanted Arms. Regardless, we’re here now, so let’s take a look, you and I, and see if EA’s worth your $60.

… I’m not typing that abbreviation in this review again. It’s too confusing.


1. STORY


Remember Lunar: Silver Star Story? Yeah, it’s like that.

You take on the role of Atsuma, a relatively gifted but exceptionally lazy student in a school for enchanters. You and two friends, Toya and Makoto, become caught up in a golem riot, and after an encounter with the Queen of Ice, an immensely powerful, world-destroying Devil Golem, you embark upon a quest to save Toya and end the life of the Queen of Ice. This is hardly going to be an easy task, however; the Devil Golems were sealed away one-thousand years prior because, as noted, they almost eradicated the entire world when they existed. From there, standard conventions apply: Atsuma finds himself in the company of an unlikely group of heroes who act to stand against the Queen of Ice and her machinations, other Devil Golems are resurrected, Atsuma is shown to have a mysterious past, infighting and romance abound, et cetera.

Before we get going, one thing I really want to point out is that the introductory sequences of the game are far and away more entertaining than the rest of the story. Part of this is because Atsuma, Toya and Makoto are all quite likeable as characters and play off of one another well, and part of this is because Makoto is gay as all get-out. In most games, when a gay character is presented to the masses, they’re either “effeminate” and not openly sausage-lovers, or they’re “extras” who don’t play much of a role in the game. Makoto is neither; he plays an important role in the story in the beginning, and continues to be important throughout, and he’s openly in love with Toya and not even a small bit ashamed of it. Now, he IS a stereotypical gay character, to be fair, but the fact of the matter is that he’s an awesome character that is sorely missed once he leaves the group, and he gets some of the best dialogue in the game, bar none. I will forever remember the “Makoto Love Lunch” as one of the single most hysterical things I’ve ever heard in a piece of media, and my hat is off to From for not only including such a character, but for also not even attempting to tone him down for an American release. Screw discrimination, dammit, I want to see more gay characters plundering booty from the depths of the dungeon.

That all said, from here on out I’ll probably be making a lot of gay jokes. Don’t hate me for it, it’s all in fun, and besides, I was put up to it. Don’t ask.

Anyway, the story is solid enough otherwise, with solid dialogue and story progression throughout the forty-ish hours you’ll be playing. Unfortunately, the storyline relies on a lot of stereotypes that you’ll probably see coming a mile away, especially if you’ve played the aforementioned L:SSS. I’d rather not mention most of them, especially if you’d rather be surprised, but if you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll pretty much see a lot of the plot twists coming a mile away, which hurts the story a bit. You can still lose yourself in the narrative, which is rare these days, but it’s pretty cut and paste in a lot of instances.

The other problem in the story involves characterization and motivations. Things happen in the game, then later other things happen that make you stop and ask things like “how in the hell did no one recognize him or her when they saw them if they knew him or her in the first place”, or in grand idiot plot tradition, “why was this question not posed to this person BEFORE all of these plans were led into motion against this completely uninvolved person”. It’s all done to advance the plot, yeah, but it’s not terribly logical. Also, a lot of the characters don’t really have what I would call “good personalities” a lot of the time. Karin, for instance, might be consistent in personality, and might accurately portray her personality, but this doesn’t change the fact that she spends a good portion of the game as an unlikable character. Atsuma’s personality jumps all over the place throughout the game, and a lot of the time his reactions seem inconsistent with his personality, as well as in contradiction to how a rational person would react to certain things. On the other hand, the Queen of Ice is pretty much awesome at all times, and further into the game the characters seem to gel into the people they’re meant to be, so if you can stick out these periods of odd behavior, you’ll be fine.

Overall, Enchanted Arms presents a good, solid story that, while it could have been better, it could have been a whole lot worse. The characters are written convincingly, the story is solid if clichÃÆ’©, and overall it’s a story you won’t regret playing through. And Makoto’s absolutely awesome, so you’ll be doing yourself a great disservice to miss such a wonderfully amusing character.

Story Rating: 7/10


2. GRAPHICS


Enchanted Arms looks good enough that you wouldn’t mistake it as anything other than a 360 title, but doesn’t exactly stack up with the best looking titles on the system. Character models are solid and look good, but the golems look cartoony in comparison (which is what I think From was going for, but still). The character animations are all quite nice and well done, but when characters are speaking to one another, the game does the “see the speaking characters on-screen” presentation, and the characters tend to jerk from one animation to the next with no transition, which looks weird. The game world looks good, but not great, as the environments seem… devoid of life in any fashion (with a few minor exceptions). Outdoor environments also suffer from disagreeable looking foliage on occasion, though this is infrequent (but stands out more noticeably in HD, for those who this applies to). Speaking of HD, Enchanted Arms suffers slightly from the “Dead Rising” problem; that being that it’s sometimes hard to read text/identify symbols unless one is using a Hi-Def TV. By and large, though, the game looks mostly fabulous, minor complaints aside, and it’s definitely not hurting on the eyes a bit.

Graphics Rating: 7/10


3. SOUND

The music in Enchanted Arms has the “From Software” vibe to it; if you’ve played a From title before (aside from Armored Core), you know what I’m talking about. There’s a hint of Final Fantasy in the tunes, too, which certainly isn’t a bad thing, aurally speaking. You’ll most likely find the music inoffensive, and it sets the mood well enough. Custom Soundtrack support is also in full effect, so if you want to do the random battle thing to “It’s Raining Men” or whatever, you’re totally within rights to do so.

The voice acting is mostly solid, though certain actors/actresses stand out in both directions; the Queen of Ice and Toya in particular deliver likeable performances, while Atsuma’s actor ranges between good and bad depending on the scene, and Yuki’s voice actress spends 75% of the game in full-on “annoying as hell” mode. Makoto’s voice actor is also full-on stereotypical, which might offend you if you’re annoyed by such things; otherwise, he does a good job. The Japanese voice acting is also layered on the disc, which is nice, but the American voices are serviceable enough that you may not feel the need to switch over (I managed not to beyond listening to them for review purposes, but your mileage may vary). All of the various golems you fight/team with also spout various comments, though for some reason they didn’t merit English translation, so hearing your characters blurting out whatever in English while your foes speak Japanese is perversely amusing, but kind of lame. And to round it all out neatly, the sound effects are quite nice overall, and the sounds for spellcasting are especially convincing and solid.

Overall, Enchanted Arms is an enjoyable aural experience. The music’s not earth-shattering, and Yuki’s voice acting might get on your nerves, but beyond that there’s some very solid audio work on-board. Having the option of listening to the Japanese voice acting is also a good call, as it seems fewer developers are doing this these days. There’s good sound all around, and overall it contributes to the presentation nicely.

Sound Rating: 7/10


4. CONTROL/GAMEPLAY


At its most base level, Enchanted Arms feels like a combination of Shining Force, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (or, if you must, Pokemon), and a Final Fantasy title with some other staples of the genre thrown in, but it’s a bit more than that. As is standard, you’ll spend most of your time navigating one of three sets of screens: the overworld map, the status screen, and the combat interface. We’ll tackle them in order, because I know you really only want to hear how the combat plays and I’m forcing you to read the rest of the review. I worked hard on this, y’know. Okay, maybe not, but never mind.

Navigating the overworld is an out-and-out breeze. The left stick moves you around, the right stick is used to move the camera, and A is used for all of your standard environmental interaction (breaking boxes, using switches, et cetera). That’s really about the gist of it. You’re provided a small map in the corner of the screen, which can be expanded to show the entire map at the press of a button. The entire map is given to you at any point you enter a zone, which might seem a bit easy to those who are used to uncovering the map as they go, but most of the zones you enter tend to be fairly linear in design, so you’ll find it doesn’t matter so much. Most of your moving around the map involves the standard exploration/finding the boss dynamic, but occasionally you’ll have to go through some fetch quests (which are usually short and self-contained) and solve a couple puzzles, which are sporadic and generally inoffensive.

Menu navigation is also pretty easy, though it’s easy to lose track of what one is doing with some of them. You have various screens available to check character status, items, skills that are equipped, and so on, and most of them are fairly self-explanatory. The Skill screens, however, get a touch confusing, because from within them you can check the skills on your characters and golems, equip/unequip skills and weapons, and learn skills for your main characters, so it can be annoying trying to figure out where you’re trying to go in the menus. There is a lot of depth to what you can do through the menus, however, which is good; as noted, you can equip and unequip skills and weapons from characters, as well as check the skills and stats of characters and golems. You can also upgrade the parameters of your allies with skill points here, and read little biographies of the characters and golems from these screens. There’s no real need for them, but it’s nice that they’re there.

And now… we come to combat. The combat system is essentially an amalgam of a bunch of other combat systems thrown together to make a new system, but in true From Software fashion, it doesn’t really feel like anything you’ve played before. When your characters engage in a battle (be it random or scripted), you’re placed into a 4X3 combat grid, as are your opponents. You can move each of your characters around the grid and position them as you feel would be strategically best to nail your opponents, then unleash attacks onto the enemy. The catch is that your characters are randomly placed into the grid when battle starts, so you’ll have to take into account not only where the enemy is, but also where your characters are placed at the beginning of battle. Each of your various attacks that can be used has an effective range, amount of damage, and in some cases an elemental type, which plays into part of the strategy: opposing elements stand to deal massive damage to one another, and taking advantage of that is seriously important. Hitting a fire-typed enemy with a fire-type attack deals pitiful damage, but hitting a water-typed enemy with a fire attack will most likely kill them outright. This is true of your characters as well as your enemies, though, so you might well watch an ally drop dead in the first round because you didn’t notice that an enemy was of an opposing element. Managing your team effectively, putting together combinations of characters that can obliterate the enemy forces in a zone or dungeon, and properly placing characters in the battle grid is important, and it places a good amount of emphasis on strategy, which helps to keep things interesting. You can, of course, just choose to have the characters engage in battle automatically if you so desire, but that takes a lot of the fun out of the game.


Enchanted Arms also does a few other interesting things that are worth noting. First off, characters don’t need to heal in-between battle. At the end of every battle, your characters will refill all of their health and ether (magic) points, so long as they have vitality points. These vitality points dictate how long a character can remain viable in combat; when that number hits zero, the character drops to 1 in health and ether points and is effectively useless until you can find a recharging station (which refills the VP of all of your party members). How many VP you lose in battle depends on a number of things; for instance, if you end battle in the first round, you lose no VP, which is cool, but if a character gets knocked out, they lose more VP than characters who aren’t. Also, regardless of whether they participate in battle or not, all characters in your group gain experience points just for hanging around, though they don’t get skill points unless they actively participate. This can help you level up low-level characters without much effort; simply have them follow along with the group and get levels, then bring them out for battle to help them get skill points. And, oh yes, you can save just about anywhere and at just about any time. I like this feature, personally, but I imagine some of you out there will not, so just be aware of it.

There are issues with the gameplay, though, and while they’re mostly pretty minor, they deserve mention. While the golems are nice to have around, and they can occasionally have skills you might need, there’s honestly no reason to ever use them unless you’re forced to. Golems can’t learn new skills beyond the ones they’re equipped with, and the named characters that join your party tend to be better than any of the golems you come across, which just reinforces that fact. You can’t substitute characters in battle, either, which seems like something that would be natural in such a game; if you accidentally go into battle with a poorly laid out party, you’re screwed.

All of that aside, Enchanted Arms is a hell of a lot of fun, gameplay-wise, and the combat especially is very involving. Even if you never use a golem outside of when the game insists you do so, and even with the occasional trial-and-error “oops, you’re dead” combat, the systems the game implements are surprisingly interesting and (usually) user friendly. It’s no Grandia 3 or Digital Devil Saga, but it is well designed and well implemented, and should keep you engaged in the title far longer than you’d expect.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 7/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

Unless you like the game a hell of a lot, not much. All of the achievements you can possibly unlock can be unlocked in one playthrough (unless you accidentally miss the good ending), and the game gives you no reason to return to it save to beat it again. There ARE some optional dungeons and quests to undertake, which helps, but assuming you do everything the first time around, there’s no reason to do so again aside from a desire to relive the experience. It’s a nice experience, mind you, but considering how many RPG’s offer incentive to come back these days, there seems to be a distinct dearth of such things in Enchanted Arms. You could, in theory, come back for the online play, but that basically amounts to online Pokemon battles, only with less depth (as there’s no way to really customize your Golems to the extent one could customize, say, a Charizard), which probably won’t bring you back more than a few times, if at all.

Replayability Rating: 3/10


6. BALANCE

Enchanted Arms is a solidly well-balanced game, due mostly to the combat mechanics. Enemies increase steadily in difficulty as the game progresses, as in most RPG’s, but not so much so that you’ll need to spend hours leveling up. If you don’t pay attention in battle, however, you might find characters dying in the first round because you neglected to take out the enemy they’re weak to, which keeps things interesting and balanced. Properly managing your party members and balancing your party is important at all times, even towards endgame, and knowing where to position what characters and what elements to take into battle makes Enchanted Arms a well-balanced and interesting experience.

Balance Rating: 7/10


7. ORIGINALITY

Enchanted Arms borrows elements from SMT: Nocturne and Lunar and combines them with a combat system reminiscent of Koudelka to create something that feels a lot more original than it is. A lot of the smaller gameplay elements (the Vitality pool, for instance) add surprisingly large depth to the game, and the rehashed elements of the title feel fresh as a result. Enchanted Arms ends up feeling like a lot of similar titles while managing to stand on its own as a uniquely presented experience. Rather than reinvent the wheel, From has chosen to simply fix the wheel and make it better, and by and large, they’ve succeeded.

Originality Rating: 7/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

The storyline and combat system are strong enough to bring you back to the game until it’s completed, but not so strong as to make you ravenous for every waking moment you can spend playing it. The experience is enjoyable and entertaining, but it’s no buttsex, to put it in simple terms. Still, there’s enough entertainment here that it beats shoving gerbils up your ass, and you’ll keep coming back to it, if only because you want to see how it all ends.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

If you’re looking for a traditional RPG with old-school flair, you’ll find a lot to love in Enchanted Arms. Unfortunately, if you’re not, you won’t. It holds to a lot of the conventions of the genre in both gameplay and presentation, and those who are becoming tired of the traditional turn-based RPG will most likely not find a lot to drag them into a new one. But for those who aren’t even a little tired of such things, Enchanted Arms will feel like an old friend you haven’t seen in a while; maybe they lost a little weight, maybe they got a little older, maybe they take it in the pooper now, but you’ll still have as much fun with them as you always did.

Appeal Rating: 5/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS


Enchanted Arms is a solid addition to the traditional RPG genre, and a surprisingly good addition to the Xbox 360 lineup. It’s surprising that the first two RPG’s for the system don’t suck, considering the trend seems to be the opposite. But Enchanted Arms is a solid, entertaining game in a genre that could stand some more solid, entertaining games. Whether you’re looking for a good traditional RPG to pass the time with, something to occupy your time now that you’ve explored every square inch of Oblivion, or just looking for something old-school with some newer flare, Enchanted Arms deserves a look.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

The Scores:
Story: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 7/10
Control/Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 3/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Appeal: 5/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10

Overall Score: 6.3/10
Final Score: 6.5 (FAIR).

Short Attention Span Summary
From delivers a solid experience with Enchanted Arms. Reasonable storytelling and a sound combat system combine to deliver an RPG experience that’s definitely worth checking out for fans of the genre. It won’t appeal to everyone, and if you’re tired of the genre or not a fan at all, Enchanted Arms doesn’t do anything to change your mind, but for fans, it’s definitely worth playing through.