I never played ArcaniA: Gothic 4 back when it originally came out in 2010 and to be honest, I was a bit surprised that Nordic Games was doing a “Complete Collection” edition featuring the standalone “Fall of Setarrif.” Still this will be the first chance to experience the game on the Sony Playstation 3, and for only $29.99 to boot (360 is even less at a mere $19.99). That’s a pretty good deal for an RPG. So when Nordic games offered to send me a copy way in advance, I happily took them up on the offer. I’m now a hair away from Level 10 and while the game isn’t blowing me away, I can definitely see myself seeing it through to the end.
ArcaniA is very much a Euro-style RPG. We talk a lot of about JRPGs and Western RPGs, but gamers often forget that Euro-RPGs have their own distinct qualities (Like Korean MMORPGs have their own unique charms, as do Russian adventure games). ArcaniA fits the same mold as games like Venetica. They tend to be developed primarily for the PC, single character action RPGs with simple skill trees for character customization. Frame rate and graphics quality tends to be a few years behind the curve with huge overworlds that actually turns out to be exceptionally linear and ais populated by a lot of NPCs but you can only talk or interact with a small fraction of them. Euro RPGs also tend to have stories where the partner of the protagonist is horribly butchered and so they are out for revenge. These are common tropes of the genre and ArcaniA fits them all.
ArcaniA is a pretty odd experience. You start off doing fetch quests for your village and primarily your soon to be father in law to prove your worth. Oddly enough, your intended seems surprised you want to get married so young and doubly so that you are so short into your courtship. You perform these tasks only to learn she is pregnant (yes, by you) and now your character is a bit shocked by the revelation. The switch in the fiancée’s personality was odd and unexpected to say the least. After this you are taken to a witch and asked to kill a bunch of “loath dwellers” (whatever they are) in exchange for passage to the main continent. The very SECOND you complete this quest you are given a cutscene showing a cave-in then instantly you see a bunch of ships in the water and your character gets a shocked look on his face without any explanation. The next it cuts to your village on fire and your fiancée dying in your arms. Then you cut to your character and his Sean Connery from Highlander look-alike mentor on a beach. The story telling is very choppy and there is little in the way of explanation. Often times throughout my play I felt like I missed huge chunks of conversation and had to piece things together on my own. For example, I went up to a woman and the conversation started, “I’ll get you those kegs of mead.” What kegs of mead? How do I know this woman? The entire affair just felt half finished, which surprised me because this should be a refined version of the game that came out three years ago, yes?
Quests are similar. There aren’t a lot of them and they all appear on your map long before you encounter anyone or earn them, which is again quite odd. As the world is designed to be linear, you can do all the quests in a small area but then have to proceed with the story to move on to the next region and do the quests there. So you are given the illusion of a massive overworld where you can see and do anything ala The Elder Scrolls but the truth is that the game is far more limiting than that. That said, the world is quite large and there are lots of hidden items and statues to discover along with a TON of monsters to fight.
Combat is very basic and a lot of fun. You just swing your weapon, short your bow or zap with magic until something is dead. It doesn’t take a lot of strategy and I’ve yet to lose more than a handful of hit points. As you level up you can put skill points into nearly a dozen options, ranging from stealth, three types of spells and various physical attacks. Basically I’ve been pumping up my character as a tank, but also giving him powerful lightning magic as a back up. Currently I just zap the opponent and the lightning causes an automatic stun, so I then run up and hack them to bits. It’s simple but fun and it’s definitely the highlight of the game. There are some frame rate issues, but it generally involves a little bit of slowdown and occasionally the monster you are fighting teleports away to some random location in your nearby vicinity. Teleporting boars – who knew?
The graphics for ArcaniA are a bit behind the times but I had fun with what’s here. You can customize your main character as you can in most modern Western RPGs, but again, that’s a Euro RPG trope. The protagonist looks very hipster and out of place for his time period but that’s okay. Monsters, backgrounds and other humans are detailed and nice looking…in the same way Morrowind is. So the graphics are definitely dated, but they still are enjoyable for what they are. Women have weird hair in the game, I’ve noticed, which goes back to the problem that a lot of game designers these days can’t do long hair, so they do very short hair or put it up, which is essentially the same thing. ArcaniA is more of the, “Let’s give all the women crew cuts,” idea, which is fine, but it definitely is odd to see men with so many hair styles but women with only two or three.
There really isn’t a lot to ArcaniA so far. It’s most explore and hack and slash with the occasional bit of oddly (badly) done story leaving you wondering if huge chunks of dialogue were excised from the game for some reason. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it definitely deserves its budget price tag. That said, for thirty dollars, this looks to be an easy platinum for PS3 trophy mongers and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of the experience. It’s an odd, quirky, slightly behind the times hack and slash RPG and there’s nothing wrong with that. Had this been a PS2 or Xbox RPG, it would have been quite popular back in the day. When it hits stores on July 30th, it’s be a decent cheap nostalgic euro-RPG for those who are looking for a simple action RPG to while away the hours with.