Although it's not meant to be much more than a clone of a better game, Lord of Arcana is Monster Hunter done wrong. Japanese RPGs are slow by their very nature, requiring level grinding, item hoarding, and frequent backtracking through familiar territory. Monster Hunter does excels at this by continually giving the player new items to incorporate into their gear, as well as generous amounts of loot, easily scavenged monster parts, and a variety of useful weapons. Lord of Arcana has none of that, and with pacing that stretches an already thin experience into a series of uncomfortably long hit-and-run battles, the fun wears out fast.
Lord of Arcana puts you in the shoes of an amnesiac warrior from the land of Horodyn, home to an ancient power known as "Arcana". After a brief demo session that shows you how fun the game is when you're fully powered, you start your quest stripped of everything but a basic weapon and your underwear. Luckily, the nearby village and warrior guild is generous to the homeless, and they outfit you with simple gear and a list of quests as soon as you arrive. Most of these quests typically involve collecting a certain item or defeating creatures, but none are easy to do alone.
Like an average RPG, you'll gain experience with each battle, become proficient with your weapon of choice (note: the pole-arm is useless), and collect loot that can be used to craft better swords, armour, magic cards, and other talents. However, it seems that no matter how powerful you get even the weakest monsters can shrug off a two-handed broadsword blow like it was nothing. No, even if it's the same kind of goblin you've been killing for three days, you'll have to mash that attack button like you're facing it for the first time.
It's here that Lord of Arcana takes its first misstep. It quickly becomes apparent that the game isn't balanced for solo play. Regardless of whether you're five or twenty levels into the game, all of the battles boil down to you playing hit-and-run with enemies that take entirely too long to kill. Of course, you can speed things up a bit with a team of two-to-four players, but that raises Lord of Arcana's next crippling gameplay issue - there's no online multiplayer.
Luckily, I was able to find another reviewer with a PSP and a copy of the game, so we paired up for a handful of quests. While the battles are much more manageable with a helping hand, there's still some design issues that hinder proper teamwork. For one, you can't join battles that are already in progress, meaning that if one of your crew gets stuck in a battle, they're out of action until they either win or die.
Of course, being able to effectively move around the battlefield would be easier if the lock-on system wasn't so half-baked. Oddly, you can only stay focused on an enemy by holding down the left bumper, and there's no option for an automatic lock. It's a chore to target certain monsters or objects on a crowded battlefield, since you constantly have to reorient your character to dodge attacks and incoming rushes. Moreover, the boss battles and random enemies take so long to beat I felt like my finger was going to fall off half the time.
More often than not, I would fail a quest due to time restrictions, and doing so meant that I would have to restart from a prior save, losing tons of treasure and loot in the process. Lord of Arcana is mean with items in general, and if you use up restorative items on a losing boss battle you'll have to do hours of re-questing and alchemy just to refill your pockets. If the game were a little more forgiving on failure, it wouldn't be a problem to retry battles, but the sluggish character progression coupled with the tedium of the combat just made me want to quit playing the game at every setback.
Put simply, Monster Hunter is successful because it gives players so much to do, and an abundance of tools to do it with. No matter what, you're always progressing, or bettering your odds of survival. Lord of Arcana, on the other hand, wants you to grind and scrimp for everything you get, and woe betide those who get too big for their britches and try something above their level. It's tedious at best and downright frustrating at the very worst.
Lord of Arcana is one of those games where the amount of fun you're having is directly proportional to how many people you play with. But there's the catch: if you're playing by yourself, you'll have little to no fun at all, and the lack of online play makes getting a party together unnecessarily difficult. Online play should be standard for this kind of experience, and the game suffers immensely for its absence.
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