Up until getting my hands on Arc of Alchemist, I had no idea what the game was about or going to play like. Idea Factory and Compile Hearts don’t tend to stick to a single genre or gameplay style, they like to experiment and try out new things with almost every game they put out there. As such, I went into the game with an open mind and came back both pleasantly surprised and disappointed at the same time.
Don’t take that the wrong way though, I loved the vast majority of Arc of Alchemist, it was just let down by the length of the game in comparison to the amount of time you have to spend post-game grinding if you wish to achieve the platinum trophy. So, let’s take a closer look and see exactly what I thought of this new Hack ‘n Slash RPG on the PlayStation 4…
The story for Arc of Alchemist, albeit a little generic, was enjoyable yet predictable. You play the role of
Thunder Thighs Quinn Bravesford, a commander who has the task of taking her soldiers into the unknown in hopes of finding a way to save all of humanity. You see, she’s from a small kingdom that is only around a hundred years old, surrounded by baron wastelands, deserts where nothing can grow or survive. As time is running out on the survival of the people, it’s up to you to venture into these hostile areas and find a way to save everyone.
However, she isn’t going in blind, she has an ancient alchemic device, the Lunagear, a device that requires four Orbs which, when combined, will have the power to save humanity from their inevitable doom. So, it’s up to you, and your colleagues, to seek out these four mystical Orbs and unlock the power they hold. Obtaining them won’t be an easy task as you’ll have to brave the Machine Doll-ridden deserts, face giant mechanical beasts, solve simple environmental puzzles by using the powers you unlock, and upgrade your kingdom.
As I said previously, the main story of Arc of Alchemist will only last you around 10-12 hours the first time you play through the game. This, in itself, isn’t a bad length for a small Action RPG title, but when you compare it to the 30+ hour total playtime to get the platinum, you realise there is around 20 hours worth of grinding to get the final trophies. However, RPG games are notorious for their grinding requirements, so as long as you go into the game with the understanding that 2/3 of the platinum isn’t story-related, then it won’t feel as bad.
Arc of Alchemist is a Hack ‘n Slash Action RPG, the combat itself is very reminiscent of games like Dynasty Warriors, only with one or two enemies rather than hundreds that game offers. It’s all real-time action though, no turn-based systems are in place here. In my opinion, the combat is very simplistic, with just a few attacks which you can pull off as well as a few special moves which are based on whatever Orbs you have found and equipped. If you’re looking for deep battle sequences with multiple unique combos and special attacks, this isn’t the game for you.
As you progress in the game, you’ll gain support from nine colleagues, making the roster a total of ten. You can have two people accompany you whilst you’re out on the battlefield and you can set their own tactics individually – basically choosing if they will not attack, attack who you attack, or have their own free will. You can also assign the position they’ll stand in relation to you when you’re not moving. However, although this sounds great, the AI isn’t the best as they’ll often not attack, attack someone you don’t want them to, run in and get themselves killed, or attack but do hardly any damage. You can give them better weapons and armour later on into the game though, so that helps.
So, aside from exploring the uncharted areas, harvesting materials from the ground, and killing the local Machine-wildlife in order to get items and experience, you’ll also have a few puzzles to solve. These aren’t anything too hard to solve, it’s usually a case of using the Earth Orb to summon a block to jump on or using the Water Orb to fill a vial with water so a nearby laser grid shuts down. Arc of Alchemist basically works like a Metroidvania game, having you return to areas you’ve been in previously because you now have the means to open a particular door or cross a watery obstacle. It may not seem like much, but these small obstacles are a nice distraction from fighting and exploring.
After each major milestone, or when you choose to return, you’ll go back to your kingdom in order to both change your loadout and help develop the economy. But first, each time you return you’re given a small conversation between two of the characters within the game (even if the character has died apparently). These are fun extras and serve nothing to the main story at all, but they do offer some comedic moments and exposition on what’s going on both before and during your adventure. Also, these segments are all fully voiced – it’s in Japanese but still…
In terms of developing the ecosystem, it’s a simple base-building process. First, you must ‘invest’ into the structure you wish to obtain, such as a Base, Training Grounds, Weapons Facilities, etc… This is done by using not only money you’ve obtained in the field and by selling things, but also the materials you’ve harvested from the ground and dead enemies. Then, you goto the ‘planning’ stage where you place the structures you’ve just invested in. This is where it gets a little tricky as certain buildings gain certain boosts by placing them next to each other. So, you have to strategically build your kingdom in order to boost the ranks and efficiency of the structures.
Depending on the rank you’ve managed to obtain for these buildings, you can buy or trade a bunch of weapons, armour, accessories, or cosmetic attires. As the levels go up, so does the selection you have – as well as their strength and power. However, other than the Thigh-queen, each character can only equip one type of weapon, so the selection is quite limited.
As well as the kingdom itself, you can also upgrade your campsites – these are enemy-free zones you can discover on the field. Each upgrade enables new abilities such as restoring the number of uses your Orb has without returning to the kingdom or reducing the recovery times of fallen companions within that particular area. Yes, your colleagues can technically ‘die’ if you don’t revive them before a timer runs out – if this happens, you have to wait around ten minutes for them to respawn!
There are nine companions, so ten usable characters including the protagonist. The nice thing about them is that each one is unique in a number of ways, from the special moves they can pull off to the weapons they can equip. As such, choosing who you wish to accompany you into battle is more than just picking the one you like the look of. But, as with all things which are good, there’s a downside. Due to the end-game grinding for the platinum, it’s faster if you swap out the main protagonist and you control one of the other nine people. However, I found some of them very tricky and frustrating to use, due to them only using a specific weapon. So, my playthrough consisted of me mainly playing the sword-wielding characters.
As the characters level up, each one has their own set of unlockable and upgradable abilities. These are passive abilities such as increasing the chance for criticals, make them gain health back every 10 seconds, forcing enemies to drop items when killed, etc… They don’t affect the character and their combat abilities, it just offers some nice perks which have a percentage chance of working.
Aside from the characters you get to control, there are also a number of unique and interesting side characters with who you’ll interact with throughout the game. One such person is Garet Van Dyne (voiced by Takaya Kuroda – Kiryu from Yakuza). He is the leader of an opposing investigation team – so you’re both technically enemies – but we see his character develop as the game progresses and I couldn’t wait for the next time we saw him – mainly because if you close your eyes then it’s literally Kiryu talking!
The enemies and the final grind
Everything in Arc of Alchemist runs on a level-based system. Enemies have a level above their head and a symbol if the game feels you’re too underpowered or not at a high enough level to take them on. On Easy mode, you can easily take on enemies a few levels above you but they will be a little more challenging on harder difficulties, requiring you to go and grind to level up before you take them on. There is also a main boss in each area – usually guarding an Orb – I personally struggled with a few of these.
Although I was fighting everyone I met and enhancing my kingdom as much as I could, there were a few difficulty spikes within the game. There are also a few level-99 enemies floating around – including near the very beginning – which you can easily stumble upon and then end up getting your ass spanked! If you’ve not saved, death can lead to losing many hours of progress as well – I lost about five hours because I forgot to save!
Thankfully, there’s no penalty or trophy restriction which stops you from putting the game on Easy if you’re struggling, then bumping it back up afterwards. However, once you’ve reached around level 70, you’ll easily take out all the level-99 bosses with ease and literally fly through the game should you choose to play it again via NG+. Unfortunately, NG+ is literally that, starting again but with your items and money – all the enemy levels remain as they were so you pretty much one-hit kill everything up until the final boss.
The main grind, once you’ve completed the game, comes in the form of upgrading all ten characters to level 100. This takes hours, like 15 hours or so based on my experience. Not to mention you’ll be out harvesting locations looking for rare materials, trying to build the most efficient kingdom, and buying all the best weapons possible. Money isn’t an issue though, in my platinum savefile, I have over 5m credits – that’s after buying literally everything as well.
I personally liked the aesthetic used within Arc of Alchemist, despite it looking like a PS3 title at times. The character models all look really cute and stylised and the enemies, even though there isn’t a wide variety of types, all look unique and well-designed. I did run into some slowdown on my PS4 Pro though, seeing noticeable framerate issues when the combat got heavy or moving into a new area. Although, it never really impacted my enjoyment or made me feel like I was at a disadvantage during battles.
The music is great – I really enjoy the music in these types of games. It has a very Japanese ‘feeling’ about it, almost like early Final Fantasy games. On top of that, the voice acting is brilliant. It’s a shame it’s all in Japanese, but that doesn’t bother me. In particular, I loved that the actor who plays Kiryu was in the game – I’m currently working my way through the Yakuza Remastered Trilogy, so hearing him here was a nice surprise.
Despite the short length and simplistic combat, Arc of Alchemist was a very fun Action RPG to play through. The combination of Hack ‘n Slash, RPG, Base Building, and puzzles all came together to create an interesting game, although the story is a little generic and predictable at times. If going for the platinum trophy, the grind is quite intense and will take you roughly twice as long as you spent completing the game for the first time. I would have liked a longer narrative, as the game was over when I had just really got into it, but the story had a definitive end (for now) so I hope we get a sequel or prequel sometime in the future to expand upon the world the developers have created.
I’m a little confused about the price though. The UK version of the game is £44.99 on the EU PSN store yet the NA PSN Store is selling the game for $39.99. As such, you’d usually expect the UK version to be £34.99. I’ll query this with the publisher to ensure the price is correct. Also, the game has a platinum within each region, so you can easily obtain a double-platinum should you choose to do so.
Arc of Alchemist£44.99
- - Great voice acting from well-known voice artists such as Takaya Kuroda
- - The pacing of the game is quite fast, having you progress through each area at a decent rate
- - The random conversations between the NPCs and playable characters is quite funny
- - Despite the simplistic look of the game as a whole, the artistic design on the characters is adorable
- - If going for the platinum, there's around 20 hours of grinding and searching for materials
- - The actual game length is surprisingly short as you'll see the credits at around 12-15 hours
- - Hardcore JRPG or ARPG fans may find this game too easy and monotonous due to the limited upgrades and loadout options
- - The NG+ mode simply lets you play the game again, it doesn't bump up the difficulty or reward you for playing through the story a second time (which takes around three hours once you're level 70+)