Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark Preview
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a tactical, combat-filled RPG that’ll bring back memories of past classics of the genre such as Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics. While many modern tactical RPGs — your XCOMS and your Banner Sagas — choose to style their games to fit a PC audience, Fell Seal feels like it belongs on a handheld device like a 3DS or even the simpler iteration that came before. This isn’t a bad thing, and it’s not the first game to retain the look of days past. It’s about what’s on the inside that counts, right?
This preview is only based on what I played, which isn’t much, unfortunately. Now, now, this isn’t to say I’m not putting in the time–never! The only available demo for Fell Seal is roughly 30-minutes long, most of which is dialogue exchanging between characters you don’t know. There are two combat interactions, but the rest is establishing for a much larger story that simply isn’t there yet.
Let’s start with the combat, as this is a game that claims to have a lot of it. In true turn-based style, each character on the battlefield is provided with an amount of energy that allows them to traverse the hand-drawn maps, eeking closer to their enemy so that the devastating blows can be dealt. You know this system well, I promise you that. Based on the character’s class, you’ll have access to special abilities that break away from the approach/attack cycle that’s a little repetitive. It’s fun because it’s worked for so long. From what I saw here, there was nothing new brought to the table. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so, personally.
But one hiccup in the combat is the maps themselves. While they are quite nice to look at, the grid that makes it into a turn-based battlefield is bottle-necky. You’ll find either your allies or the enemy backed into a corner with no way out, being that the way they got into that tight space is now filled with an opponent. In the two maps that I played, this created for a one-on-one engagement that meant the rest of my team was just twiddling their thumbs as they waited for their opportunistic friend to get the job done. If there’s one no-no in the world of already-slow turn-based combat, it’s dragging it out longer. But, like I said earlier, this demo was short. Two maps may not be enough to judge the entire selection.
The only other aspect to the game is, of course, the story. RPGs need it, and by now, most of the originality river has run dry. Fell Seal’s world seems to be a little bit steampunk, a lot a bit fantasy. We’re introduced to the heroes of this world, the Arbiters, but we don’t learn anything about them really. They are the good guys, as you’ve seen before. And for every good guy, there are the nameless henchmen led by a man that’s equal parts elegant and nefarious. Fell Seal’s website (as well as their Kickstarter page) has a much more in-depth look at the lore than the demo will ever reveal.
But one thing became clear to me as I started to explore this realm: you’re going to have a lot of nobodies fight by your side. Save for the three main characters that are quickly introduced, the rest of your roster is made out of healers and elementalists, yadda-yadda that live to serve. They’re not so much a part of this world as they are a part of your force. While they have names, they are nameless. This was verified as I arrived at the last part of the demo, a town with a guild, and I could recruit more champions to fight by my side. Almost like The Sims, I could create these champions piece-by-piece. Some people will like this, I personally don’t. Where XCOM thrived by giving you grizzled, morose veterans that came to feel like family, Fell Seal comes off as disingenuous in the fact that this wasn’t a fantasy world rich with characters, only underlings.
But again, maybe I’m wrong. If only the demo that was provided could really give the scope of Fell Seal’s combat and world, I could make stronger claims. But I don’t think it matters all that much. For what it is, Fell Seal is another game that tickles the urge to strategize and climb a ladder of exp all the way to the final boss. Though my time with it was short, I found it enjoyable, if only for the fact they didn’t fix what wasn’t broken. Only time will tell what the final product really brings to the table.
If you’re interested in learning more, Fell Seal is currently holding a Kickstarter to fund their game, and they’re getting close to their respectable goal. You can check out the link here and maybe show your support if you’re so inclined.
*** PC demo provided by the publisher ***