As Doug Mercer put it so well in his recent article on this site, we are living in The Age of the Remaster. Whether to legitimately take advantage of the new hardware or just to distract us from a lack of new titles, publishers are frantically throwing a fresh coat of paint on their old titles and re-releasing them as fast as they can. And into this crowded pool, Nordic Games dives in – shouting “me too!” – with its remastered ArcaniA: The Complete Tale for the PS4. After playing through this uninspired RPG Adventure title, originally released on the PC, my only reaction to this PS4 port is, “why?!” While there are a few elements of fun here, overall ArcaniA: The Complete Tale just feels too much like a blatant attempt to squeeze a bit more money out of a game that is well past its prime.
After a quick opening that sets-up a backstory (something about a king, and world-conflict of some sort), you find yourself playing as the protagonist, a peasant who lives in a sleepy village on an island. There is a sort-of Tutorial in the form of a mini-story, in which you must do various tasks to get the permission of your beloved’s father to marry her. Then, after a very abrupt and confusing cut-scene made up of fast clips and images, your fiance and all the villagers are apparently dead, and you are an exile on a quest to find out why. Oh, and I think you are the Chosen One, possibly. I couldn’t quite follow though.
“For some reason, many of the characters had weird, glowing eyes – I swear, for the first hour of the game, I assumed my guy had laser vision or something; I kept checking the menu for how to use it.”
Looking at this game, something feels very off about ArcaniA right from the start. The original PC version was supposedly made in 2010, but to be honest, the graphics look even older than that; I get the feeling that visuals weren’t ever this game’s strength, even when it was originally released. The simple and crude look of the game felt like I was back playing Conan on the PS3. Sure, you can tell that there was some up-resing of the textures for the PS4 version – facial stubble and wrinkles are all nicely rendered and whatnot – but the characters look and move in a strange, automaton-like way that really took me back, and not in a good way. In conversations, peoples’ mouths moved randomly, not even trying to be in-sync with their words. And for some reason, many of the characters had weird, glowing eyes – I swear, for the first hour of the game, I assumed my guy had laser vision or something; I kept checking the menu for how to use it.
Now, outdated graphics are one thing, but ArcaniA can’t blame all its issues on that. The character models, for example, are just plain lazy. Every character in this game seems to be based on one of 5 basic character models – two of the most popular of which seemed to be Bill Murray and that evil sergeant guy from Avatar. This actually creates confusion when you’re playing; I often mistook a new NPC for one I had already met, because he looked identical: “Oh, it’s that farmer from my home village. What’s he doing here? I thought he was dead.” Then, he started to speak in a completely different accent, and I realized that he was supposed to be a different guy! Come on Nordic Games, really?! It also doesn’t help that the voice acting is generally mediocre, with the possible exception of the protagonist.
“When I say “story” I mean an endless series of fetch-quests, each of which branch out into fetch-quests of their own, ad nauseum, in a tedious and repetitive cycle.”
As for the main quest in this game, let’s just say that The Witcher has nothing to worry about. In ArcaniA: The Complete Tale, you are basically stuck in a kind of on-rails story, despite the appearance of open-worldness. And when I say “story” I mean an endless series of fetch-quests, each of which branch out into fetch-quests of their own, ad nauseum, in a tedious and repetitive cycle. For example, to cross a bridge, I needed to get the permission of the local Lord, but before I could do that, I had to get information from a number of people in the castle where the Lord lived. Each of them wanted a few things done before they would tell me what I needed to know. Each of the things they wanted done had a few parts to them as well, and … you get the idea. To be honest, I felt more like a medieval concierge than a badass warrior playing ArcaniA. In all fairness, the story gets a bit more complex near the end, and even includes some twists and surprises – but they come too late to save this by-the-numbers adventure, and staying interested in ArcaniA long enough to get that far will be the biggest challenge of all.
As a big fan of the kind of open worlds that have been done so well lately in games like Skyrim, I was hoping for something similar in ArcaniA: The Complete Tale. And at first, I almost thought I was in luck – the environments look very expansive in all directions, and a pretty credible draw-distance seems to promise a wide-open adventure. But sadly, this is just a cruel trick, as barriers block you from leaving the areas you are in until you complete the various prerequisite tasks that open up new parts, one at a time. And there really isn’t any incentive to explore an area once you’ve checked off its various tasks, unless you like to run through empty caves and sit in deserted pubs – the game makes it clear that, once you’ve opened up the new area of the map, it’s time to move on – new fetch-quests await, young man!
As for the gameplay in ArcaniA, there are actually some positives – but melee combat is not one of them. In the beginning of the game, Combat using a melee weapon is very boring and involves spamming the Square button until your opponent falls down. And unfortunately, enemy AI is very predictable, so you will never break a sweat against even the toughest foes. Enemies will try to spice things up by blocking you, but this is just annoying, as it merely means you have to fall back and wait for them to open up again – then it’s back to Square-mash-a-palooza. Sometimes enemies will also go for a “power attack” on you, which might have given a nice challenge; however, again, it’s ruined by the hilarious way they take literally 5 full seconds to wind up to attack you. You have lots of time to see it coming and just leisurely step out of their way before you’re in any danger. Seriously, I think you could actually do melee combat in ArcaniA: The Complete Tale with one hand, while you eat a sandwich in the other.
“Enemies will try to spice things up by blocking you, but this is just annoying, as it merely means you have to fall back and wait for them to open up again – then it’s back to Square-mash-a-palooza.”
So, melee combat blows – and that’s not good, because you do a lot of it in the early stages of the game. However, things do get a bit better later, when you learn spells, of which you get 3. You can upgrade them nicely, and it becomes fun obliterating enemies with a bit more variety. I also found that I really started to get into using my bow later in the game, as I encountered groups of enemies, and the bow became a nice fun way to thin their ranks out before I waded in and clubbed the survivors to death.
Overall, combat in ArcaniA does get to be fun over time, especially when you are working on achieving a goal, like clearing out a cave as part of a mission. You can switch easily between methods of attack, and there is a bit of fun in the strategy, planning how best to attack a group of enemies. It is not fun (and is actually a major pain in the ass) when you are simply running on a path to your next location and you get jumped by random monsters – constantly. You can’t keep running, because they will follow you forever – in fact, you will keep collecting more of them like a magnet. I once kept running all the way to the next town, and when I stopped and turned around, I was greeted with the strange-but-oddly-hilarious sight of a huge mob of various monsters wanting to kick my ass right in the middle of town. The townsfolk were totally oblivious to this spectacle, and kept calmly threshing wheat and talking to each other as I struggled for my life (not really though) a mere three feet from them. Welcome to ArcaniA!
Taking the game as a whole, there is some fun to be had playing ArcaniA: The Complete Tale. Opening up the map and seeing what is a very large game world is an interesting, if constrained, experience. Combat, especially later, is a consistently fun aspect, and the simple controls and friendly inventory system make for an often-enjoyable experience. There is really nothing that is completely wrong or “broken” with this game – it’s just that there is nothing special about it either.
ArcaniA: The Complete Tale is not a horrible game; it just has nothing to recommend choosing it out of all the amazing RPG choices we have nowadays. The crude, last-gen visuals, the walled-off world, and the dull, errand-boy story are just not up to the standards of the Witcher or Elder Scrolls series that we have gotten used to in the last decade. And, at $29.99, it is hard to recommend as a purchase – maybe if it was $9.99, you could make an argument that you get a good deal for a cheap price. But for 30 dollars, gamers have a right to expect more from a game. Why Nordic Games has decided to re-release this dated title on the PS4, only they know, but we are living in 2015, in the post-unicorn-sex RPG era, and you can do better than ArcaniA: The Complete Tale.
*** Review code provided by the publisher ***