Arelite Core Review
Arelite Core is an RPG that aims to tell a different side of the usual epic quest. Instead of the knight, the prince or the chosen one, your role is the blacksmith. You forge all your weapons, you learn secrets of the trade and the main quest is centered around magical metal. Unfortunately this is revealed as window dressing in short order. Under the surface, this is a stock and standard RPG, with much of its potential wasted.
You play a blacksmith traveling the world to perfect his craft. The story is focused on a rare metal, the aforementioned Arelite, that everybody wants to get a hold of. Along the way you assemble a party, learn your smithing skills, and maybe save the world.
I can’t get into the graphics. Yes, they’re all hand-drawn sprites. The backgrounds and worlds are done with tile-sets and pixels. But, your character’s two-frame walk cycle floats over the ground, the cut scene portraits are off-putting and the game world feels bland. Arelite Core makes me appreciate how hard it is to really nail that retro look with pixels and sprites. Maybe this is just a style I don’t remember. Regardless, I couldn’t connect with this game on a visual level. The music was a similar problem for me. On paper, it hits all the right notes. Every component is there to build a charming retro soundtrack. The compositions are reminiscent of yesterday’s 16-bit classics. In spite of this, I wasn’t hooked. Like the graphics, I couldn’t connect with the music.
“The layout of most levels made it difficult to discern where they ended, although I never got lost. I just pushed forward until I was suddenly done.”
Arelite Core’s combat system is the Terminator skeleton underneath the stiff, waxen flesh of the graphics. The stance points let you change your character’s playstyle freely. Charges for special moves, known as blitz gems, can be regenerated by dealing or taking damage. Every consecutive hit on a monster contributes to a combo stack, increasing all damage dealt. Certain blitz moves trade extra damage for combo breaks. I had a pretty easy time in most fights thanks to all these systems in place. I lost a single boss fight halfway through the game, otherwise the enemies were mostly there to soak up combos.
During one dungeon I found the boss fight around what felt like a random corner. There weren’t any changes in the level design to suggest danger loomed near. This isn’t something you think about much until it isn’t there. The layout of most levels made it difficult to discern where they ended, although I never got lost. I just pushed forward until I was suddenly done.
After some computer problems forced me to start from scratch, I found out you can skip cutscenes. I used this feature a lot. Too many RPGs rely on walls of dialogue to tell a story, and Arelite Core is no exception. Games are a medium that let you show, rather than tell, your story. Your mileage may vary, but text-heavy cutscenes can easily sap the emotional impact from a story. Pivotal moments lost some of their gravitas due to their presentation. Character deaths and other heavy losses didn’t impact me the way they should have. Music and motion say more than words ever could. Even if your characters are 2D sprites on a tile-set floor, the right audiovisual cues will turn a simple scene into something truly moving.
“The graphics don’t click, the music wears on you and the writing is forgettable.”
I’m conflicted about Arelite Core. On the one hand, the presentation at work is doing the game no favors. At first glance, a lot of players might dismiss the whole package outright. The graphics don’t click, the music wears on you and the writing is forgettable. On the other hand, the core of this game is a lot more refined. The combat is strong, but it isn’t strong enough to carry the rest of the game.
On top of that, there’s very little crafting in this game. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but you’re a blacksmith! Making things is your whole career! Instead, you get a short lesson on smithing in every major town and a chance to make your armor and weapon slightly better. Even the resource-gathering is scattered and rare. It just feels like a missed opportunity. I know it isn’t fair to judge a game by what isn’t there, but I was really hoping for a deeper crafting system. Arelite Core’s aesthetic didn’t hit the mark for me, but if you like what you see and hear, check it out. Flaws aside, there’s a heart to this game.
***A PC code was provided by the publisher***
- Combat system is well-developed
- Music invokes nostalgia
- Concept is unique
- Uninspired level design
- Story falls flat
- Character models don’t look right