The PSP is an RPG gamer’s dream. The genre is well-represented on the system, and the portability of the PSP has convinced most developers that shorter doesn’t mean worse. You can get you turn-based battles, healing potions, and giant dragon enemies in a reasonable-length game designed to be played in small spurts instead of for multiple hours at a time. Lord of Arcana embodies everything that is right about RPGs on the PSP, except it’s not any fun, so it doesn’t matter that I only have to play for 20 minutes at a time.
After a typical “all-powerful” tutorial you find yourself stripped of all useful armor, weapons, and abilities in a temple in the town of Porto Carilo. To prove that you’re worthy to be the next king you have to work your way up from zero to hero again (why the first time wasn’t enough is never explained), only this time it feels like knock-off Monster Hunter. To move the game forward you’ll speak with the woman at the Slayers Guild, pick a quest, and be magically transported to the quest’s starting point (this is actually fairly nice, and I wish more RPGs had a fast travel system). From here you’ll push through the clunky combat until you’ve killed six mandrakes or taken out a boss monster or gathered enough precious herbs.
Combat with regular monsters is dull because they all act the same. Skeletons all block forcing you to move behind them and strike where they’re vulnerable. Goblins dance like idiots to telegraph their attack which makes timing your blocks and attacks simple. This would be forgivable if combat was quick, but you’ll watch the goblin dance, smack it with your sword, sidestep the attack, watch the goblin dance, smack it with your sword, and sidestep the attack more times than you’d care to count. You’ve got the pattern down, and it feels like the game is just trying to wear you down. You’ll cramp your hand as well. To stay locked on to an enemy you have to keep the left trigger held down. A toggle would make more sense here, and at the very minimum there should be an option. Boss monsters aren’t any better – they’re just bigger, which means more health, and their attacks are more annoying. You’ll run into foes that shrink you to miniscule proportions. That sounds neat. Maybe I have to attack some small soft part and being small in inconvenient but the only real way to claim victory. Nope. Being small just makes avoiding attacks harder since you move slower and increases the time of the fight because you’ll spend all of your small time looking for the artifact that makes you big again so that you can inflict some damage on the enemy. Both regular battles and boss battles culminate in a flashy move, but it’s not enough to save the combat system from boring you to tears.
There are an impressive number of weapons and armor available though. You’ll always have something new to pick up, equip to try out, and realize that you’ve broken the game because your firelance has a longer range than most enemies’ awareness ring meaning that you can safely stand back and chip away at their health in absolute safety. (How that made it past the testing phase is a mystery to me.)
Lord of Arcana supports 4-player local multiplayer which could be neat, but enemy patterns don’t change so you’re just sharing the tedium with friends. Combat and monster patterns need to be scaled for multiplayer a la Bionic Commando ReArmed’s co-op boss fights. Instead you’ve just got four swords plinking away at the same regular enemies instead of one. To make matters worse, only the host can save his progress. Everybody else is just along for the ride with nothing to show for it at the end of the session. The concept of Lord of Arcana is a good one, but the execution is off. You’ll be better served with a Monster Hunter game if deep, real-time RPG combat is what you’re after.
Pros: Tons of armor and weapons, fast travel to quest start locations
Cons: No reward for non-hosts in multiplayer, unalterable lock-on mechanic, dull combat