As both an obsessed island nation and my colleague SeanNOLA will attest, Monster Hunter can be an overwhelmingly absorbing game. While millions of Japanese gamers have become obsessed with the perpetual cycle of killing, scavenging and equipment augmentation, Americans have been reluctant to embrace the multiplayer-friendly franchise. Following the precedent set by last year’s Wii title- Monster Hunter Tri, recent PSP release Lord of Arcana attempts to offers a user-friendly interpretation of the familiar formula. While Arcana‘s grind-heavy gameplay might be too repetitive to win over a legion of new fans, veteran Wyvern wranglers might find amusement with the games intricate crafting system and gripping boss battles.
Traditionally, the Monster Hunter Freedom and Phantasy Star Portable franchises have forgone an elaborate back story, preferring to provide a rudimentary impetus during each game’s hand-on tutorial. Lord of Arcana doesn’t deviate from this trend, detailing a legend of mystical stones which can only be retrieved by the land’s most formidable fighter. After trekking through the game’s first stage with a burly, maxed-out character, the protagonist’s abilities and equipment are reset, and players begin their lengthy level ascent. Echoing the weapon-based classes of the genre, Arcana‘s arsenal includes five types of weapons, from nimble one-handed swords, far-reaching polearms, and projectile firing firelances. Each armament comes with its own set of strikes and decrees a particular play style. Whereas maces dictate a well-timed charged swing, two handed swords present brute power at the sake of agility. Expectedly, the quintet of weapons and mechanics complement each other in the title’s co-operative multiplayer mode. One ad-hoc match (sadly there’s no option for infrastructure play) abruptly ended when all four players carelessly rushed toward formidable boss, leaving no one behind to revive injured comrades.
Combat does offer a handful of new nuances for those fluent with the creature killing genre. Players can optionally lock onto most enemies, which is required to perform the Coup de Grace, a powerful finishing move which often yields extra collectable items. Actual battles themselves don’t take place on the title’s map, but in the confines of a large ring, eliminating the need to track baddies across expansive landscapes. Although Arcana‘s fluid speed, detectable enemy attack patterns, and other additions make skirmishes a bit easier, the game is far from being a pushover. From rigid time limits on quests, stern equipment carrying limits, and prolonged battles with bosses, expect to fail a fair share of the game’s quests. Fortunately, Arcana lets players carry up to three resurrection items, making death a fairly painless experience.
In between missions, players will spend their leisure time in Porto Carrillo, which serves as a hub for players. Here, gamers may augment or manufacture weapons at the local blacksmith, synthesize potions at the alchemy shop, or check the slayer’s Guild for any available missions. Beyond some conversations with a the tiny beachfront village’s denizens, the game wisely keep the focus on combat and crafting, eliminating the need for superfluous dialog. While the game’s succession of weapon, armor, and card upgrades are certainly compelling, these pursuits are often slowed by the scarcity of a specific item. Repeating the same mission to gather the game’s elusive monster cores can quickly sap away the enjoyment of the game. Others who played the game expressed a dissatisfaction for the game’s arbitrary rule set. One example, the first mission ends once player defeat a three goblins. The next errand requires players to gather five red stones, but fails to alert gamers that the mission won’t end until the stones are placed in a storage crate.
For players unfamiliar with the routine of questing, upgrading, then repeating, Lord of Arcana‘s responsive and sinuous combat offers one distinct advantage over some of its competition. Yet, several of the game’s design decisions will ensure that those newcomers will encounter the sporadic frustration. While Arcana can be a gratifying title, a handful of tweaks could have cracked open the genre, enticing a whole new audience.