Monday, April 28, 2014

Nerdicus SNES Review #15 : Arcana



Title : Arcana

Publisher : HAL Lab

Genre : RPG

Players : 1 Player

Release Date : 1992

Estimated Value (as of today's date) : $15-$20

Come on, we all remember DUNGEON MASTER. It was the equivocal grandfather of dungeon crawling RPGs. I of course, am a huge RPG buff, and usually the traditional dungeon crawling RPGs were something I was always drawn to. BUT, a lot of factors come into play with dungeon crawlers in order for me to actually enjoy them. As I mature as a gamer, (I'm not necessarily sure how much mature I can get, after all I'm 30), I've noticed that these particular RPGs have become less successful in reeling me in. 

A lot of it comes down to how patient I am when I'm actually playing the game. But my patience is easily worn thin. And frankly, a lot of this started back in the SNES days of gaming

First of all, the pacing has to be done in a way that would keep me interested throughout the game. The slower an RPG moves, the more likely I am to shut it off. Secondly, static game play in RPG's was something that should have remained in the 8-bit era. With the technological limitations, it's understandable, but in 16-bit, publishers had enough of an opportunity to make battles and environments much more "vivid". Third, is the design elements of the game itself. You can't make the maps and dungeons confusing (unless it's a maze). The last thing I want is to get frustrated just walking through a town. 

Does Arcana suffer from this fate?


I'll get straight to the nitty gritty on this game. It's a traditional dungeon crawler if you've ever seen one. Everything is portrayed in a first-person perspective from conversations, to dungeon crawling, and even in map and town navigation. Battles are the same way. In fact, you rarely leave the first person perspective in this game (besides for cut scenes from what it seems like)

I'm assuming the "gimmick" that was supposed to make this game stand out amongst the other dungeon crawlers that were popular during this time period, was the whole "card" aspect. Now, you would think if you are going to use cards in an RPG, they would serve some sort of purpose. Perhaps something like a CCG RPG style. But no, they don't. All they do is serve as portrait art for your characters.

Now I'll stop reviewing right here for a moment. I would say, if this game were to use the cards to their advantage, and actually make the game have a use for the cards to build "decks" for an RPG dungeon crawler, it would have been a hundred times more enjoyable than it was. As it stood, the game was a dungeon crawler, with pretty card designs.


The story in this game is noting original. Years after an evil empress is defeated by a group of wizards called, CARD MASTERS (What is this, Yugi-oh?), there is civil unrest throughout the land. Now someone is plotting on resurrecting the evil empress, and it is up to you to fulfill your destiny as one of the last card masters and stop them.

Here's where I go back to saying that if you were somehow building card decks, the game would have been more interesting. But no, once again, cards serve no purpose in this game besides being "magical spells". Take your traditional spell casting system in an RPG, and just replace it with the use of cards. That's about it.

The game is insanely linear for an RPG. You're forced to complete each dungeon, in order, without the ability to return to them. This means you are basically forced to complete the game as the game was designed. I hated this in RPGs, since they should be about exploration, and returning to accomplish things that couldn't have been done so earlier. Its the linearity I feel that really acted as a detriment to the way this game was received.

Not to mention, travelling through each area is repetitious and confusing. Each map is like a maze, and the grid system design of the level layouts just ends up being confusing. Each dungeon is just rebuilt using a different textural skin. And each one is just as annoying as the last.



Combat is nothing special either. It's nothing more than a basic turn based system with the ability to attack, use items, cast spells, etc. However, combat is insanely unforgiving in this game, and you'll find yourself dying. A LOT. And it doesn't matter who dies in your party. If one person dies (besides your elemental spirit), you are just kicked back to where your last save was.

And don't even get me started on saves. Because there must be like 3 save spots in the game. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but there aren't many.

Hell, there are at least a half a dozen things about this game that are unforgiving. First of all you have an extremely limited inventory system, so you need to really think about what you are going to need in the next dungeon because you can't just have stacks upon stacks of healing items on you.

As I said before, since you can't go back and revisit old dungeons, you are basically forced to level up as you go. If a dungeon is too difficult for your characters, oh well, you're stuck.



Now, I can't say this was a bad RPG. Far from it. In terms of traditional dungeon crawlers, it was decent.But it was nowhere near being a memorable one. And the reasons I discussed earlier were just a few examples of why.

Then again, there was some good out of it. Visually, it's one of the prettier SNES RPG's out there from the early 90's. The card designs are unique, and the character representations are done in a well designed anime-style. Music was another thing that at least helped the game stand out among it's competition. Unfortunately, these two things were too little too late.

Unfortunately, Arcana was one of those RPG's that just could not sustain my attention for long. I beat it when I was younger, but I couldn't do the same 20 years later. Who knows, perhaps 20 years from now, I'll replay it again and hopefully feel different about it, but I won't count on it.

The game just doesn't hold up on its own.

Final Score (out of 5) :

Until next time, keep on gaming!

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