We can probably pinpoint much of modern gamer culture – such as it is – to the Angry Video Game Nerd. That was a creation of James Rolfe back in the day. Put simply, a dude rants about how terrible certain games are in verbose fashion, tons of people watch him, James Rolfe get paid, everyone else realizes that James Rolfe got paid and now ranting about how terrible certain games are in verbose fashion is the norm. Gaming culture isn’t really known for originality.
My point is that these days, positivity about video games is the exception rather than the rule. As a tried-and-true contrarian, that’s what I go for, and it’s not just because I think the mainstream ranting-and-raving take on games culture is kind of tired at this point – it’s because I generally think playing games these days tends to be more fun than not playing games. Maybe that’s just me. Except, well, sometimes playing games isn’t as much fun as not playing games. Sometimes something like Arc of Alchemist shows up and that’s what you’re playing. Sometimes you’d rather be doing anything else.
At some point in the future, the world is a desert wasteland. Food and resources are scarce. The last remnants of humanity have to band together in military-style squads to survive. One of those squads is led by Quinn, a cynical warrior whose only hope is to find an honorable death. Regardless, she still has the other members of her squad to look after – a swordsman obsessed with his hero-worship for Quinn, a healer from a long-destroyed monastery and more – so Quinn has to keep going. There’s rumors, however, of a Great Power that could help save the ruined world. Quinn and her team will need to scour the wastes in search of the Great Power or die trying.
That’s not a terrible concept! It’s got mystery! There’s the opportunity for adventure! The problem is that Arc of Alchemist takes this concept and just kind of creates an eight-hour dungeon crawl out of it. That’s not even a good eight hours, either, it’s eight hours of questionable framerates, convoluted leveling systems and the most underdeveloped story I’ve ever seen. Arc of Alchemist would probably like to be a good game but it’s not entirely sure how to get there.
At its heart, Arc of Alchemist is a Musou-style brawler. You’ll explore areas, battle whatever nasties pop up and solve very simple environmental puzzles to continue with progression. You’ve got a selection of eight or so characters, gaining a few more midgame, and each of them other than Quinn uses their own special weapon with a basic attack and special attack. Quinn has her pick of weapon, meanwhile, and the actual abilities available on those weapon varies based on the exact model you’re using. One sword might have a combo and a dash, for instance, while another might have a longer combo and a projectile attack.
That’s all well and good in theory, but there’s really only a few weapons that are worth using. Gimmicks aren’t great in Arc of Alchemist, so you’ll be better off choosing whatever has the highest attack power and mashing that attack button for days.
In between monster and button mashing, you’ll also work on constructing a base. This involves building facilities. That takes money. Everything in Arc of Alchemist takes money. It’s the biggest pro-capitalism propaganda in the world of video games. Facilities take money. Building them unlocks new gear from the shop which you can buy using money. You can select sets of items to take with you and use, with each use consuming money on the spot. Characters can gain stat points via money and you can also pay to gain passive skills. Sure, sometimes material items are involved in all of this, but everything really does boil down to money.
The richer you are, the better off you’ll be. There’s some degree of strategy to base-building, but none of it’s really explained (which is hilarious given the number of tutorials that Arc of Alchemist shoves in your face about basically every other subject) so unless you’re willing to look up a guide you’ll have to place buildings and hope they’re correct.
Going back to work on the base usually results in some story segments, where you’ll enjoy Quinn rapping between discussions about life, death and the meaning of existence in a long-dead world. Arc of Alchemist isn’t really sure what it wants to be. Also, at one point a character dies in a heroic sacrifice. He later shows up as if nothing happened in later story segments. Who the hell knows what’s happening in this game?
Individually I guess none of this is all that offensive. The problem is that nothing really works together in any fashion. Combat is dull. The plot isn’t entirely sure whether it would like to be morose in the style of Death End Re;Quest or comical in the style of Hyperdimension Neptunia. Base-building is a trail-and-error experiment that comes off mostly as a bizarre take on a skill tree system from other games. All of it, put together, runs like complete garbage even on the PlayStation 4, with the Switch version being practically unplayable. And the puzzles I mentioned earlier? You’ve got a device called a Lunagear that can do four things – shoot a fireball, shoot an ice ball, shoot a tornado or create a block.
You’ll use these to light torches, melt ice, put out fires, get rid of dust storms or create little staircases to climb on. That’s it. They’re not even especially useful in combat, and in any case they’ve all got limited charges so trying to use them in combat just makes it more likely you’ll get stuck the next time you run into a puzzle, forcing you to go back to a save point.
Look, I love Idea Factory, and I love Compile Heart. Take a look at some of my reviews of their other games if you need verification there. The problem is that those are good games held back by technical issues and a desperate drive to provide fanservice as a means of survival for the company. Games like Arc of Alchemist, well…just aren’t very good. It’s tedious. It’s not really sure what it wants to be. And honestly, you’re probably best skipping it. Maybe the inevitable PC release will be better, but for once I kind of doubt it.