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Some gamers might have heard of a franchise that has exploded across Japan know as Monster Hunter Portable, a game with popularity that rivals the monolithic Pokemon and is most likely to blame for the PSP being Japan's best-selling console of 2010. Lord of Arcana is not Monster Hunter. Though, it does try to be Monster Hunter – a lot. From the layout of the HUD to the fundamental mechanics behind missions and battle, Lord of Arcana attempts to be as close of a clone to Monster Hunter as possible. Unfortunately, Monster Hunter’s lightning-in-a-bottle has not been successfully emulated in this bland, laborious game.
Lord of Arcana starts with a brief and lazy story setup of an ancient power awaiting to be unlocked by you, the “Chosen One.” On your way to ultimate power you must traverse the colorless landscapes to collect materials, craft weapons and armor, and slowly conquer the eight Arcana: large monsters that personify magical power.
The entire game comes off as bare-bones and uninspired. The village you conduct your business in, your only bastion from the mundane and sparse fields of monsters, is a very small, outdoor space made only with enough room for the five different vendors you will deal with throughout the game. Besides one of the boundaries for the courtyard of vendors being a small empty beach and a few characters that are scattered about to provide meaningless small talk, the village is utterly featureless.
Outside of town, the areas to explore are designed just like Monster Hunter, but worse. The areas are divided into different sections that you can run between as you collect items and kill monsters. Except, rather than just fighting monsters in the area that you are actually in, approaching a monster prompts both of you to be warped to a large circular arena. It seems like a meaningless step that only adds to the tedious activity of repetitive battles and makes us wonder why they didn't just open up the main area a bit more for the battle to take place there. However, judging by the silly amount of pop-in we experienced in the village, the developers might have just not wanted to take the time required to design the game that way. Some parts of the not-so-fantastical landscape try to look exotic with some natural features, like an elaborate lava flow, or desert oasis, but the poor rendering of it just made us want to avert our eyes and carry on with our quest rather than soak it in.
Lord of Arcana could appeal to a certain kind of gamer, despite its ample flaws, with its moderately sized compendium of equipment crafting. After several quest runs of gathering dozens of items, some possibilities for crafting begin to show, at which time the compulsive type of gamer could enjoy spending time in the hunt for additional items and special materials for crafting the next best piece of equipment, and so on.
Arcana also has cooperative play for up to four people, a feature which seemed to be expected to pull the majority of the game's weight considering the popularity of cooperative modes in other games like Monster Hunter Portable in Japan. Unfortunately, the co-op gameplay has some serious issues to compound upon the game’s already buckling faults. First is the big issue that ensures Arcana can’t compete with Monster Hunter: no online play. Good luck finding four friends who all have PSPs and copies of this game – otherwise, it’s going to be a solo adventure. Even if you do manage an ad-hoc game, Arcana almost seems averse to co-op play with its clunky mechanics: if a player gets into a fight in a different part of the map than the rest of the group, then the rest of your party can not join in, leaving that single person to either fend for themselves, attempt to runaway, or die, as your party is forced to stand around and twiddle their thumbs. If any one of the players in your group does die, then the entire quest ends and everyone receives a game over screen. Nobody wants to end their 45 minute co-op quest with a game over because one person bumped into the wrong monster.
As negative as we might sound about Arcana's problems, it wouldn't be fair to not say that there is a niche of gamers that could enjoy this game. However, it should only be considered for veterans of the genre that simply can't wait for the next Monster Hunter Portable iteration to come to the West. For the rest of the curious gamers fascinated by the fantastic phenomenon: stick with the original trend setter. Lord of Arcana has made a painfully deliberate attempt at riding the wave that Monster Hunter started, and lamentably, it's wiped out.
Jan 26, 2011