Developed by Compile Heart with publishing duties handled by Idea Factory, Arc of Alchemist is a third-person hack and slash style JRPG with base building/upgrading mechanics, fully animated cut scenes, exploration and resource management.
Arc of Alchemist is set in a future where the majority of the earth has become a desolate wasteland after natural resources ran out, with alchemy being developed in order to compensate for this. However, alchemy was not sufficient to ease the burden and led to global conflicts being waged. The conflicts led to many deaths and the alchemists being wiped out.
Years after these events, a group of soldiers from the Stoalschester Kingdom set out in search of great power to attempt to revive the land. Led by Commander Quinn Bravesford, this team has been tasked to investigate the desert of beginnings. The desert holds many secrets with vast ruins, mysterious mechanical dolls roam the wastes, protecting the secrets that Quinn and her team seek to uncover in order to save their kingdom.
The majority of the gameplay is made up of story-based exploration involving collecting items, solving puzzles, and battling large-scale enemies as you try to complete various tasks. The other aspects of the game are resource management and base building mechanics where the player uses items and materials collected during their journey to either trade for currency or to unlock upgrades for the player base.
Combat in the game consists of both ranged and close-quarter battles where characters have their own strengths and weaknesses. Each character has two weapon skills and a special attack. These special attacks can devastate enemy forces when used together with other party members. The game lets players lock-on enemy targets to get near and attack them by performing combos. Alternatively, you can choose to play it safe with ranged attacks. The lock-on automatically changes to the next enemy after finishing off the previous one so that you can continue to fight. Some monsters are susceptibles to different attacks, therefore going all out with melee will not always work.
The exploration element consists of the player commanding a three-person team roaming the wastes in third-person hack and slash action. The player fights against wild monsters, robot sentries and giant mechanical threats, with an element of puzzle-solving mixed into the fray. There is a total of seven playable characters available at the beginning of the game and the player has access to a range of formation setups to fit their playstyle, with defensive, offensive, and flexible characters in the selectable roster.
The game does a decent job with its open-world aspect, spawning plenty of enemies and the occasional treasure chest or item collection point, but it’s not nearly enough to justify putting in as much open space as they did. It left too much empty space and the number of times it tries to trick you into exploring it all by making you think that you’re heading into a secret, treasure-filled nook only to be rewarded with nothing is slightly maddening. It doesn’t help that the framerate gets progressively worse the further you get into the game, either.
The puzzle-solving element of exploration is made up of locating switches which involves finding hidden paths, removing obstacles and activating objects using the Lunagear. The Lunagear are special elemental items. While they are useful in combat, they serve a greater purpose as an exploration tool that allows objects like torches to be lit and blocks to be constructed for traversing the treacherous landscape. Starting with just the fire tool, more elements are unlocked while playing and you can combine these elements to create new interactions or attacks, resulting in a fresh experience.
The only thing that fails when using these tools is that it creates various gimmicks where you need to use them but are not necessary to advance in the game. It doesn’t exactly seem to know what it’s doing with gimmicks. Sure, some of them are really straightforward, making it easy to see when and why you need to interact with them, but others just seem… random. There are torches in the middle of the desert that do nothing when lit, fans that look like they open doors but don’t (and also seem to have broken animation cycles), and raging fires that are faster to walk around than put out. It’s understandable to put in “false gimmicks” to cleverly trick players, but the amount of seemingly random and useless gimmicks will likely leave them very perplexed and a tad frustrated.
Secondary to the combat is base building and resource management. When not exploring the desert, the player can use the materials collected from enemies and loot drops to fortify their base, unlock upgrades, buy new gear, and train characters to boost stats (with many more things which are too numerous to list). When base upgrades are purchased and new items are unlocked, the player can arrange sections similar to real-time strategy games, adding a level of personalization for each player.
This means you need specific resources and the cash you would’ve otherwise spent on gear to make a building that, depending on placement, will determine how much or little of an impact it has on progress. Arc of Alchemist is not very forthcoming to maximize building a town or the advantages and disadvantages of certain placement, meaning you need to figure it out on your own. Let’s just assume you have the resources, some of which can be tricky to find because they’re tied to a location over the enemy, made an amazing town and finally have weapons to buy. Cool, now you can finally spend your remaining gold, be it from your first attempt or from multiple adventures out in the world, to buy a new weapon, armor, accessories or whatever. Rinse and repeat and this is how you obtain the bulk of your gear.
The difficulty for this title can appear fairly steep. This is taking into consideration the complex and intricate systems that are introduced throughout the game. While there is a set of in-depth tutorials as the game progresses, the complicated systems may cause difficulty if the player skips these, potentially leading to mismanagement of resources and ineffective team composition.
The other aspect of the challenge with Arc of Alchemist is the combat against the many enemies and bosses. If the enemy level is too high and the player is ill-prepared, failure is highly likely. If the player is able to manage their character roster effectively, level them up and strengthen them with balance in mind when it comes to team composition, a greater chance of success for the player is present.
Controls for Arc of Alchemist are balanced with the attacks mapped to the face buttons, special attacks and ally commands mapped to the D-pad and other key features. There are a few issues with the controls, however, with the menu button mapped to the face causing unwanted interference during play, with another issue being input lag during high paced combat, this occurs when trying to quickly lock onto targets.
Graphically, Arc of Alchemist has a very cutesy look to it when it comes to the characters and some of the creatures, contrasting well with the monsters and mechanical threats that the player encounters. The animation and movement are smooth with animated cutscenes during the story segments, however, the framerate does suffer from some stuttering when playing in handheld mode, which may be due to the software attempting to implement dynamic resolution changes.
These issues that arise from stuttering appear to occur during moments where there is a lot of particle effects and entities rendered at once. The impact frame drops has on the gameplay is minimal, but can be frustrating when there is a lot of action on the screen. When the Nintendo Switch is docked, the inconsistencies concerning performance are reduced significantly, maintaining fluid movement and showing minimal lag during play.
Sound design has a wonderful overall compositional tone. The soft tones that are used for the base and free-roaming music are made up of soft flutes and strings. The same instruments are used in the tenser moments of the game, adding a wonderful contrast and balance to the overall sound. The audio for the story scenes is all in native Japanese. This isn’t a big deal as the translation is very good like all of Idea Factory’s releases, maintaining the native charm and tying the whole experience together.
Arc of Alchemist is a wonderful game with a few shortcomings. While the slight performance and control issues aren’t a deal-breaker, the game’s main campaign isn’t long (about 8 hours to complete the main campaign), the story could have been narrated better, and the elements of exploration and base building could have allowed for better experimenting with.
This game is of the usual quality that Compile and Idea Factory are known for and it shows in the character design, environments and soundtrack; they’re all expertly crafted with a lot of care taken to ensure that the world the player experiences has all the depth and complexity needed to fully pull them in. If you enjoy roaming JRPGS that have the elements of hack and slash games, Arc of Alchemist may be for you.
Final Score: 8/10.