Arc of Alchemist is an action RPG that gets so far ahead of itself that it’s hard to ever feel attached to its heroes, story, or rudimentary game mechanics.
Perhaps the most upsetting offense of all is that Arc of Alchemist looks like the kind of hack and slash drivel that could have passed for a PlayStation Vita title in 2016. Unfortunately, the thing that most sets it apart is its lackluster visuals, its glitchy audio problems, and its bland and repetitive desert environments.
I’d really like to put an emphasis on the desert part of that statement: the entirety of Arc of Alchemist takes place in a desert. For me, this is the blandest and most boring of all video game landscapes. If that doesn’t turn you off as much as it turned me off, great. We haven’t even gotten to the gameplay yet!
Arc of Alchemist is a very simple third-person action game that uses some basic combat mechanics that anyone familiar with the genre should be accustomed to at this point. Unfortunately, the targeting mechanic was so sticky and clunky that it was more difficult for me to use the lock-on system than just swinging wildly, alternating between the two possible attack options: light and heavy attack.
There were some basic evasive moves as well, but the combat was generally such a pushover that it was rarely important to protect myself. Alongside the user-controlled character – which can be switched out at the “home base” used for save points and healing – there are two CPU-controlled teammates. Most battles came down to whooping one or two baddies in each mob; my teammates obliterated the rest automatically with their magic attacks. It was never very exciting, and I never felt much of a challenge against anything – even boss opponents.
The game boils down to moving through the desert from nav point to nav point, initiating little events that push the “story” forward. To be honest, though, the story never really even took off. Sadly, the developers didn’t really bother to establish much about the game’s cast of characters.
Between missions, you’ll revisit your home base, and some of the characters in your party will interact with each other. These segments reminded me of the dialogue sequences in the Fire Emblem games, only without any of the charm or the personal attachment to the characters. It’s too bad, too. A little bit of personality could have worked wonders for this game. Instead, it’s just a collection of instantly forgettable RPG tropes, complete with some of the most grating voice acting I’ve ever heard.
Of course, that is when the voice acting actually worked. You see, Arc of Alchemist on the Switch is plagued with glitches. These are most pronounced during dialogue sequences. If I pressed any button whatsoever, the dialogue would cut out completely. Even more confusingly, pressing the B button anytime during conversation removes the dialogue boxes and subtitles, which just seemed like an odd decision for that button.
Frankly, it didn’t take long for me to just roll my eyes through most of these conversations. The back and forth between characters quickly became nonsensical and seemed like needless reaching to establish their background when some kind of background should have been provided to them before they were ever introduced to the party.
One of the parts of the game involving any “depth” – if you want to call it that – is the base building aspect, which serves as a sort of intermission between “missions” out in the field. Basically, you can use some of the gold and crude resources found from defeating enemies to upgrade your base, which allows you to purchase new items, upgrade your team in different ways, and so on. This makes the grind of the game slightly more interesting.
However, at the end of the day, Arc of Alchemist is just such an easy game in the first place that all the boosting of your team seems excessive. I could swap out one of my party members or even drop them completely – going for two instead of three characters – and still blast my way through mobs of enemies effortlessly. Also, spending money to increase your stats just seems like such a strange concept to me, even though it makes sense in a game where you’re spending funds to upgrade the training facilities on your base.
I find it especially important to mention that Arc of Alchemist was almost unplayable in the Switch handheld mode. The frame rate dropped well below 20 frames per second, the graphics became muddy, and the environments looked even uglier. Meanwhile, the sound effects glitched out almost entirely. The bottom line: avoid handheld mode.
In closing, I wanted to enjoy Arc of Alchemist, but the whole package just feels lackluster, like something that could have come out half a decade ago on a handheld platform. It’s certainly not worth the price of a full game or even the space required to install it on your Switch. I imagine that some of the glitches are not a problem on the PS4 version, especially the problems I encountered when playing in the Switch handheld mode. Still, it also can’t be so much better to excuse all of the fundamental gameplay issues.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.