Enchant Arms is a GOOD JRPG!
If Enchant Arms signals the dawn of the JRPGs in the XBOX platform, then we XBOX users have a lot to look forward to! This will be a long post, so bear with me but I'll try to put in as much info as I can for those people who are interested in getting the game. I'll also try my best not to put too much spoilers.
The strength of this game lies in its story (particularly in character interaction) and the battle system that From Software implemented. I'll divide this post into several parts, hopefully it will be coherent.
I played the Asian version of Enchant Arm published by Microsoft which is direct translation of the Japanese version of the game. The game has full English support with English subtitles and Japanese audio. THE ASIAN VERSION OF THIS GAME IS NOT REGION FREE. You guys outside Asia will have to wait for the version that will be released by Ubisoft this August 2006.
JRPGs have candy coated typical plots with anime cliched characters and Enchant Arm is no different from that. But despite that I found myself unable to put down the controller as the plot drew me in.
You play the role of Atsuma, a dumb bumbling student of Yokohama University, who is infamous for having a strange looking arm and having to hang around the most popular guys in school. Atsuma's closest friends are Touya and Makoto. Unlike the other two, which have their own specific fan clubs, Atsuma is disliked by most of the people in the University since he may be such a dumbass and a simpleton. But something happens wherein one of the legendary “Devil Golems” is released and life turns upside down for Atsuma and his friends. Throughout the game, you will meet 3 more characters that will influence Atsuma's story, as he comes to terms about what he is and what he can do about it.
The most refreshing thing about the plot of Enchant Arm is the fact that this game DOES NOT REVOLVE ON A LOVE STORY!!! Most JRPGs are focused on the love story between lead characters wherein other characters are just there for display but nothing ever happens to them and quite frankly I'm sick and tired of that. There are potential love interests in the game but that is not the focus. And if I'm not mistaken you can even choose your character focus which will have some effect with the credit sequence of the game.
Enchant Arms is a game about the friendship formed between the characters and its quite well done IMHO. You are not forced to sit through the trials and tribulations of superficial 'love'. Some of the best moments in the game is when the supporting cast utter some truly inspiring words in order to keep Atsuma strong.
I can go on and on about the plot but I won't since I don't want to risk giving spoilers. But as I fought the final boss of this game, there was a question in my mind regarding the motivations of the group. Much to my surprise, the screen turns black and Atsuma utters the same question I was thinking of and an answer is given! Genius!!! As if the developers actually read my mind!
There are 2 endings to Enchant Arm. The first one is a sad ending which is relatively easy to get. Now the happy ending will push your skills to the limit since the final bosses are quite hard.
One thing about this game is how one of the characters is gay, Makoto. While Makoto is not really the focus of the story, I assume that Ubisoft will tone down some of the gay elements to fit the western market...perhaps this is the reason why the game is taking much longer to localize compared to the Asian version published by Microsoft. I'm fine with Makoto, he adds life to the party!
The voice acting in this game is superb!!! The Japanese voice actors are awesome, specially the ones for Atsuma and Makoto! Much of the appeal of this game is due to the voice acting. Hopefully, Ubisoft got good voice actors for the western release, if not they should just keep the game with the Japanese voice actors and offer English subtitles.
The game is linear. So far I can only see 2 side quests which is to get the ultimate weapons of each character and to acquire the strongest golems for each elemental type. Although I think there is a certain path in the game (near the end) which will affect part of the credit sequence once you finish the game.
There is no question about it, Enchant Arm is totally next gen when compared to the crop of JRPGs that exists in the Playstation and the Gamecube. I have played Final Fantasy 12 and I know how it looks like...I can honestly say that the graphics in Enchant Arm are top notch! While From Software, took a more simplistic with the graphics approach they managed to keep the framerate at a solid 60 FPS and the graphics are very sharp for a JRPG.
Let me explain what I mean about simplistic graphics. When you play a Final Fantasy game, the world is loaded with tons of nifty little squiggles, flashing lights and other pointless designs in towns. Towns in Enchant Arms, do not offer the same kind of graphic elements. It's simplistic and practical in its approach...almost like the towns that exists in Oblivion and other western RPGs. But that doesn't mean that it looks bad...in fact some of the towns and places in Enchant Arms are quite stunning to behold. The outdoor environments look downright amazing in some cases.
Character renders are also well done! Of course there are few glitches in the renders but sometimes they approximate CG quality IMHO. There are only 2 CG sequences in this game and quite frankly some of the real time sequences are far better than the CG ones.
I believe that this is the way JRPGs should go in the next generation. They should stop with the excessive CG because the technology right now can deliver realtime sequences that actually look good!!! IMHO, the realtime sequences in Enchant Arm are far better than the ones for Ninety Nine Nights.
I will post images, I've taken from the game so you guys can check out just how good the graphics are in this game. Please note that I just took this off my digital camera using a VGA monitor.
The soundtrack of Enchant Arms is quite nice. They have a nice world environment theme going on. But perhaps my only gripe about this game is that some areas do not have a background music in them, particularly in dungeons.
This section will be very long. But one of the things I enjoyed about this game is the battle system.
Enchant Arm has a mix of both human and golem characters. The primary difference between the two, other than their physiology, is that humans can learn skills while golems only have set skills. Both types of characters level up and gain SP points at the end of every battle. You can improve the character/golem attributes such as HP, EP, etc etc accordingly, compared to other JRPGs where the characters just level up and you can’t tweak them that much.
Each one of your characters have a certain element attribute. (Fire/Water, Earth/Wind, Dark/Light) Attacks from enemies that has direct opposite of your attribute will deal greater damage to you compared to attacks from other attributes. And so on and so forth.
Golem cores can be acquired in battle or by buying them. If you see a golem in the world just standing there, you can choose to fight that golem. If you win, you get that the core of that golem. To make golems come to life, you need to go to a shop and fuse the golem core. There are 3 types of materials needed to fuse the golem and the quantity needed may vary for each golem. You can actually get these materials in battle or just buy them at the shop
At any given moment, you can only carry 8 golems in your party. The rest is stored in the shop, where you can come back and exchange golems. Golems in the shop do not gain the SP / EXP benefits as those you carry in your party.
Enchant Arm has a good mix of Golem design. You have some mechanized golems, badass looking golems and super cute anime golems. Golems have different skills and attributes, its best that you can test them all out to see which golem fits your style.
All attacks and skills in Enchant Arm consume Ether Points (EP). There is no such thing as a simple punch/kick in this game and you cannot keep on attacking indefinitely since you will eventually run out of EP. This feature makes the game challenging since every move you make a consequence in your EP. Even not doing anything for that round will lessen your EP. This kind of system pushes the character to actively participate in the battle and not just press one button to continue.
Some skills are passive support skills, such as an immunity to poison, that affect only the selected character. You can get these skills in time as you level up or you can purchase them at the store. You can also buy offensive skills at a store. But all the skills that you get, you need to let your character “acquire” those skills which will consume some SP points. SP points are the same ones you use when you allocate character attributes.
Some attacks may do similar damage but may vary in EP consumption depending on whether or not you used an elemental attack or just an ordinary one.
Like most JRPGs the battle system is turn based. You can only have 4 members in when you go to battle. You assign moves for each member and once you have completed the assignment you can approve the attack sequence and the battle round begins. Before the acknowledgement for the start of the round, you can still cancel or change the assigned move for all your 4 characters. Note that there is no particular order on who attacks first but you can give a sequence in order to link attacks that can do greater damage. Your battle party can consist of either humans or golems but you can never take out Atsuma from the party since he’s the main character.
You and your opponents are separated by two 4x3 grid areas. You cannot cross over to the opponents grid and neither can they cross over to yours. With some characters/golems there is a limit as to how far they can move in the grid. Certain attacks/spells also follow a particular grid pattern and coverage. Regardless of the pattern of your attack/spell, depending on your position in the grid, your attack may have a greater coverage.
You can see different perspectives of the battle grid by toggling on the X button. This will help you plan your attacks well.
In other JRPGs you can store HUGE quantities of any item. That doesn’t actually follow in Enchant Arms. In this game, you can only store 9 quantities of a given item at a time. When faced with long trips or difficult boss battles this becomes quite a challenge. It’s actually a welcome challenge since it makes the game more strategic.
One of the things I grew tired off in JRPGs is how battles get to be so drawn out not because it’s actually hard but because you have to sit through whole limit / summon sequences. The BEST (IMHO) feature of Enchant Arms when it comes to battle is its ability to fast forward these sequences by holding down the Y button. Now you don’t have to sit through the whole EX (or ultimate technique) sequence, you can fast forward it if you like. Fast forward merely speeds up the game movement, it doesn’t skip the whole sequence entirely. You can release the Y button anytime and the speed of the sequence returns back to normal.
In ANY JRPG, there will come a point wherein your characters become very powerful that all you need to do is keep on pushing one button and you will win the random battles. In time this gets very tedious and boring. Fear not! Since Enchant Arm has an option for “Auto Attacks”. The computer will set the attack sequence for that round and you don't have to do a thing. You can even hold Y to fast forward everything so you won't get bored. Since is this game is loaded with random battles, this is a welcome feature when you want to keep on exploring the world or you just want to level up.
And the moment you have all been waiting for...what are the problems in this game. There are quite a few technical problems with Enchant Arms and I'll just list them. They are not severe problems and nothing that will hamper your enjoyment of the game but here they are:
- V-Sync tearing (happens rarely but its there)
- Some physics problems particularly with the hair and clothes movement overlapping with other polygons. This doesn't happen that much though.
- Shadowing problems...there are moments where the lighting causes Atsuma's shadow to break away from himself. Once again, this doesn't happen often, in fact I've only seen it happen once in the game where I thought someone was following me and it turns out to be my shadow.
- Game Save glitch. If you have multiple saves sometimes the “NEW” pointer will point in your older save rather than your latest one.
- Subtitling Problem (At least in the Asian Version). Microsoft used very thin fonts for Enchant Arm which makes it very difficult to read if you're using an SDTV. In order for me to play Enchant Arm without suffering much eyestrain, I got myself a VGA monitor for instant HD fix. Hopefully Ubisoft will address this problem in the western release and have readable fonts for the game.
- Achievement Bug. For the Asian version the last 3 achievements are unattainable even if you get both the sad and happy endings. Hopefully this will be fixed for the western release by Ubisoft.
This means a lot to me since I really have a hard time recommending games because my tastes are quite different and I don't want people to regret their decision based on my recommendation.
To those of us who are dying to play a JRPG for the XBOX platform, this is it folks!!! Enchant Arm is a good JRPG! I enjoyed my 40 hour journey in the world of Enchant Arm!
If you hate JRPGs and anime looking art then stay away from this game. If you can't stand playing JRPGs not made by Square Enix, I feel soooo very sorry for you. But if you're willing to see what Japan has to offer then get it!
Don't expect a demo to come to the marketplace! If you're on the fence about this game give it a rent. But if you love Japanese games and JRPGs in particular, then don't hesitate and GET THIS GAME!!!
From Software has delivered an excellent JRPG for the XBOX 360! And if this is the start of things to come...then we JRPG fans have a lot to look forward to!