Monster Hunter is a bit of a beast to take, even so, Square Enix is prepping their battle gear with Lord of Arcana, a dungeon crawling epic of similar class developed by Access Games, the same people that brought you Ace Combat: Joint Assault on the Wii and The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces on the Wii. The PSP demo is currently out via the PlayStation Store and we've had some hands-on time. Does Lord of Arcana have what it takes to partake in the one and only pie that seemingly belongs to Capcom's Monster Hunter? Here are our thoughts and impressions based on the demo.
Upon booting up the Lord of Arcana demo, you'll be greeted with the character customization screen. There are plenty of presets to cycle through, ranging from gender to facial aesthetics, hair styles and colour and even the character's voice. I proceeded to name my would-be hero Squishy. It's a perfect name for a hero, don't judge me.
Once you've created your brand spanking new hero, you'll have to pick a weapon of your choice. There are five types to pick from and you can change them later on in the game. You've got the sword and shield, mace, great sword, firebrand and the polearm. Each weapon has its own set of skills and can be charged to deal some massive damage. Going with the polearm, I had a bit of a longer reach and still retained some agility compared to the great sword.
You can hack and slash with the attack combo, perform a Battle Arts skill or cast some fiery magic with the Square, Triangle and Circle buttons, respectively. Hitting the Cross button lets you do a quick dash in order to get out of the way of an incoming attack. Holding L locks onto a target and holding R will give you a speed boost. You're allowed to try out a weapon before making a decision, simply hit the Select button and you can begin hacking away and trying out some basic combos. The camera is mapped to the D-pad and controls exactly the same way in Monster Hunter: you can turn the camera 360 degrees horizontally and cycle through several preset positions vertically.
Monsters are scattered through the dungeon, which is separated by gateways. You won't see an alarming number of monsters though as there are usually only one or two lurking about the dark corners of each area. What's odd is that battle isn't done in the dungeon level itself. Instead, coming into contact with a monster brings players to a battle arena where cans of whoop-ass can be meted out.
The combat itself feels rather rigid and stiff and that is in no thanks to the animation or the ridiculously dumb AI. Monsters will just run about, take a blind swing at you and repeat. The larger ones have a pattern to their attack, one that is easily recognizable after a couple of moments running circles around them. As for the animation, one would expect some sense of fluidity when it comes to attacking, combos and evading. However, the animations can't be interrupted or flow into a quick-dash fast enough and you'll simply end up eating a lot of damage. There's also a stamina gauge, you'll hardly ever notice it though seeing as stamina regenerates at an alarmingly unhealthy rate.
It's tough not to compare this game to Monster Hunter seeing as it holds so many similarities to it. Unfortunately, the combat doesn't feel nearly as intense or exciting. Unique to Lord of Arcana is what's called the Coup de Grace! Basically a quick-time finishing move. Hit an enemy enough times and a quick-time kill sequence will initiate. Each finisher is different depending on enemy types. You can also enter a Melee Duel where you compete with the enemy by mashing the circle button, filling up a gauge which then determines how much extra massive damage you deal. The best part of the Coup de Grace is when it's performed on a Master Guardian, the end-boss of a dungeon. There's plenty of gore to go around as you slice and dice the boss, claiming victory as your own.
The game is set in a fantasy world called Horobyn and the player is the all-too-cliche hero who would be king and restore the balance of the world by claiming the power of the Arcana, mystical stones that grants its users immense powers. However, you don't find out anything about a mystical stone until you clear out a nasty dungeon. The demo literally throws you into the action, you're already level 45 and decked out with some badass gear.
With the first dungeon complete, you'll finally be introduced to some story sequences and promptly thrown into the game world. You've lost all your memories and abilities as you've apparently sacrificed them in order to find and claim the Arcana stones as your own. The village of Porto Carillo will act as your main hub of activity. Shops and important venues are laid about a central square, including the Slayer Guild where you'll be accepting a myriad of quests. Up to four players can hook up at any one time to complete quests via ad-hoc.
Regardless, the game has a certain charm to it. It may be the sense of familiarity due to how similar it is to Monster Hunter and at the same time, the differences it brings to the table - although they aren't necessarily good differences. The music is an interesting mix of orchestral and rock, giving the game a certain sense of serenity during story sequences and a more adrenaline filled experience during combat. Now even though it's a game from Square Enix, the art direction doesn't look anything Japanese or oriental, instead it's based on early classical styles. The Arayd Temple is decked out with some wicked looking frescos and neo-gothic architecture.
The game is out on January 25 in North America and February 4 in Europe, unfortunately it's not one that seems to be really outstanding in any way. Monster Hunter vets will likely pass on this and wait for Monster Hunter Portable 3rd if they haven't already imported it. However, while the gameplay mechanics are certainly lacking, the story - however cliche - and music seemingly sets the mood for what might be quite an epic adventure on the PSP. And that is one aspect that Monster Hunter lacks, an engaging story.