Enchanted Arms 1 Hour Review

I picked up Enchanted Arms for the XBox 360 today. Put about an hour into it. What follows are my initial ‘gut level’ reactions. Warning: some spoilers for the very early parts of the game:

OK here’s my 1 Hour Review of Enchanted Arms.

First, let’s get this out of the way. You start with 3 classmates. Atsuma is the protagonist, and he’s kind of a slacker type. Toya is the smart, suave one. And Makota is the fretful one. Makota is also gay and totally in love with Toya. It isn’t clear if Toya returns the feeling yet. With the English voices on, I found Makota *extremely* annoying. He has a really over-blown ‘queen’ accent, if you know what I mean. Like a sleazy stand-up comic doing a gay guy. I quickly switched to the Japanese voices (with English subtitles) and find them much better. The English Atsuma played the character pretty ‘serious’, and the Japanese Atsuma is pretty over-the-top and crazy. Odd that I can say that, not knowing a word of Japanese, but you really pick up on it.

The game has a pretty slow start. If you talk to everyone, and you enjoy anime, then you’ll have fun. If you just do what you need to do, it’ll just seem weird. You start in class. Then you have to go to the cafeteria. Then you have to buy your lunch. Then you have to go feed your dog. Then you need to get out of the school. Dull. But add talking to people and you’ll meet the diet girl who is in despair over whether she should buy the cheap fattening lunch, or the expensive healthy lunch, given her low funds. You’ll meet girls in love with Toya and get to hear Makota try to defend his turf. You’ll meet a club (The Anti-Atsuma Alliance, or 3A’s) devoted to keeping tabs on Atsuma to protect the rest of the school from his slackerly ways, and so forth. I found this all amusing, and since I was reading the english subtitles I could click through it all really fast.

To get out of school (you’re cutting class) you have to fight past students (including the 3As and the girls who want Toya) and teachers. The combat system is pretty interesting but so far very easy. Your characters move on a 3×4 grid, and the baddies are on a separate 3×4 grid. Each of your attacks affects a different pattern of squares on the enemy grid. You can’t move these patterns, you have to move your character. So Toya has an attack that impacts 5 squares in an X shape, but the center is always 4 squares in front of him. So to get it where you want it, you might have to back him up, or move him forward, or side to side.

After every fight you get a full refill of health and mana. The previews I read warned me that this was kind of an ‘introductory’ RPG so I’m not too surprised. You do get more exp for finishing battles quickly, as you can put your mad l33t rpg skillz to some use.

Once you get into town, to the festival you’ve cut class to attend, you have to do more silly things. Right now I’m on a scavenger hunt. None of it is very ‘heroic’ yet, but again, I’m finding the banter amusing. A group of women ask Atsuma about recent earthquakes. Since he’s a student, maybe he’s heard something. Atsuma the slacker hasn’t, so he can ask Toya or Makota. If you ask Toya, he launches into a scientific explanation of earthquakes and how the depth of the plate slippage impacts the intensity of the earthquake. He’s obviously proud of his knowledge but the woman replies with “That’s not exactly what I was asking…” since she just wants to know if the pose a threat. (If you ask Makota, he tells the woman that the school has sent out experts to find out if there’s any danger and that she shouldn’t worry. She’s pleased by that answer, though it doesn’t seem to impact gameplay.)

In another segment, Atsuma needs to pass a juice test. The cute tester-girl gives him some apple juice and he needs to identify where it comes from. He chugs the juice. Makota snarks that it never even touched his tongue. (Makota is pretty snarky towards Atsuma since he sees him as a bad influence on Toya.) After much fanfare, Atsuma announces that the juice comes from….apples. Everyone groans. Toya asks for some of the juice, rolls it around on his tongue and mentions how it starts sweet but has an acid finish, so it must be from such&such a farm. The tester-girl is amazed at Toya’s knowledge. Atsuma lamely interjects “Ah, I missed the acid part” and Makota snarks “You missed everything!”

If you can imagine that kind of exchange in an anime or manga and chuckle at it, you’ll probably at least enjoy the tone of the start of Enchanted Arms. I’m getting a kick out of it, but that’s a real personal opinion. If you want an RPG that’s going to get you into the action quickly, this ain’t it. But I’m already collecting items that I’ll later use to build Golems to fight for me. I’m looking forward to that.

There’re some good and some bad details. Every time you save, it asks you where you want to save, so that little side-panel slides out and you have to pick your hard drive. That’s annoying. On the other hand, you can save anywhere…no looking for ‘save points’. The combat is pretty ‘sparkly’ with almost every attack having some kind of effect. The yelled voices during combat, with the english voices on, get annoying really fast. OTOH, there’s a ‘fast forward’ button for combat that, I think, will let you skip all the effects. Battle load times are good. In fact all load times have been pretty good. There’s a lot of people to talk to, which sometimes can get tedious in RPGs, but here you tend to talk to them in clumps. You see 4 people standing around, and you talk to the four of them. You don’t have to go and talk to each one to make sure one of them isn’t holding a key bit of info.

So my 1 hour review, for me, is positive, but it’s going to be a pretty personal decision. If you’re not into Japanese humor, you’re going to miss out on a lot of the fun. And so far, the challenge level is very, very low. We’ll see if that ramps up once I get into the real combat.