There's one thing you can definitely expect from forthcoming hack-and-slasher Lord of Arcana - monster murdering, and plenty of it. With this game, Square Enix is looking to break away from its traditional JRPG roots. LOA follows a pretty simple formula: wander around a typical brown dungeon (see also lava worlds, dusty deserts and murky forests), stab everything in your way and battle an oversized boss at the end.
This simple procedure is carried out using an equally basic control system. On bumping into a beastie you're be transported into a separate battle screen, which is where the real-time fight takes place.
Mastering the ability to block, attack and cast spells, using three straightforward button presses, will stand you in good stead for getting through many blood-soaked scraps. You can also summon giant creatures and command them to rampage around the battlefield if you've built up enough Mana. And that's about it. It's hard to not to compare and contrast LOA with the likes of Monster Hunter and God Eater. In fact game director Hiroyuki Saegusa isn't about to deny the similarities, at least as far as the latter game is concerned.
"We got some influence from God Eater," he admits. "Not so much Monster Hunter, because it's more like hunting, and this game is about slaying and death. We wanted to create something for adults rather than younger gamers. In that respect, we got a lot more influence from God Eater."
Perhaps as a result there's rather a lot of gory violence in LOA (finishing moves include picking up the enemy and smashing them face first into the floor in a shower of blood, for example). This makes the game a rather unusual entry in Square Enix's catalogue.
So what else inspired Saegusa and his team? "[In Japan] we have a game called Lord of Vermillion, which is a card-based arcade game," he says. "There was a lot of artwork already available for that title. We thought we should use it for something else as well. So we came up with creating something for consumer consoles, and that's how we came up with Lord of Arcana."
It's this wealth of artwork which could elevate LOA above the ranks of the average dungeon crawler. Instead of just relying on the Vermillion imagery, Square assembled a powerhouse of artists to contribute to the game's design. The prestigious line-up includes buckles-and-belts fancier Tetsuya Nomura, Final Fantasy legend Yoshitaka Amano, Todd McFarlene of Marvel Comics fame and Ashley Woods, who's responsible for the Metal Gear Solid comic books.
"We chose people who were very, very famous, and people who were available," chuckles Saegusa. "As famous as possible. If you're not famous enough, you're not coming in."
Given this star-studded talent roster, you'd expect the visuals to be of a high standard. The majority of monsters are your typical fantasy fodder – skeletons, goblins and ogres. There are some nice boss designs, such as an armoured angel of Death, and a rather sad tree giant. Unfortunately, they tend to look washed-out and jaggy on the PSP's screen.
Saegusa admits the team had some problems when it came to reproducing the artists' gorgeous concepts in virtual form. "We spent quite a lot of time recreating the characters on the PSP," he says. "For some characters we did the artist said no, because it didn't look the same at all. There were a lot of yesses and nos, actually. But in the end, it worked out really well."
Another feature which could set LOA apart is the option to team up with three other players for some co-operative battling. However, multiplayer is only available on an ad-hoc basis so you'll need to be physically near the people you're playing with.
According to Saegusa, this was a deliberate design decision. "We wanted to make this game like a party tool," he explains. "We want people to be face to face when playing this game, rather than playing with someone online."
There are some other potential issues with the game's multiplayer mode. Should one of your friends wander off and get into a fight on their own, you're unable to join in. Instead you must stand around and wait for them to win before you can team up again. If they're killed in the battle and have no revive potions left, the entire quest will be over. This could prove to be rather irritating.
So could having to find enough people to participate in co-op with, given the state of the PSP multiplayer market in the UK. Why hasn't it taken off here? "That's difficult to answer," says Saegusa.
"But I can say why it's big in Japan. It's because the main public transportation is the train – people commute by the train every single day, for quite a lot of time. So most people have a games console in their bags; that's normal here. And if you're at work or school and you want to play a game it's easy, because pretty much everyone will have a handheld."
With this in mind, Saegusa's realistic about the potential for LOA to take off in the West. "In Japan there is a market already there, because of Monster Hunter. It's much easier for us to bring this game out. But obviously for the US and UK it's really difficult, because the market's not there yet.
"So we're going to be the first ones to bring this type of game out, and hopefully people will see how great it is to game together." Surely LOA won't be as popular here as it is in Japan, though? "Nope, it's going to be very successful!" laughs Saegusa. "Number one!"
That will depend on whether it can compete with the likes of God Eater, and whether it has more to offer than simplistic mission objectives and jaggy visuals. Even then, it seems doubtful Monster Hunter-style games are likely to do as well here in the UK as they do in Japan any time soon. All the same, Lord of Arcana could well turn out to be an above-average hack-and-slasher which fans of the genre will enjoy.