Lord of Arcana

Monster mash-up.

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.

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You can customise your own character, albeit using rather limited options.

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.

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