Version tested: PSP
Arise, amnesiac hero, the time has come! For you are the Chosen One, and it's down to you to defeat the eight guardians of the power of Arcana so that you can rule the realm. I'm deeply disappointed that a story so distressingly normal could emerge from the studio behind Deadly Premonition.
Lord of Arcana very consciously casts itself in the Phantasy Star/Monster Hunter mould of multiplayer-friendly monster-slaying action games. You head out on quests, tooled up with weapons and armour crafted from slain enemies, and attempt to stick your sword through a range of ever-bigger and toothier boss monsters. There is nothing wrong with what it's trying to do; Monster Hunter hasn't had a real competitor in years, and Arcana initially looks like it might be a more accessible, action-orientated take on the formula rather than a rip-off. Initially.
The illusion is short-lived. Lord of Arcana pulls one of the dirtiest tricks in gaming by giving you a glimpse of power and then taking it all away. The opening level sends you, clad in shimmering steel and a blue cape, after a massive dragon, and the combat system seems really promising.
There are six interesting weapon classes and pounding them into the dragon's various limbs sends up showers of blood. Finishing moves explode smaller monsters satisfyingly into crimson gobbets of gore, and quick-time-event duels cause massive damage to the bigger ones. Praise be, there's even a lock-on – though it's a bit choosy about what it targets.
But then, after that brief taste, you're predictably dumped into a village in shorts and a grubby t-shirt, and Lord of Arcana begins to display a chronic lack of ingenuity. Everything down to the character models is strikingly reminiscent of Monster Hunter, but instead of a bustling little village with pigs in babygros and merchants offering bug juice and swords, there's a desk for quests, a desk for the blacksmith, a desk for items and nothing else at all.
This bland functionality extends to the quest environments, too, which are sequences of connected corridors, usually inside a cave, dotted with unexceptional monsters. There's no living ecology, no beautiful waterfalls or natural vistas. Even the big bosses are a boring compromise between Japanese and Western fantasy aesthetics.
But there are deeper problems. On closer examination, the combat system is much more limited than it first seemed.
Lord of Arcana passively levels your weapons up as well as your character, unlocking new abilities at arbitrary points. This would be a good way of drip-feeding new special moves, perhaps, but even your most basic abilities are reliant on that invisible number, making the game practically unplayable at the beginning. You can't even swing an axe twice in a row until you've improved your weapon proficiency by killing imps and goblins. As for six-hit combos and all those magic spells, they're hours away.