And should you ever fancy a weapon change to liven up boring between-boss hunting quests – perhaps a quick go on a gunlance or a mace instead of a greatsword – you're back to square one, unable to muster up so much as a two-hit combo until you've trawled around in caves for an hour or two. The game cripples you for wanting to try something new.
And you'll be desperate for something new. If you persist with Lord of Arcana, combat starts to warm up again, but that just makes you realise that it was never all that good to begin with. There's an enduring lack of interesting monsters to fight or enviable weapons to poke them with. Crafting relies upon materials that only have a slim chance of appearing after you chase pathetic enemies around the map into specific 'Arcana zones'. There's just no reward for the grind - it's like saving up your wages for months and months for a new car and only being able to afford a second-hand Ford Fiesta.
It's not even particularly difficult at any point – just repetitious. A chirpy, well-translated script offers occasional moments of levity, but otherwise it's grind, grind, grind, and the process is slow.
Enemies run around free-range during quests, but you're put into a separate circular arena for combat, breaking up the flow with loading and a cut-scene every time you accidentally bump into a skeleton. Over hours of play, those seconds of wasted time add up. If I'd picked up a book for 10 seconds at the beginning and end of every single fight instead of hammering X through the battle intro in irritation, I might have finally finished Gravity's Rainbow by now.
You might have noticed that I've not commented on how Lord of Arcana works in multiplayer – that's because it's been impossible to test. Lord of Arcana doesn't have online multiplayer. I'm willing to bet that if I can't find anybody else to get together with for a game when many of my friends play the things for a living, you won't be able to either.
Playing Lord of Arcana has made me acutely aware of the differences between games that embrace the grind and games that abuse it. Certainly, you have to kill the same beasts more than a few times in Monster Hunter, but doing so sharpens your abilities. You have to repeat yourself a lot in Demon's Souls, but every time you fail, you learn something. These games limit you not by your level, but by your skill, goading you into bettering yourself. Grinding should be about improving your playing instincts, not arbitrary numbers on a character sheet.
Lord of Arcana, though, holds things back from you for hours with no good reason, and in doing do it destroys the appeal of the games it's trying to emulate. All the components are there – the quest structure, the big monsters, the oversized weapons and screens full of trinkets looted from dead goblins – but all the challenge and complexity are gone, leaving behind an abandoned shell.
Lord of Arcana isn't all that bad, really, but it certainly isn't good. It's barely got any good ideas, and the few it does have are not its own. It could have been a Monster Hunter Lite, with more emphasis on big bosses and gory finishing moves and less on collecting raptor talons and moss to make into a hat – but instead it's just a hollow, characterless echo of the game it's trying to be.