Author Topic: Arcadian Atlas (Switch) Review  (Read 449 times)

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Offline riskman64

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Arcadian Atlas (Switch) Review
« on: November 30, 2023, 07:00:00 AM »

A tactics RPG with decent combat but little else.

The tactics-style RPG popularized by games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Ogre Battle is seldom imitated and rarely duplicated (perhaps for that very reason). When I came across Arcadian Atlas at PAX West in 2022, I could see that it had promise, with a character-driven plot and some player choice in terms of how the story unfolded. Fast forward more than a year later, and the game is arriving on Switch and other consoles a few months after its summer debut on Steam. Unfortunately, Arcadian Atlas is another isometric tactical RPG that fails to hang with–let alone live up to–the standouts in the genre. Poor Switch performance, unsatisfying aesthetic, and odd pacing make it tough to push through even the 10-20 hours required to roll credits.

In Arcadia, a political conflict is brewing, threatening a war that could destroy the nation and those who call it home. Queen Venezia has ascended the throne as her husband the king ails on his deathbed, and to protect the power she has seized, she exiles the two princesses, Lucretia and Annalise. Much of the plot revolves around two warring factions, each led by one of a pair of siblings, Desmond and Vashti. While initially the two fight together, the fact that they end up on either side of the war makes for some intriguing and emotional story beats. The first two chapters focus on the conflict between Venezia and Lucretia, with the former pursuing the latter throughout the country, but the final chapter does an about-face and delves more into the fantastical, and it’s difficult to reconcile with the way in which the political aspect of the narrative falls by the wayside so suddenly.

Gameplay sees you move across nodes on a map to enter cutscenes, engage in battles, shop for gear to outfit your soldiers, recruit new comrades, or take on side missions. On the standard difficulty, it’s pretty important that you do sign up for extra jobs at the tavern as each successful mission raises the level of the participating party members by one, increasing their stats and awarding a skill point to be spent on each character’s skill tree. The progression is fairly straightforward, but the fact that the leveling up happens off screen is a bit of a letdown–you miss out on the satisfaction of seeing numbers go up. The skill trees are different for each of the game’s four basic classes: cavalier, ranger, warmancer, and apothecary (warrior, archer, mage, and healer, essentially). The warmancer can choose to spend points to become more proficient with fire, ice, or lightning, while the apothecary can wield both restorative and destructive potions on the battlefield. At level 18, advanced classes open up that offer a few more options for customizing your party.

While some parts of the story are a clear highlight of Arcadian Atlas, the combat is where you’ll spend more of your playtime, and fortunately it’s fairly solid. These turn-based affairs feature a timeline at the bottom of the screen to indicate who’s next to act, and your group of five or six characters will often be fighting against seven or eight opponents. This means that you’ll generally need sound strategy and a properly outfitted team to win the day. Checking the shops regularly for new gear is a must, as are assigning earned skill points and having a well balanced squad. I learned pretty quickly of the importance of bringing an apothecary with me at all times, given their ability to heal and even revive downed teammates. If one of your party members has their health reduced to zero, there is a three-turn window where either they can be revived or you can win the fight and not lose them.

Where Arcadian Atlas stumbles is in terms of its presentation and overall aesthetic. It leans heavily on a jazzy soundtrack that clashes with the gravity of its story and the tension of its combat. Worse is the constant hitching of the Switch version, with inputs not recognized immediately and characters simply freezing for seconds at a time, leaving me wondering whether the game itself had frozen completely. Battles also play out very slowly and awkwardly, with no option to speed up the proceedings or even rotate your view around the battlefield, let alone zoom in or out. During cutscenes, the intentionally zoomed-in perspective makes it difficult to appreciate the surroundings and situations the characters face. While the character sprites themselves are fine, the art used in dialogue exchanges isn’t as attractive, and it’s hard not to feel put off by the visual experience of the game as a whole.

Arcadian Atlas makes a tactical misstep in terms of its soundtrack and overall performance on Switch. Even aside from its technical and artistic weaknesses, there isn’t an abundance of strength in its story pacing, even if a few beats do land fairly well. The activity you’ll spend most of your time with, the turn-based battles, are pretty good but feature little in the way of variety. If you’re a diehard tactics fan, Arcadian Atlas may be worth looking up on another platform if the performance is better there, but games like Triangle Strategy and Tactics Ogre Reborn are much stronger options if you’ve yet to play them.