• If there were ever a genre of games that were sorely missed on the original X-Box, it’s the RPG. Blamed for much of the console’s failure to sell in Japan (RPGs are one of, if not the biggest selling genres in Japan), the RPG was noticeable by its absence on the shelves.

    It came as a pleasant surprise then, when Japanese developer, From Software (the people behind the Armoured Core series) announced that they had decided it was finally time to test the water on Microsoft’s latest machine with their Japanese launch title, Enchanted Arms; a very Japanese RPG, on a very western system.

    Enchanted Arms is the first “traditional” RPG on the X-Box 360, an accolade that Ubisoft have been quick to push as the game’s main selling point, and, as would be expected, the title is chock full of all the usual RPG features :

    Random turn-based battles? Check.
    Group of friends who have to save the world? Check.
    Dodgy translations? Double Check.

    Enchanted Arms

    The story sees you playing as Atsuma, your typical moody-teenager-who-has-a-secret-power hero, who is a student at Enchant University. It’s here that the students learn how to control magic, or “Enchant”, in a was not too dissimilar to Harry Potter. At the very beginning of the game, it’s revealed that Atsuma isn’t like the rest of the students, as rather than being able to Enchant and create things, he has an unusual power in his right arm (the “Enchanted Arms” referred to in the title), which appears to allow him to destroy anything that is enchanted, just by touching it, even nullifying fellow Enchanter’s abilities. However, this arm proves to be quite a major problem for Atsuma, as most things in the world of Enchanted Arms are, in some way “enchanted”, meaning that almost anything he touches, from boxes to buildings, will be destroyed. Because of this, Atsuma is an outcast, rejected by most of his peers at the University, bar two of his fellow students, Toya and Makoto.

    Toya is an incredibly gifted and popular student at Enchant University, who is idolised by the ladies, and one man. The man in question is Makoto; a rather camp, and quite obviously homosexual character, with a huge crush on Toya. While it’s certainly a rarity to see a gay character in a game, especially one who is in such a predominant role, we’re not entirely sure that the gay community will be too pleased by the game’s take on homosexuals, given that Makoto is quite obviously a heavily stereotyped character, complete with makeup and that accent.

    Near the beginning of the game, something goes horribly wrong, and Atsuma manages to awaken a Devil Golem, an ancient, all powerful being, one of many which were responsible for a huge war hundreds of years ago, and the death of many thousands of people. The plot then follows Atsuma and his friends as he attempts to learn the secrets of his arm, whilst saving the world from its impending destruction, meeting scores of interesting characters along the way. It all sounds pretty basic, but, thankfully, the storyline is handled well, the characters are well developed (if slow to get started), and the plot has several interesting twists and turns along the way to keep you hooked.

    Lets get the bad things out of the way first. Unfortunately, for a game so heavily reliant on the story, some of the dialogue has been rather sloppily translated, rendering some sentences senseless. We can only presume this is because the translations have been made to be a more literal representation of their Japanese counterparts, leaving us with some rather bizarre, or emotionless sentences. The second bad point is the voice acting. At times, Atsuma delivers lines with a Hollywood style charisma, however, more often than not, he just sounds like an annoying school kid. Luckily, this problem is easy to fix, as Ubisoft have included the option to enable the original Japanese voices, which certainly do a much better job of conveying emotion than their American counterparts. The third problem is only a minor niggle, but we’re sure it’s more than enough to put many off. The first two or so hours of play work very much like a tutorial, with the game talking you through the complex battle system with a series of tutorials. Don’t get us wrong, this part is fine, as the battle system certainly needs some explanation, however, what isn’t needed is the way the game also insists on taking you by the hand everytime you attempt a new task, no matter how menial it may be. Whether you’re unlocking a chest, or climbing a ladder, if you’re doing something for the first time, the game will pause and enter a semi-cutscene as you watch your characters discuss how they have to “walk up to a ladder and press A to climb”. This “feature” really should never have made it into the final game, as whenever it happens, the atmosphere is completely shattered, and you’re reminded that you’re just playing a game, and you’re not really in a fantasy world. It’s lucky, then, that from here on in, things quickly get a lot better.

    After a slow beginning, and an introduction to the characters, one of the first places you’ll get the chance to visit is the Yokohama festival. It’s here that Enchanted Arms really begins to come into its own, as the graphics engine fantastically recreates a busy and bustling festival in a bizarre fantasy world. Areas are packed with all sorts of environmental clutter, from dustbins to crowds of passers by, making every cityscape feel that much more genuine, and look that much more impressive than was possible on the last generation of consoles. Every town you visit as you progress through the game is also uniquely styled; the games starting point, the bright and futuristic Yokohama is a world away from the dark, dingy, and frankly not too far off city of London (confusingly, the developers have chosen to name the in-game towns after real places, even when most of them bear little resemblance to their namesakes).

    Everywhere you look, you’ll see a little interesting detail that you’d never noticed before, from the clown robot doing tricks on a ball, to the owner of the pizza shop, who is actually a man with a pizza for a head! However, things quickly get interesting when it turns out that there’s a lot more to this pizza man than just a tasty face, as he is, in fact, a golem.

    Golems are one of the most appealing aspects of Enchanted Arms, and just one of the many features that help it to stand out from the crowd. In the simplest of explanations, Golems are magical creatures which can be synthesised and controlled by Enchanters to do their bidding. As you progress through the game, you can buy, or acquire (by finding and defeating “lost” golems) golem cores, which are then used to synthesise a specific golem. Although the word Golem may conjure up images of huge, Lord Of The Rings style monsters, the first creature we received bared more of a resemblance to a white tiger cub than a hulking behemoth. Brilliantly, after synthesising your golem, you can even give it a custom name, for that added bit of personalisation! We thought for hours to try and come up with a suitably scary name for him, something that would strike fear into the hearts of its opponents, and in the end, we think we succeeded when we decided on the intimidating, fear-inducing, heart-stopping….

    Stripy.

    Well, at least it’s accurate.

    One of the most interesting things about the golems is just how integral they are to your progression through the game as, rather than just being a tacked on collectable extra, they can be added to your party, and used in battles, much like a Pokemon. However, rather than having them fight for you, you fight alongside them on the battlefield. This adds a lot of charm to the game, as well as a whole lot of replay value as you try to “complete the set” (there are over 100 Golems to find). What’s more, you can even take your hand-picked party of golems online to battle with your friends! However, if you’re looking to battle with strangers over X-Box Live, it doesn’t seem you’ll have much luck at the moment, as the servers we tried were completely empty.

    Your active party can contain a maximum of four characters, including Atsuma, and up to eight backup Golem, which can be swapped in and out of your party in-between battles. Each character has a stat called VP, or Vitality Points, which decreases every time you get into a battle. The longer you’re in the battle for, the quicker your vitality drops. When a character’s VP reaches zero, it renders them practically useless in battle, as they will start the next fight with just one HP, meaning it’s best to swap them out of your party when you get chance, either for a Golem, or another character. It’s here that your Golems can really prove their use, often stepping in for a wounded party member until you can get to a recharge station to revitalise yourself. However, it’s certainly a missed opportunity that these Golems do not evolve into more powerful creatures – we’d have loved to see our little Stripy transform into a huge, dismembering beast, but, as it stands, it’ll never happen.
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    Over the past few years, many RPGs have been slowly shying away from random battles, preferring instead to feature the “more involved” real time encounters. However, as Enchanted Arms is a by-the-numbers traditional RPG, the developers have decided to stick with good old random turn-based battles.

    For the most part, encounters are evenly spaced, with enough of a gap in-between them to prevent them from getting overly annoying, or detracting too greatly from your objectives. Combining Pokemon with Disgea with Final Fantasy, the Enchanted Arms combat system is a deep and strategic affair, providing the player with hundreds of different strategies and choices. Combat takes place across two 4×3 grids, with your enemies bound to one, and your team restricted to the other. Each battle is divided up into turns, and in each turn, you can change the position of each of your characters, before deciding to use an item or select an attack. Attacking uses EP, points which you gradually gain back after every turn, preventing you from repeatedly using your most powerful moves. Different attacks deal damage over different amounts of space (both ranged and direct), requiring you to dance a deadly tango as you attempt to position your party effectively to deal the maximum damage possible, whilst staying out of range of your enemies. Certain characters, and certain moves may also have an elemental attribute (either Light, Dark, Fire, Water, Earth or Wind), which affects how much damage is dealt (double damage for opposing elements, half damage when elements match). Other strategic possibilities are unlocked through combo moves (when your combo metre is full and more than one member of your party attacks the same person), and EX moves, which are Enchanted Arms’ answer to Guardian Forces; special powers which can be used only when the EX metre is full, but deal massive amounts of damage. Battles in other RPGs can often be plagued by long, overblown animation sequences, that can get overly repetitive after seeing them the first few times. Thankfully, Enchanted Arms combats this by simply including a fast-forward button, allowing you to speed through easy battles by holding Y. You can even set your party to Auto-attack, letting the computer fight the simple battles for you. Even more impressively, HP and EP are recovered automatically at the end of every battle, meaning that the need to fill your inventory with hundreds of potions and patch your team up after every battle has been almost completely nullified.

    Incredibly, the levelling up system proved to be almost as complex as the game’s battles, as characters and golems require two stats to increase in level; EXP and SP. EXP and SP are gained by defeating enemies, and when your total surpasses a certain level, your character/golem will level up, receiving a boost in all stats. Your attributes, or “parameters” can then be further increased by spending your SP to upgrade them. However, there is no requirement on the player to do this, so we wonder how many people will go through the game without raising their characters/golems to their full potential.

    Enchanted Arms’ soundtrack is varied and unique. For the most part, the music is incredibly effective, from the opening orchestral piece, complete with overly dramatic operatic voices, to the catchy battle and boss themes, which create an atmosphere perfectly. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the tunes that play around the towns or over the world map, which are boring, monotonous affairs, that, when combined with the incredibly annoying and out of place elevator-style music that plays around the Enchant University, will result in you leaning towards the custom soundtrack option far too often.

    Achievements throughout the game are well spaced out, and awarded for achieving certain goals, such as defeating a specific boss, or advancing through the storyline. Luckily, all achievements are classed as “secrets” before you unlock them, preventing the story from being spoilt by it’s own achievements.

    Strangely, although practically everything about the game has turned out to be exactly how we were hoping, it still feels as though there’s something missing when compared to other titles, such as Final Fantasy. Everything, from character design, to environmental effects seems to be lacking a certain definition, an individuality, which, upsettingly seems to stop the game from being a true classic. If the character and sound design were that little bit better, the plot could have been that much more emotional and real, however, as it stands, in some of the more dramatic moments, you’re left not really being bothered who’s being attacked/kidnapped/killed.

    After a slow beginning, Enchanted Arms really pulls through and proves that Japanese RPGs can work on the 360, and that they will be warmly received by foreign markets. Driven by an incredibly complex, strategic and addictive battling system, the only thing stopping Enchanted Arms from being a runaway success is the design of the main characters, which unfortunately, is sorely lacking.

    Score: 8/10

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