This week, we’re doing something special: we’re covering three different Playstation games which were all packaged together in 2002 as “Arc the Lad Collection.” This article discusses Arc the Lad 1, originally released in 1995.
For anyone who wasn’t aware, Arc the Lad 1 is one of the bestselling SRPGs in all of history… which is all the more impressive considering it pulled this off back in 1995. It sold over 700,000 copies in that year alone. While still being confined to Japan. In a decade when SRPGs hadn’t yet taken off. AND it was developed by the lesser-known G-Craft, whose only other credit was Front Mission. Crazy, huh? Arc the Lad 1 is a game which truly defied its humble origins. Just like the titular character, Arc. In case you didn’t already know, he’s a lad.
…Y’know, I’ll never get over that title. Think of all the other honorifics that Arc could’ve been bestowed. Arc the adventurer. Arc the hero. Arc the conqueror. Nah, instead – he’s Arc the lad. It’s weirdly insulting and cute at the same time. Imagine if this logic were applied to other game titles as well. Instead of Alisia Dragoon, she’s “Alisia the Lass.” Instead of MegaMan, it’s “MegaLad.” Instead of King’s Bounty: The Legend, it’s “King’s Bounty: The Lad.”
Sorry, I’ll get back on track. Arc the Lad 1 mostly chronicles Arc’s exploits as an enterprising adventurer. His father vanished ten years ago. And now, given that there’s a great evil consuming the world, Arc sets out to help save the world and find his father. It’s a fairly generic story, and while it’s decent, it’s nothing too impressive. You’ll spend most of your time traveling through various towns, helping solve various problems. Again, nothing special, although the graphics are very pretty and help kept me engaged.
The battle system is noteworthy for being the closest thing to Shining Force that isn’t named “Shining Force.” Controls feel very similar, you have the same “blinking” tiles that SF does, and turn order is handled through units’ agility stats. The main difference is that here, characters can’t move through each other. Instead, you have the ability to jump over other characters. This adds a neat extra dimension that Shining Force did not have. Another thing is that directional facing now matters; characters deal more damage if attacking from the unit’s flank. Come to think of it, Arc the Lad 1 may have been the first SRPG to factor in directional facing. It came out a few months before Tactics Ogre, which was otherwise the first SRPG that I know factored in directional facing.
However, unlike in Shining Force, there are no terrain bonuses. As another negative, the max party size in Arc the Lad 1 is only 7 units. Overall, this means that the Shining Force games are definitely a lot more strategically complex.
Still, this isn’t to say that Arc the Lad is a bad game. I believe it’s decent. It does have notable flaws, like the presence of weird difficulty spikes at various points in the game, or how Arc himself seems to completely overshadow everyone else in your team. There aren’t any memorable battles in the game that truly test your ability to strategize. Arc the Lad 1 is a good game, but it didn’t need to be a SRPG. It could’ve worked just as well, if not better, as a regular JRPG.
Even as a regular JRPG though, Arc the Lad 1 has problems. Its story is not only generic, but it has a couple of asspull moments. Like at the beginning: Kukuru extinguishes the “Flame of Cion” so that she’s not forced into marriage… all the while, I’m just scratching my head, thinking “why couldn’t she just run away from her village?” Later on in the story, she falls in love with Arc for no reason. The wider plot of Arc the Lad 1 touches on some environmentalist themes, but doesn’t ever drive them home. Nothing in the story ever borders on being profound or enthralling; the whole experience feels like it’s just a teaser for something bigger.
The final battle ends with a cliffhanger. It took me around 6 hours to beat the game, and once I finished, I was left slightly unsatisfied. If I were a Japanese kid in 1995, I would’ve desperately wanted more!
Arc the Lad 1 works better if you think of it as being an extended prologue to Arc the Lad 2. It’s a good recommendation for Shining Force fans. It’s a decent game. But the best thing about it is how it sets the stage for Arc the Lad 2. Once you’ve finished the game, you can go around and complete the Sealed Ruins – the game’s 50-floor dungeon – and then go through 1000 battles in the arena because… well, because I guess G-Craft inexplicably thought that would be a fun way to pass time. Character data does carry over to Arc the Lad 2, so I guess if you were a Japanese kid in 1995, then this is how you would’ve passed the time while waiting for Arc the Lad 2 to come out. This way, you’d have a fully pimped-out party for when the sequel finally arrived.
Who are we kidding though: grinding out 1000 battles in the arena isn’t fun. You don’t do this shit ‘cause you like it; you do it ‘cause you’ve got nothing better to do. But if you’re like me, and are playing Arc the Lad Collection, then you probably skipped straight ahead to Arc the Lad 2.
So with that, let’s end this article. We’ll cover Arc the Lad 2 in another post.