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 2, originally released in 1996.
Alright, Arc the Lad fans. This is what you were waiting for, wasn’t it? This is why you’re here. Arc the Lad 1 was good, but was nothing special. It was like the striptease preceding the full-frontal assault which was the masterful Arc the Lad 2! …And now you probably have a lewd image of Arc in your mind. I apologize.
Unless there’s some secret SRPG of which I’m not aware that also let you do this, Arc the Lad 2 was the first SRPG to allow players to carry over their save data from the previous installment. Pretty awesome stuff. While I personally don’t have the time to grind my characters these days, I can appreciate Arc 2 for rewarding players that did grind during Arc 1. Throughout the story of Arc 2, characters from Arc 1 will gradually join you… and it’s just awesome to see the continuity.
Another thing I should note before talking about Arc 2 is that there’s another game, Arc: Monster Arena that connects with Arc 2. Originally, this was released as a sidegame titled “Arc: Monster Game with Casino Game.” The casino portion got left out and instead, Working Designs only translated Monster Tournament for Arc the Lad Collection. Here’s how Monster Tournament works. Throughout Arc 2, you can capture monsters with Lieza. You can use these monsters in Monster Arena. The biggest reason for doing this is to earn extra items, which you can then transfer to Arc 2. Personally, I didn’t do this at all, but the option is there for anyone interested.
Story-wise, Arc the Lad 2 follows the exploits of a young lad named Elc. Thus, I affectionately refer to Arc 2 as “Elc the Lad.” Elc has a lot of issues to deal with. He harbors a grudge against Arc because he believes Arc to responsible for his hometown’s destruction. He’s also got some childhood baggage, given that he was kidnapped and scrubbed of his memories as a kid. A big part of the earlygame is in resolving his emotional turmoil and, of course, joining up with Arc eventually. Yeah, yeah – I know that Arc and Elc teaming up is a spoiler, but come on. You knew it was gonna happen, didn’t you? I won’t spoil how it happens though. THAT would be an actual spoiler.
Elc’s character is exceptionally well-written. Alongside Elc though, you also get a fantastic lineup of characters who all get their moments in the sun. Lieza is a sweet monster-tamer whom Elc meets very early. Sania is a vengeful girl whose life was ruined by the Romalian Empire (the big bads). Shante is your femme fatale who seeks out her lost brother. Gruga is a gentle giant who fights in arenas so that his blind foster daughter can live a better life. Shu is probably the least developed character, but he has some good moments.
One segment of the early game is when everyone goes on separate journeys; for instance, Lieza will head off and then team up with Gogen from Arc the Lad 1. Meanwhile, Shu will team up with Tosh, also from Arc the Lad 1. Arc the Lad 2 devotes enough time so that everyone eventually gets resolution to their individual stories. The result is a rich tapestry of interrelated struggles, all woven together to comprise a greater whole. It’s similar to Final Fantasy 6 in this respect. Except here, there’s a curious influence from American cinema with music like this and places like these:
Eventually, everyone’s stories converge. This ends up concluding the first part of the game’s narrative. From there, the game opens up, becomes more nonlinear, and allows you to fly to any of the game’s nations, which number over a dozen. And let me tell you – there’s so much stuff to do in this game.
Every location from Arc 1 reappears. Several new ones are introduced. Every single one of them has sidequests to do, people to meet, places to see, and usually, dungeons to explore. You can also spend time hunting bounties – a nice, braindead activity to punctuate the emotionally heavy story. Bounties and “jobs” help you earn merits at the hunter’s guild. Jobs are this game’s sidequests. There are dozens of these to complete, if you so desire.
Unlike in Arc the Lad 1, you can now walk around on the overworld (see above picture). There’s a LOT more in the way of free-roaming exploration when compared to Arc the Lad 1. I found that this was a very good thing because the formula of Arc the Lad (as a series) lends itself much more effectively to open-world RPG exploration, as opposed to the more rigid SRPG way of doing things.
When it comes to the game’s strategic elements though, there’s still nothing special. I do think battles in this game are better done, even if you can only use 5 units instead of 7 like in Arc 1. There are some battles which couldn’t work within the framework of a traditional JRPG. This boss takes up 7 tiles, and you have to destroy the closer ones before you can attack his “head.” Unlike Arc 1, this game feels like it had a reason to be a SRPG:
I won’t pretend that Arc 2 features the best strategy of any game, but the battles are done effectively. Unlike in Arc 1, they add to the game instead of detracting from it. Certain battles in Arc 1 felt needlessly annoying and tedious; by contrast, everything in Arc 2 feels like it’s exactly as it should be. The only real problem I have with Arc 2 is that avoidability and accuracy are tied to your level. If you’re 20 levels below an enemy, then you’ll have a drastically higher chance of missing. This is annoying because the game often includes difficulty spikes where the levels of your enemies skyrocket. Fortunately, magic never misses, and the game gives you plenty of very powerful spellcasters, most notably among them being Fu-jin and Rai-jin.
Dungeons in Arc the Lad 2 are surprisingly good, although this is admittedly not the first thing that comes to mind when you think “SRPG.” Nevertheless, this does make for a more enjoyable overall experience. My personal favorite dungeon is this one that has real-time laser traps.
I have to talk more about the story though, because that’s the clear highlight of Arc 2. Arc 2 is chock full of great, memorable moments. These range from euphoric highs to tear-jerking lows; from dramatic moments of epic kickassery to somber, ruminative moments, and everything in between. One thing I HAVE to mention is that you can expect a badass moment whenever Arc makes his appearance. Here’s a guy who’s gone through hell, who continues to struggle against overwhelming odds, who’s lost everything he’s ever cared for, and still fights against a world that seems to hate him. Never once does he wallow in self-pity. He doubts himself sometimes, but nevertheless, he resolutely leads the cause that he believes in… even if it costs him everything.
Arc the Lad is low-key the greatest protagonist in any JRPG. You heard it here first, folks.
Of course, SRPG Academy has a policy of no major spoilers, so I absolutely will not spoil Arc 2’s ending here. All that I’ll say is that it’s one of the saddest, most heart-wrenching endings I’ve ever seen. The music makes it even more so.
Arc the Lad 2 is, in one word: a masterpiece. Although it’s not the most strategic game out there, and although the enemy level spikes can get a little irritating, these are minor flaws at worst. Maybe it didn’t have to be a SRPG, but it still works given the SRPG framework. Furthermore, evaluating it on its merits only as a SRPG is missing the point. Arc the Lad 2 is a JRPG which just so happens to be a SRPG. And as a JRPG, it’s one of the greats. The music, the CGI, the graphics, the characters, the pacing, the sidequests, and the ending – it all comes together to make for a superb experience. It connects the lore of Arc 1, it adroitly follows the stories of several different characters, and it narrates a compelling and epic conflict between good and evil. All while offering you hours upon hours of content, whether mandatory or optional. I beat the game in around 40 hours, but I’ve heard of completionists taking 80+ or 100+ hours to fully conquer the game.
This is a game which massively improved over its predecessor in every conceivable way. I can easily forgive Arc 1 for its missteps because, as I said in my article for that game, the best thing about Arc 1 is that it set things up for Arc 2 to truly soar.
Arc the Lad 2 is a game that you must play if you’re a JRPG fan.
Developers: Arc Entertainment