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 3, originally released in 1999.
Originally, Arc the Lad was intended to just be two games comprising one unified story: Arc the Lad 1 and Arc the Lad 2. Owing to overwhelming fan demand however, Arc Entertainment came out with Arc the Lad 3. Notably, Arc the Lad 3 made the jump from 2D to 3D, including 3D characters… not that this is very impressive by modern standards, but this was that weird “transitional” time in gaming where everyone was trying to make the leap to 3D with varied results. Arc 3 certainly shows its age, but I’d still say the graphics look fine by modern standards. It’s certainly a step up from Mystaria Saga!
Arc the Lad 3 is the only Arc game that takes up two discs. Also, like Arc 2, it allows players to carry over save data from previous games. I’m not sure what effect this actually has, though; while a handful of characters from previous games do temporarily join your party in Arc 3, none of them retain their levels from Arc 2. Arc 3 is such an easy game too, that you could probably beat it handily even without any transfer bonuses.
It’s always a herculean task to make a follow-up to a masterpiece, so I’m sympathetic to Arc Entertainment here. Going into Arc 3, I wasn’t expecting something as good as Arc 2, but I did want something more lighthearted. For the most part, the game does deliver. The game’s story and atmosphere revolve around the theme of rebuilding after a disaster, of rising from the ashes. Throughout the game’s first half, there’s no main antagonist or epic conflict; instead, the narrative focuses on your main character, Alec the Lad, and his best friend Lutz. Their goal is to become hunters so that they can take on jobs and help people. To this end, they go on a journey throughout the lands. It plays out like a buddy comedy.
Arguably, that the game focuses so much on sidequests is simultaneously the best and worst thing about its design. On the positive side, doing all these various sidequests gives you a great feel for the lives of ordinary citizens; it fleshes out the world in greater detail while also providing countless laugh-out-loud moments, mostly courtesy of Lutz’s stupid shenanigans. On the negative side, the focus on sidequests makes the game feel disjointed at times; it’s as if the game is a sandbox where there’s no real story to hold things together.
And here’s where I’ll mention the first of the game’s big problems: an underdeveloped main story. It’s poorly paced and doesn’t really begin in earnest until you’ve gotten to the second disc. Even once it does, the main antagonists are out-of-focus; compare this to Gallarno, who persistently and doggedly screws you over throughout the entire earlygame of Arc 2. Or Andel, who’s constantly hounding you in Arc 1. I liked what the main story of Arc 3 was trying to do, especially with its message regarding the limits of science, but the main antagonist is given no backstory and very little personality. As a result, the main story had potential, but sort of falls flat. Instead, you’ll probably derive more enjoyment from the whimsical atmosphere of the game which comes out in its sidequests.
Unfortunately, the ubiquity of sidequests feeds into my biggest complaint with Arc 3: namely, that there’s waaaaaaay too much dialogue and nowhere near enough gameplay. Your average sidequest will involve 15 minutes of characters talking… and then a pathetically easy 30 second battle. While most of the dialogue is well-written and charming, I really wanted more battles. I don’t play video games just so I can read text boxes; I play them because I want to play them. As a rough estimate, I’d say that actual combat will comprise around 10% of your playtime.
Furthermore, when it comes to combat, things are watered down from Arc 2. Surely, you have QoL changes like being able to cast spells on empty tiles, or being able to cast cure outside of battle. But this makes little difference when our max party size is now FOUR and difficulty is vastly toned down. It’s like the devs realized that the difficulty spikes in Arc 2 could be annoying at times, so they overcompensated here by making the game way too easy. To give you a good picture of the poor difficulty curve in this game: there are level 23 monsters in the final dungeon, where everyone in your party will be >level 50.
Dungeons in Arc 3 aren’t anywhere nearly as involved as in Arc 2. Arc 2 gave you sliding block puzzles, real-time laser segments, dungeons where your party splits up, and all sorts of other cool goodies. Arc 3 gives you bland, unimaginative dungeons where there’ll be almost no encounters at all. The first dungeon in disc 2 has a grand total of TWO battles.
Because of these rather glaring issues – badly-designed difficulty, badly-designed dungeons, an underdeveloped main story characterized by poor pacing, and too much dialogue – Arc the Lad 3 is a much worse-designed game than Arc the Lad 2.
Still, this isn’t to say that it’s a bad game. I know that there are people who love open-ended RPGs. People who enjoy taking detours. People who enjoy being completionists. Those people will love the focus on sidequests and the sheer amount of content there is in the game: 102 jobs total and 70-something bounties. Personally, I got through 60-something jobs and 40-something bounties. I’m not a hardcore completionist; I tend to focus on the main story, and only go out of my way to do sidequests and optional content if the game’s core systems impress me sufficiently, which Arc 3’s failed to do.
Additionally, there are some new features here. There’s a Pokemon-like system of “Cardishing” enemies, wherein you can collect them and trade certain enemy cards with NPCs. There’s also the new ability to synthesize items, although I don’t like how trial-and-error it is. The cool thing is you can name certain items that you create. This can result in amusing situations where Alec and Lutz become degenerates who wear “Very Dirty Panties,” among other things.
It also bears repeating that the game’s whimsical atmosphere is done fairly well. This is the sort of thing that’s probably needed after the heavy-hitting, emotionally-exhausting Arc 2. Arc 2 was heartbreaking; Arc 3 is heartwarming. It’s nice that the series has this diversity in moods.
Even if Arc 3 is my least favorite of the bunch, I still say it’s worth playing. If you play one Arc the Lad game, you may as well play them all – especially if you have Arc the Lad Collection. This was overall a fun series of games that I’d recommend to any Shining Force fan or any JRPG fan. I’m not sure I’d recommend the series to fans of hardcore strategy, given that it leans heavily towards the “RPG” end of the “Strategy-RPG” spectrum. If we’re talking about the series’ merits strictly as a JRPG series though, it’s a truly excellent collection of games.
I’ll eventually get around to covering Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits, and perhaps the Wonderswan Arc the Lad too if that one ever gets an English fan translation. For now though, I’m going to change things up and keep things fresh by playing some other games.
Developers: Arc Entertainment