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CONSOLE: PlayStation DEVELOPER: Arc Entertainment PUBLISHER: Sony
RELEASE DATE (JP): November 1, 1996 GENRE: Tactical RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Hark! A lad... too.

The first Arc the Lad game was a moderately enjoyable, if not surprisingly short, strategy RPG, coupled with a battle system speedy enough not to give you enough time to prepare a six-course dinner while the enemies complete their turns on the battlefield. It served as a solid introduction, if nothing else, to the grander story of the series; its ending was open-ended, leading directly into the sequel, Arc the Lad II, which is a far superior product overall.

Arc the Lad II indeed picks up right where the previous game left off, but our hero Arc (a lad) is NOT the main focus of this game. He is indeed present, continuing his pursuit of evil, but instead the primary protagonist is Elc, a Hunter who has lost most of the horrific memories of his childhood, including the destruction of his village and his escape from the grips of a laboratory entasked with transforming human children into hideous beasts. Yet, the nightmares of these events continue to haunt him in his dreams. Things take an interesting turn when he meets and rescues Lieza, a young woman also wanted by the laboratory for her abilities to communicate with fauna. Softened by her story, Elc becomes determined to figure out his past and prevent this from happening to any future beings.

Along the way, Elc will cross paths with Arc, whom he (and many others) believe to be a criminal. Arc is playable from time to time, eventually combining his powers (and those of his traveling party from Arc the Lad) with Elc's comraderie, creating...the ULTIMATE FIGHTING FORCE!! One great feature is the ability to convert saved data from Arc the Lad into Arc the Lad II, whereby any progress you made with Arc & Co. in the first game is transferred over to the second, giving Arc that extra edge. This also affects the game in other, more subtle ways, including additional unlocked sidequests and hidden items. The game also offers views of each character in Elc's party's experiences separate from one another, similar in fashion to how Final Fantasy VI divided its time between individuals. Arc the Lad II can therefore be noted for its greater emphasis on character development.

Like Arc the Lad before it, there is a grand focus on not only story but on its strategy-RPG battle system. You can select a group of characters from your party (for a long while, you'll want to be deploying everyone you have, making this step initially a bit of a chore), up to five total at any given time, and then you're thrust into a turn-based battle against a bunch of foes, typically monsters, though occasionally humans will want to have a slice at your throat. As each character's turn comes up, they will be able to move around, attack an enemy, use an item, or cast a magic spell. Being behind or beside an enemy, rather than directly in front, has benefits, as they are less likely to block your attack. Every battle is scripted and planted in specific rooms or areas; random encounters aren't a thing here to be concerned about. If you feel weak, you can do some grinding in fields on the map. Spending some time battling it out repeatedly can be beneficial; the more you brawl (and the more damage you take), the stronger you become over time, with stat improvements seen immediately, even in the heat of battle. The battle system works rather well and is fast-paced enough to keep you constantly on your toes.

Hark, there, Arc! The 'shots are dark!

And make no mistake: Arc the Lad may have been a relative cakewalk, but Arc the Lad II cranks up the difficulty a notch. Healing spells are going to fly like scatterbrained pigeons in Central Park. Difficulty spikes are frequent and often unnerving, so even though grinding and leveling up does help, don't expect to ever really get ahead. Thank goodness there are areas seemingly designed for that purpose alone.

Arc the Lad II differs from its predecessor by introducing actual towns to explore, complete with pubs, inns, and item shops to drop a few coin on the latest fashionable herbs and daggers and such, all things that the first game sorely lacked. Pubs are always nice to visit, not so much for getting an ale or two, but more for listening to the drunken ramblings of local townsfolk. It's not always a useful trip, but it gives some character to the cities and denotes the feelings of the locals about the overarching corruption that enslaves their world. Arc the Lad II also introduces a Hunter's Guild. Despite Elc being the Hunter, you can visit the guild and accept jobs as pretty much anyone. They obviously don't check your license every time... There, you can snap up jobs to help the locals, and in turn, not only get yourself some extra pocket cash but also unlock additional locations in the game. Wanted posters in the Guild can lead you to apprehend some criminals and earn some valuable items in the process as well.

Colour is far more noted in this sequel, as there are far greater splashes of it around. Though there are still dank, uninviting spaces to visit, some are contrastingly vibrant. Plus, you can still find solace in your detailed sprites, which now are more appealing to the eye. Furthermore, actual maps with topographical details are now included as well, making even just getting from one place to another a more enjoyable experience. Meanwhile, the music is a swift blend of smooth jazz, new age cheese, dark grooves, and typical RPG fanfare. All in all, it's a soundtrack that's a bit all over the place but still works pretty well. I'm also grateful that Working Designs' translation, which impressively includes terminology such as "can of whup ass" and "poo in my pantaloons", is a rather enjoyable read, rife with minimal errors.

Where Arc the Lad faltered, Arc the Lad II picks up the slack and delivers a much faster, harder, better, stronger game overall. The fact that you can change equipment, that there are actual towns to visit, that enemies aren't quite the pushovers they once were, that the storyline is coated with gloom and caliginosity... it all adds up to proof that Arc the Lad II lives up to its predecessor then kicks it to the ground and stands over the corpse in triumph. For fans of strategy-RPGs, this one isn't to be missed. Tracking down a copy might be a greater challenge, but it's available, along with its other brethren of the trilogy, on PSN for a pittance. Time to go Elc hunting, eh?

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