When I was asked to review Arcadian Atlas, the first thing that came to mind was “Wow, this looks like Final Fantasy Tactics.” Anyone who’s ever discussed RPGs with me know that Final Fantasy Tactics is my favorite game in the series and what I consider to be one of the greatest games ever created. The characters, story, class system, underlying themes, and hidden secrets come together to create a masterpiece that still holds up today. Unfortunately, Arcadian Atlas does not live up to being a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics.
The biggest problem with Arcadian Atlas is that it tries so hard to be another game that it doesn’t do enough distinct things to stand on its own. Furthermore, everything that it does is just a worse version of something else. That isn’t to say that the game is objectively terrible, but it is definitely mediocre and with so many great games out there, mediocre isn’t enough.
For those of you who might be unaware of Final Fantasy Tactics, it’s a turn-based strategy game developed back in 1997 by Square Enix with blocky terrain features and hand-drawn character portraits. It throws a profound cast of characters into a war-torn country that is eventually plagued by a world-ending plot caused by magic crystals.
It features a deep, customizable class system, lots of hidden dungeons and characters, and is essentially an allegory about religion having unchecked power. The game’s biggest fault is that it was only released on 2 major platforms, PlayStation and PlayStation Portable, and recently received a mobile port, which is probably not the best way to experience it.
Now, back to the review at hand… Arcadian Atlas features similar low polygon, blocky terrain features and characters with “art nouveau-style character portraits.” The story is initially split between two sides of a civil war, which eventually devolves into an end-of-the-world plot featuring magical cards. Initially, there are four classes, which can be promoted into a total of 12 unique classes with multiple skill trees that have access to a variety of different equipment.
On the surface, nearly everything about the two games is similar, but despite being developed more than 25 years later, Arcadian Atlas has less features with a much shallower story and cast of characters. For starters, the class system is much more linear. You cannot mix and match classes, with the exception of having access to pre-promotion skills, or equipment. While each class has multiple skill trees, you’ll almost always want to specialize in a single tree until it’s complete or your abilities will feel underpowered. Equipment and money comes readily and easily; there are never any hard choices because you’ll be flooded with currency and equipment often comes in linear upgrades.
The class limitations could be overlooked if the combat made up for it, but unfortunately it doesn’t. In fact, the combat is one of the worst things about the game; it’s clunky and shallow, which are two of the worst flaws that a strategy game can have.
Battlefields in Arcadian Atlas appear to be completely 2D with little to no regard for the vertical axis or terrain features. I mention this because there are multiple battlegrounds where terrain actually blocks sight to battle tiles and there’s no way to rotate the world, which makes it way too difficult to get to certain areas or target enemies on them.
Trying to play with a mouse & keyboard is absolutely abysmal as clicks often don’t register or register on the wrong tile. I guarantee you’ll end up attacking your own characters more than once. Furthermore, if you’re adjacent to an enemy it’s always possible to attack them even if they’re multiple stories above you and should be impossible to hit. Chance to hit doesn’t seem to matter apart from the default bonus to back or side attacks, and friendly characters cannot get in the way of arrows or spells, even if they should be blocking line of sight.
Finally, most of the battles are just straight up boring. Nearly every fight is either ‘eliminate all enemies’ or ‘flee from battle.’ There are no combat tricks such as hitting levers or explosives, or enemy reinforcements coming in and completely changing the battle setup. The most complex field effect I experienced was a poisonous swamp.
There’s also the issue of how you fail a mission. If one of your unique characters dies in battle, you lose. Similar to other tactics games, this requires them being knocked down and then not revived for 3 turns. Normally, I wouldn’t complain about this feature because it’s pretty standard, but only your apothecary can revive someone and only once per battle. So if two of your heroes get knocked down early, you’re probably going to lose the battle even if you should be able to defeat all your enemies eventually.
I personally don’t mind the retro inspired art style, but the music and attack animations leave much to be desired. The “jazz-infused soundtrack” is so basic and repetitive that I hope never to hear it again while pretty much all the attacks feel like stock animations I’ve seen a thousand times, and voice acting is completely absent.
Finally, the story is not good enough to hold the rest of the game together. It very much feels like a watered-down version of Final Fantasy Tactics at every turn. There are a lot of holes in the plot and despite trying its very best to make you care about what’s happening, the characters are so underdeveloped that it’s easy to be apathetic to their cause.
If you’re looking for a good strategy game that you can play on modern platforms, I’d still give Arcadian Atlas a pass. Go play Triangle Strategy or any of the Fire Emblem games first. Even Final Fantasy Tactics on your phone is going to be a better experience.
Full Disclosure: A copy of the game was provided by PR for the purposes of this review. Reviewed on PC.