by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
I might have mentioned this before, but I’m not very good at turn-based strategy games. I take too many risks and get my units caught in some pretty bad predicaments. All in all, I absolutely love the genre for making me learn from my mistakes, only to throw new elements into play to cause me to make them all over again. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark, developed by 6 Eyes Studio and published by 1C Company, is a turn based strategy game that reminds me very strongly of classic Playstation era games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Vandal Hearts. Promising a mature storyline and challenging battles, can the game stand up to the fore-bearers that I remember fondly?
Starting the game, the first thing that struck me was the art style. Everything is so detailed! As the camera pans down to two of the main characters (Kyrie and Anadine), you see just how much care was put into the spritework of the game. Windows glow with light in the evening setting, water glistens in the street, and crow-like creatures perch wherever there’s purchase to do so. Meanwhile the character models are bright and detailed and stand out against their surroundings in good ways.
After a brief exposition, you’re immediately thrown into a tutorial battle against a noble and his bodyguard. It’s a relatively simple encounter designed to teach you how to move and attack and use abilities. That’s not to say it’s completely easy, however; enemies can single out one of your deployed units if they choose and it becomes a struggle to keep them alive versus dealing damage to the opponents (hint: use the healer!). Post battle, and some story later, you’re off to deliver a man to the justice of your organization: the Arbiters. Of course, there are some problems with that, but to reveal more would spoil a good portion of the game.
Once you’ve reached the world map, you can go right back to town to the Arbiter’s guild to play around with the game’s character creation. Let me tell you, this is far more robust than I’d experienced in similar games, that’s for sure. Whereas most SRPGs of this nature allow the basics such as gender and class to pump out a generic unit, Fell Seal lets you customize each individual unit to your liking. You’ll have the option of skin tone, eye color, hairstyles, outfit choices, and more. It was quite a nice change of pace to me, especially making a rogue-style character dressed in full, noble-looking attire. While still limited compared to some games out there, this definitely goes above and beyond what is necessary in a strategy RPG.
Trust me, too, you’ll want these additional units, because the game doesn’t mess around when it comes to difficulty, at least early on. The second battle you fight has your six units facing off against superior numbers. Not only that, you’re introduced to another mechanic that’s not often utilized: map triggers. In this case, the enemy has reinforcements hiding in a cellar, ready to burst forth after a few turns to really put the hurt against your group. The crafty player will have a unit stand on the doors to prevent that, but in doing so you risk said unit being surrounded by enemies. These tactical decisions can severely affect battles, so it’s nice to see a level of thinking beyond, “Move slowly, crush enemies.”
As you complete battles, you’re rewarded with ability points. You gain these points in the main class each character is, but you’ll also receive some additional points from other classes that participated in battle with you. Don’t worry, you’re not locked into any class, and can change as you see fit. In fact, as you gain levels in each class, advanced classes will become available, further broadening your options. This has been a staple of the genre for a while, and I’m glad it was included here — it would feel missing otherwise. One thing I do need to note is that while it seems ability trees are branching, they’re not. You can freely learn both abilities on each route. Being forced to choose one or another might make for some interesting gameplay options, though. Unlike other games in the genre, there are also classes specifically locked to created characters versus story ones, so it’s worth it to field a variety of classes.
Also in town, browse the shops for weapons and armor. Each piece of equipment has its own attack and defense values, and some offer resistances to elements. Not sure what class can equip what item? There’s a handy chart on the bottom that shows you (complete with question marks if you haven’t unlocked that class yet; no spoilers here!). Keep in mind, some classes can equip multiple types of weapons, so if you’re suffering from a lack of ranged attacks, you might want to see if you can equip one to your party. There’s also a try-and-buy function available, which will compare your equipment to what you’re trying to purchase, making it much easier to make a decision on what will work best with each character.
There’s also a crafting system to the game, which I found unique in many ways. By collecting components, you can upgrade your usable items such as potions to grow stronger or have more uses in combat (or both!), and you can craft equipment pieces that seem to be stronger than what you can purchase at the time. This is where I found the scoundrel class really useful, as they can steal said components from enemies, giving you more and more materials as the game goes on. While I feel it’s rudimentary at best, it’s still a nice addition to have to the turn-based strategy genre.
Like I mentioned before: I’m not the greatest at these types of games despite my love for them. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a loving homage to the heyday of the genre with some modern cuts that really make it stand out. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the game grows and develops going forward from early access. From what I’ve seen and played thus far, they’re going to gather a lot of interest from fans just like me, and that’s great news.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.