By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
Well, what can I say? If you played and enjoyed Final Fantasy Tactics, or Tactics Ogre, or any other grid based 2.5 turn based fantasy game, then you’re liable to enjoy Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark (Fell Seal henceforth). It’s definitely got all the inspiration from those classic titles that you could want, plus a nice pile of newer features and updated graphics that make it feel like a modern game, and not a desperate clinging to past glories.
Ooooh, when did Anadine learn the Burn skill?
The story of Fell Seal revolves around an arbiter named Kyrie and her friends. Arbiters in the game’s world, Teora, are entities who serve the council of immortals as dispensers of justice. They are judge, jury, and executioner, if need be. Which leads to a couple of head-scratches with the story overall that feel a bit lacking. There’s also some dialogue that doesn’t seem to fit in one place, but that’s just my personal view. That being said, I do feel that the story is engrossing, and a compelling reason to play. It definitely drives the game, and that’s the important thing.
Fell Seal’s gameplay is no joke. It’s a very challenging game, and at times I have to grumble a bit at the reasons why it proved challenging. It seems like almost every story battle you begin downhill from the opponent, in an extreme way, which automatically puts you at a tactical disadvantage. Your path is also often barred by gaps, water, or other obstacles, while the opponents have plenty of space to maneuver and set up the field.
One of many examples of story missions where your greatest challenge is difficult/annoying terrain.
My recommendation in coping with the difficulty is, frankly, to make your first playthrough on beginner. Even if you’ve played the Final Fantasy Tactics games, Fell Seal has a number of systems, weapons, character classes, secrets, and a variety of other things to discover that are going to make you want to just have a nice story based run through your first go, then you can focus on the minutiae after.
One part of gameplay that I really do appreciate is the multitude and diversity of classes available. As you progress through the game, some classes are obtained by unlocking skills in a certain class’ skill tree. For example, to unlock Knight, you have to learn a certain number of skills from the Mercenary class. Other classes might require you to reach a certain point in the story. These classes are generally character specific, and it would be spoilery for me to tell you anything about them, but when you do get them they’re pretty exciting. Finally, you can unlock classes by crafting badges. This includes some of the most powerful and interesting classes in the game, so definitely keep your eyes out!
A little preview of how the class ring works. Again, players of Final Fantasy Tactics may find themselves on familiar ground here.
The crafting system is another great feature that I don’t personally remember from any of the previous tactics games. There are a variety of ways to procure ingredients: direct drops from defeating monsters, certain special nodes in adventure maps (these are reset each time you do a mission or patrol on that map, so they can be ‘farmed’), and some special or more rare ingredients can be obtained by certain class skills, such as the Scoundrel’s “steal component” ability, or the Ranger’s “collect pelt”. Crafting lets you do a number of things, from the class badges I mentioned, to upgrading or creating new items for use during battle.
I also really enjoyed how item usage worked in Fell Seal. You never actually have to spend money on your items. You have a set number of things you bring with you into battle each map. If you use them, they are simply replenished at the start of the next battle. Some items can only be used after first crafting them, and some can be upgraded to have better effects, or more uses. Thieves can also steal items from the opponent’s team, if they have any (typically humanoids are more likely to have items than monsters or animals), and then your team can use these items. Finally, there’s a couple classes that specialize in item use: the Peddler can use items to greater effect, as a passive skill, while the Gadgeteer gains the ability to use special gadgets that only they are able to use.
The skill system is also great, and is more closely remnant of Final Fantasy Tactics, in that you can equip a secondary skill in addition to the skill of the class you’re active in. So, if you’re inclined, you can have a wizard/mender, a knight/scoundrel, or any other combination. And there are a LOT of classes. Each class also has in their tree two passive and at least one counter skill. As you unlock them, the passives will be automatically equipped as long as you are playing as that class. Additionally, you can equip two passives and one counter from any class at all, provided you’ve learned it.
Learning skills is done using an AP (ability point) system. AP are rewarded after every battle, and every character receives a lesser slice of AP from every class that participated in the battle, even if they have not yet unlocked that class (though they must unlock it to spend them). Additionally, even units that do not participate in the battle receive a small chunk of AP, so even if your unit is injured, they can still grow.
Injuries happen to all but the main character if they’re “knocked out” in the battle. People only really die if the entire party is wiped out. If a character is injured they will have reduced stats for the next battle. Injuries are also cumulative, and if you revive a unit during battle and they’re knocked down again, they can accrue more than one in a single go. Just something to watch out for.
The ashes of a phoenix can bring a character back into a fight, but be careful they’re not in immediate danger when doing so!
Aside from the “all battles uphill” thing I mentioned earlier, my next biggest peeve is that you can’t actually save a match during battle. The head dev over at 6 Eyes Studio, the folks who created Fell Seal, has said that they want to implement this feature, but that it’s more complicated than saving on the map, and that hopefully it’ll be added in a post launch patch. Unfortunately, there’s a high risk of corrupted save files if the save state code isn’t up to snuff, so they want to make sure they get it right before it goes in. Commendable, yes, but still a minor frustration.
I also kind of wish you could change the outfits of the story characters. It’s not a major deal, it’s just that there are so many great customization options for non-story characters, that I want to be able to customize them all! You can default to having the non-story units wear clothing that fits their jobs, if you so desire. On the other hand, I tend more towards trying to make their outfits match their portraits, and their portraits match what I have in mind for them in regards to classes and role. That being said, the art in the game is all amazing, in its originality and style.
If you’re happy and you know it, cast Fire II!!
And, really, that’s something that Fell Seal has going for it in spades: originality and style. It’s an entirely original and well designed world, with a criminal justice system behind the story, and a good bit of lore. Even the spell animations aren’t always just a clone of other games. The water II skill, for example, creates blades of water that then slice through your enemies. Fire II is two clapping flaming hands. I really appreciate these special touches that the folks over at 6 Eyes put into the game, and I really can’t wait to finish my beginner play through, so I can go back to the start and try the next difficulty up.
I give Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark 4 out of 5 council votes in the affirmative.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.