Twin Otter Studios and publisher Serenity Forge know how to turn heads, as Arcadian Atlas did just that when it landed in my mailbox earlier year. In recent years, strategy RPGs have seen several momentous entries hit shelves and fill the bellies of those who’ve craved something like Final Fantasy Tactics and its kin. With Tactics Ogre and Fire Emblem back and better than ever, the tactical genre has a wealth of titles to pick up and play. However, newcomers like Arcadian Atlas fit in naturally, and it’ll pull you into a nostalgic trip into the past.
It was hard not feeling like I was transported to the past once I sat down to play Arcadian Atlas, it’s got that incredible 16-bit visual style that I have a weakness for, and it pulls inspiration from all the suitable sources. Set in the world of Arcadia, a kingdom on the verge of tearing itself apart with dark forces about to awaken, you’ll engage and face off against factions and alliances. An ancient evil is about to awaken, and it’ll be up to your party to battle across the continent to stop the impending danger to the world.
Love Is War In Arcadian Atlas
You play Vashti Dahlman and Desmond Rhines, a pair over their heads dealing with a political war. With the Queen accused of poisoning the King, his daughters accuse their stepmother of the crime before departing to form a rebellion against the crown. And for the most part, the story works but never shifts outside its box to surprise the player with revelations. I enjoyed Arcadian Atlas’ presence, but some dialogue choices feel bizarre.
The gameplay is a highlight, and while I’ve mentioned other games, it resembles and feels like its own thing entirely. An isometric RPG is like soul food, and while the mechanics might not be for everyone, I find myself revelling in it despite feeling a bit basic. You begin by deploying troops across several allocated spaces, and usually, you’ll have five units to focus on. From there, you’re free to move about and engage enemies, sometimes having to worry about the terrain, unit types, and so on. I would also advise you to save before beginning any battle as there is no way to auto-save, so being cautious is best practice.
Each battle is manageable and feels contained compared to its contemporaries, and I enjoyed the pacing. In other games, battles could go on for ages, taking dozens of turns before the battle closes. In the case of Arcadian Atlas, this isn’t what you’ll worry about, and instead, finding the right position to strike provides a few boosts to your attacks. First, you’ll focus on placing units around the battlefield, planning your battle before beginning. You’ll also see the turn order on the screen’s bottom.
There are also four difficulty levels to choose from, ranging from story mode to a more challenging mode and can be adjusted on the fly. I didn’t face any difficulty curves, and with some consideration of the tasks ahead, I achieved a satisfactory outcome. If your purse has the coin, additional units can be hired in town, and these units can essentially serve as expendable pieces. If you lose them in battle, more become available. Any of your main characters do not share the same fate in battle, so while you shouldn’t worry about losing them, the stipulations around this feel a bit restricted. Additionally, there is no traditional experience gained here; instead, your characters all level up at the end of a battle with more chances to level up from sidequests.
You can revive a character within three turns, and this is a standard mechanic many games in the genre use. However, where Arcadian Atlas falters is in implementation – only one class can revive characters and only once per skirmish. This leaves you to recruit expendable party members more often or use your main characters who have powerful skills but can die in battle, leading to a game over. There’s a frustrating trade-off you need to consider.
There are over 12 custom classes to build your ideal party but to get there; you’ll have to start with the basics. You’ll have four core classes and then expand into more advanced classes. The core classes include the Cavalier, like a Squire in other games, a Ranger, who is like an Archer, an Apothecary, who is the Chemist; and Warmancer, a hybrid version of a Geomancer. As you gain experience, the core classes are promoted to advanced classes; think of how the Squire becomes a knight or a Chemist becomes a Black Mage. To differentiate itself from other games, each of the 12 classes includes skill trees to allow you to focus on specialized units. You can have two of the same jobs, like a Ronin, who vary in what they specifically offer in battle.
I found it easier and more consistent to pick one skill tree and see it through to the end. The main reason I decided to do this is until you max out one skill tree, you don’t get the full power of the skills you’re using, and that’s something I found to be the better trade-off than jumping between the various skill trees.
As with most games where stats and skills are available, you’ll need to equip your units with new gear and weapons periodically manually. You’ll also need to set skills as they become available through the various menus, and that may take some time, depending on the class and character, so that they mesh with your existing party. This becomes more prevalent in later stages, and it’s fun when you have a stacked roster capable of doing some heavy damage.
I had a good time with Arcadian Atlas; despite some of its issues, there’s a solid RPG that fans of the genre will enjoy. While it doesn’t do anything particularly new, what it does do, it does so without being offensive. It’s clear that when Arcadian Atlas shines, it’s undoubtedly fun, but some moments leave you clenching your teeth in frustration.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Arcadian Atlas is an inoffensive SRPG that has some fun mechanics, giving a pared-down iteration of its contemporaries.