Everybody wants to be the next Final Fantasy Tactics. It’s been twenty plus years, and people are still aping the overall style and strategy of this classic game: classes, characters earning AP for various jobs, mixing and matching characters, and to top it all off: a grand, epic story that draws upon political epics. Anyone who dives into the Tactical RPG genre enough knows this (and I do: see Mercenaries among others).
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark feels like the biggest send up to FF Tactics I’ve ever played, and that’s very much a good thing.
The game follows the story of Kyrie, an Arbiter (essentially a sort of cop or other official of the law). She is very much one who believes in justice and equality in the best possible ways: the game opens with her arresting a noble who murders a man in cold blood and believes he’ll get away with it because he’s a noble. Kyrie is joined by her old friend, Renier (who is not played as her love interest), and Anadine, a more junior member of the Arbiters.
Because of this case, Kyrie gets involved with the Immortals, beings that mostly live up to their name and have unfathomable powers they earned by battering back the Void years ago. She becomes Marked (hence the name) and has to journey throughout the realm. As she does, conspiracies start to unravel, demons start appearing, and stuff gets very intense in a very cool, gripping way.
The story has a lot of meat to it: the characters are incredibly well done with snappy dialogue that makes each one likeable and distinct. It feels like a genuine send up of that FF tactics I keep mentioning without directly aping it (though boy does it come close in a few points). It’s a little more of a political drama, and it doesn’t quite hit points where I feel I could evolve this into a more in depth review, but boy does it come close.
The gameplay is part of where this really shines. You move the avatar around the map, and each time you hit a red circle (see above), you shift into a battle map. It’s isometric, with the view of your characters from above. You move around, inputting commands, selecting between fight and two options based on which classes you’ve input for your characters. Each character gets two passives as well, and a counter ability, allowing for a pretty cool amount of customization (yet characters have unique classes, which makes it more fun for people like me that aren’t all about customizing).
Again, this plays so much like FF Tactics that a part of me was tempted to say “this is just FF Tactics with a few changes.” The big change for the battles is that characters only earn EXP from actions in combat, not AP. This means you cannot grind job AP from fights like you could in Tactics, which stymies what often happens (you standing around whacking your characters until they learn the stuff they need). It’s a bit more of a streamlined system that I, for one, appreciated.
Most of the presented classes are fairly well balanced, though some are obviously more powerful than others (these are usually upper level classes). Anadine’s unique class almost feels broken, and when she’s properly set up, she’s likely to tear through half the enemy map. But part of the fun of this game is figuring out how to get setups like that: what works and what will achieve the best possible part composition.
Much of this game just works, and it works well. Even stuff that can be slightly annoying (there’s a crafting system) seems to be fairly smoothed out and working. Sometimes the crafting can let you get some really cool stuff early on, and it’s a good way to make players earn the highest level equipment in the game. It’s also just putting two different items together.
The game falls short of perfection in two key areas. One is the music, which is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s not bad, but I found myself listening to podcasts and audiobooks during fights because I didn’t care (I would never do that for most of FF Tactics). Music can be tricky to nail in games like this, and I wouldn’t really hold this against the game.
Nope, that’s for this games’ decisions in graphics.
(Spoilers: I am about to get what could be read as outright mean here, but I’m trying to make a point)
The game was Kickstarter, and it’s really obvious. It’s clear that one of the things you could get for backing was to be a merchant or a NPC. This leads to incredibly jarring graphical moments like the one I outlined above. I’m sure those people are lovely human beings, and that pose does look like it’s made mostly for parody, but c’mon. It takes me right out of the game to witness someone who’s obviously from modern times just pop up in my game like this. It’s one thing if they’re an optional character skin I could recruit. I actually felt like one or two of those chars were kind of amusing and fit in with the game.
But the merchants just get inexcusable at a few points (like above). It’s sometimes little things, like how the people’s style doesn’t match or they have glasses… or they are, ah, not as attractive as most NPCs would be.
The graphics here are a bit of a mixed bag. A lot of the characters look like they were made with an online flash creator. Sometimes it feels a bit like heads were just swapped on the bodies, and everyone has a kinda paper doll cut out feel. Mix that with the aforementioned backer portraits, and it kinda falls short.
But anyone interested in these kinds of games can likely overlook that. I certainly could: I bought this game on PC first, plunked something like 40-50 hours into it, then bought it on Switch and added an additional 30-40 or so. I completed pretty much everything I could, save for mastering all classes, so I’d wager the game is probably around the 25-30 hour mark for a lot of players (let’s face it, you’re going to land right around my range).
9 the game feels like a worthy successor to a great idea and stands on its own two feet through wonderful mechanics and a deep, engaging story; only poor decisions regarding graphics and backer rewards stop this from being perfection