Arcana was one of the SNES games I found at the flea market. Back when I was a kid, my mom used to take me to a local flea market once or twice a month, and there were always tables with video games for sale. Even though Arcana wasn’t an old game at the time, it was released in 1992, it wasn’t one that stores carried much, and I don’t recall seeing it for rent at Blockbuster either, although I’m sure some stores carried it.
To me, the game was a hidden gem. It’s the first, first-person, dungeon crawler I can recall playing, unless we count Shadowgate on the NES, but that’s not really a dungeon crawler. Anyway, there was something magical about Arcana; you begin the game with some great music and a little prologue. The world of Elemen is once again threatened by the return of the Empress Rimsala. You play as Rooks, a card master, and as such you fight and control elemental spirits.
Perhaps the coolest feature of the game was to make everything a card. You’re a card, the spirits are cards, the baddies are cards, everything is a card, which I always thought was just "aces". What’s even more amazing is that the cards are animated; the different monsters fidget about in various ways, which really brings an added level of visual stimulation; I mean, in a lot of games, the monsters, or cards, like in Yu-gi-oh, don’t do anything at all.
Apart from the graphics and music, the game is a mix of dungeon crawler and rpg; you buy weapons, gain gold and experience, level up, meet new friends, and journey towards the ultimate goal—preventing the resurrection of the empress.
Most of the game is set within "dungeons." You travel through ice mines, towers, and castles, of course, but I guess the term mine, castle, and tower crawler doesn’t roll off the tongue.
The music, graphics, and animation were already mentioned, but they are worth mentioning again. There are a variety of enemies, and while many of them do repeat with various color schemes, they also have different elements and spells, which are a pretty big part of the game. It becomes important to know which elements are strong against which, and by using Rook’s spirits’ abilities, you can even change the elements of your party in order to receive less damage. The music is always appropriate and quite catchy. Even the music in town is fun and mystical.
Overall, Arcana is just a really fun game to play through. It isn’t too long; you can probably power through it in about 20 hours, but traveling through enchanted forests and treacherous canyons while watching clouds waft overhead might cause you to slow down and smell the flower monsters.
While not detrimental to the over all game experience, one problem I had was with the dialogue carried out by the characters. Sometimes, it makes no sense at all, and I wonder if it’s just a poor translation from Japanese into English. For instance, at one point, you’re in the ice mine trying to track someone down, and in the mine you meet your father’s friend, Axs, who is also trying to track someone down. During the conversation, though, it sounds like Axs was unaware that the person in question was in the ice mine, but then why was he there?
Another instance comes after the defeat of one bad guy, Galneon. You kill him, and then he laughs and says that it was ineffective. What was ineffective? Your power? Death? I mean, I get it; he gets back up, and you fight him again, but bad guys usually say: You’re too weak to stop me, or you can never defeat the forces of evil, or your puny power is no match for mine, but that was ineffective? That’s just weird.
Yeah, so, it’s a minor complaint, but those instances can sometimes take me out of the moment. Another drawback is the linear quality of the game. This was never an issue back in the 90s when the game was released. All games were linear, but it isn’t 1992 anymore, and in retrospect, the game has no diversity at all; you travel the same paths, meet the same people, fight the same enemies, buy and find the same treasures. It can be a little tedious at times.
In my final analysis, I have to say that Arcana will always be one of my favorite games. I just feel like the programmers put a great deal of effort into a game that probably didn’t need so much effort. Today, I find the opposite; with the advent of new programs, applications, and game engines, it seems to me that the programmers could do a little more to bring their worlds to life.
Arcana gets a B+ score from me. It’s a game that everyone should try. I also think it’s a game that deserves a remake, or a sequel, or maybe a prequel, where we could play as Zohan, Rooks’s father. This is a prime example of a game for the Switch, and rather than being yet another free-roaming, first-person, hack and slash like Skyrim, Breath of the Wild, Fall Out, and pretty much every other game in existence now, Nintendo might do well to go back to the basics and recall that sometimes a game should be a game.
Thanks for reading another retro review!