It's difficult not to compare Capcom's hit franchise Monster Hunter to Lord of Arcana, given that it is about hunting…monsters. The gameplay of harvesting monster parts and engaging in giant boss battles seems to have found a good home on the PlayStation Portable. Recently released in Japan, Lord of Arcana is described as a brutal action-based role-playing game. It is broken up into objective-based missions where you can play through the single-player campaign or team up with up to three of your friends ad hoc and slaughter mythical creatures. Square Enix came by to show us the tutorial level and gave us an idea of how the gameplay mechanics would work. The area we saw was meant to get us right into the action and used to the controls, so we have yet to see how the rest of it would play out.
In the world of Horodyn, which was named after its first ruler, there are magical stones that hold the power to bring peace to the land. You play as an adventurer with amnesia that comes from the same land as the first king. Your goal is to find these stones with hopes of getting your memories back (and become king as a side bonus). At any point during your ascent to power, you can customize your character as you see fit. You begin with the usual options like adjusting facial features, skin, and hair colors, but if you decide to go for a new look later in the game, you can always go back to select something new.
There are five weapon types in the game, including a one-handed sword, mace, polearm, two-handed weapon, or ranged weapon. You'll have access to any weapon type throughout the game, so you can change it depending on your play style, the other players you're playing with, or the boss you're fighting. The controls seem straightforward enough; you attack with the square button and keep mashing to chain combos. Special battle art attacks are assigned to the triangle button, and you can block and dodge with X. The camera is controlled by the D pad, and you can center it with the L button, as well as use it to lock on to enemies.
The tutorial level was set in a dungeon where we had to defeat enemies onscreen for keys to move to the next area. Battles are fought in a large circular arena after touching a monster onscreen. You won't really know how many you're up against, but you'll have some idea of what creature types you'll be facing. Combat primarily consists of stringing your attacks together, but you'll also have access to magic, which you can cast using cards. We saw an example of an ultimate spell being cast, which brought bahamut down from the skies to cast megaflare. As you go through the game, you'll collect monster parts from the creatures you beat and use these parts to craft more powerful weapons and spells. What's interesting is that each enemy has its own death animation when you execute a coup de grace. The circle button will appear when you can do this, so as long as you time it correctly, you can watch as you juggle a foe in the air and swing it around before impaling it on your weapon. During boss fights, a melee duel quick-time event may pop up, giving you a chance to deal some extra damage.
Missions are timed and are 30 to 60 minutes in length, with objectives that can range from retrieving an item to defeating a particular monster. The campaign takes roughly 25 to 30 hours to complete. Like the Monster Hunter games, the appeal really lies in harvesting and collecting as much as you can so you can beef up your character and stab enemies with ease. There is quite a bit of blood that is spilled whenever you attack (some even splashes onto the screen), and the monsters like to explode into a big mess afterward. It all fades away relatively quickly, so it's not as if you'll be swimming in it for long. The last segment of the demo had us fight against a nidhogg, which gave us an idea of how these fights will go. You can attack different parts of the creature, which will yield different results. It's probably a good idea to see what kind of weapon you're using before you run in and attack blindly. Bludgeoning a dragon in the head with a mace will likely be much more effective than trying to stab it with a polearm up close.
We didn't get a chance to play the game this time around, but we will have an opportunity in the coming months. Lord of Arcana will come with a trial version that will let you give a file to a friend to try out before committing to a purchase. It's currently being localized and should hit store shelves in early 2011.