Repetition doesn't have to be a bad thing in a dungeon crawl. It's often sort of the point. But Wanako Games doesn't get this with Arkadian Warriors, an action-first RPG for Xbox 360 Live that practically pummels you with its rigid, formulaic structure. It delivers all of the hacking and slashing that you would expect of a Diablo clone, albeit with no imagination and not much in the way of innovation.
If you have any action RPGs on your gaming resume, you'll be able to slip into the gameplay here like a comfortable old shoe. The overall design is so color-by-numbers that it kind of hurts. Character choice is limited to three stereotypes in a soldier, archer, and sorceress. None of these classes can be customized in any way when you start the game, and even leveling up later only grants you set-in-stone magical abilities that buff attacks or allow for some straightforward hocus-pocus.
Just a couple of variants to the formula spice things up, although neither amounts to much in the end. The most noteworthy twist is the colorful art design, which leans more toward a wide-eyed, kid-friendly anime style than the standard medieval action RPG. This doesn't really impact gameplay, though, as the camera is too far away to offer a good look at any of the stylized art touches. The other change is an alter ego bar that can be maxed out during combat to allow you the ability to morph into a super-tough giant animal. Again, however, this option doesn't add much to gameplay. While it's nice to be essentially invulnerable for a short time, the clunkiness of the controls undermines the feeling that you're a massive monster on a rampage. Heavy damage-dealing attacks in this form look oddly wimpy, and you're so big that certain narrow dungeon corridors can be a challenge to neogtiate.
Dungeon and story design are just as constrictive. The basic plot of the solo campaign is a five-or-six-hour heroic saga about saving a mythological town in ancient Greece from the monstrous hordes of the Gorgon. But you're more of a deliveryman with a sword than a latter-day Perseus. All of the quests handed out by the handful of NPCs stationed around the ancient-city hub are generic go-fetch and kill-X-number-of-monsters jobs. Somebody either asks you to hunt down some lost object like a doll or an anvil, or to slaughter a bunch of scorpions for their tails or slay a couple of cyclopes. Then you hop into a magical portal leading directly to the dungeon home of a bunch of beasties in need of some killing. After slaughtering through packs of generic fantasy-game creatures inspired by Greek mythology like giant spiders, giant serpents, giant boars, and minotaurs that stand between you and your goal and you hop into a new portal to start again. Combat at least flows smoothly, thanks to an easy-to-handle analog stick that lets you pull off attack swirls where you run in circles, swiping at enemies whenever they come into range.
Structure is so derivative that it's easy to forget what your overarching task is. Quests flow so smoothly and dully into one another that you often need to be reminded of goals by prompts giving information like the current number of quest monsters slain. The monotony is only broken up by design flaws. Difficulty starts out too easy, then suddenly gets jacked up around the seventh or eighth quest. One moment you're rolling along with health potions as prevalent as soft drinks in a 7-11 and sensible numbers of enemies; the next the health potions have dried up and you're being swamped by baddies with powerhouse attacks that can cut your hit points in half with one blow. At first you can deal with this by simply buying the maximum number of health potions at the town merchant. This is actually good idea anyhow, as going into a dungeon overprepared is a better alternative to having to bail out midquest and replay the whole thing from the beginning. But the number of monsters becomes so overwhelming at times that you're best off to simply run by many foes, pausing only to grab the colored keys needed to open doors and kill quest monsters.
Two other aspects of the game are also problematic. Loot drops are terribly handled. Few good items are left behind, and they blend in so perfectly with the scenery that you can easily miss the few dropped by dead enemies. Items aren't identified onscreen, either, so you have to go to the inventory to see what you've acquired. Multiplayer co-op over Live is another letdown. It comes with all of the same design flaws as the solo campaign, of course, along with the added annoyance of being able to play with only one other person and weird camera issues that let your buddy control your viewing perspective.
For just 800 Live points, at least Arkadian Warriors isn't overpriced. And it does bring a Diablo vibe to the 360 that wasn't really there before. Still, you're not exactly getting much bang for your buck, as this action RPG relies too heavily on unimaginative production-line design to offer much entertainment.