AOU 2008: Lord of Vermillion Hands-On

Square Enix makes its way to the arcades with a trading card RPG that features online play against players in other stores.


TOKYO--With Square Enix acquiring arcade-game maker Taito as a subsidiary, it seemed like just a matter of time before it would use its new resources to enter the arcade market. As expected for a company that's known for such series as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, its debut arcade game, Lord of Vermillion, comes across as a fantasy role-playing game, albeit one that uses trading cards. Early in December, Square Enix held a beta test in Tokyo to test out the game, and this month at AOU 2008, the company took the opportunity to show it to arcade dealers and get some sales.

Lord of Vermillion takes place in a fantasy setting where seven worlds from different dimensions have merged together after an ambitious human lord used forbidden magic to try to gain godly powers beyond his control. Instead, he failed and broke the barrier between the different dimensions, which caused six of the worlds to merge into the human world and turn it into a chaotic realm with species from all of the dimensions. A mythical vermilion-colored object called the Arcana was the lord's source of power in his attempt to realize his ambitions, but after his failure, it split into seven fragments and scattered throughout the world.

Ages have passed since then and the world is at war, with six lords fighting over each other's Arcana fragments. The player takes the role of a solider who holds the legendary seventh Arcana fragment and leads an army of familiars that have contracted with him, believing that he can make a difference. The objective of the game is to beat the other lords and to become the titular Lord of Vermillion.

As briefly mentioned, Lord of Vermillion plays with trading cards. Before starting the game, you need to buy a starter's deck, which comes with a player card, four familiar cards, a NESYS card that records your play data, a manual, and six plastic cases to protect your cards. The familiars range from monsters to animals and spirits.

Collecting cards is a big part of the game. You get a free random card after every play, and they're illustrated with drawings from various Square Enix artists including Yoshitaka Amano, Tetsuya Nomura, Akihiko Yoshida, Hideo Minaba, Yusuke Naora, Ryoma Ito, and Itahana Toshiyuki. Square Enix has also gathered a bunch of guest illustrators for the card art, including Shiro Amano (Kingdom Hearts 2 manga), Hiroaki Samura (Blade of Immortal), Atsushi Okubo (Soul Eater manga), Katsuya Terada (Blood: The Last Vampire character design), and Yusuke Kozaki (No More Heroes).

The first time you play the game, you need to register by typing in your character's name and selecting its gender. For beginners, there's a tutorial mode before you start playing. Once you're finished with registration and the tutorial, it's time to play the game. You can pick from three different game modes: story mode, online battle mode, and local battle mode. The story mode should be self-explanatory; it's a single-player mode that lets you enjoy the storyline to Lord of Vermillion. The online mode lets you fight against opponents in arcades throughout the nation, and the local battle mode lets you fight others within the store.

After choosing your game mode, you can prepare for your battle by selecting your character's equipment and registering your familiars. You can obtain new weapons and equipment as a reward after fighting in battles. Different equipment has different traits. For example, heavy armor can give you extra life but slow you down when moving on the field, whereas light armor doesn't have a life bonus but lets you move faster. If you use a two-handed weapon, you'll have wider attack range and do higher damage, but you won't be able to hold a shield as you would when using a one-handed sword.

When choosing your familiars for battle, it's important to look at their cards and check the statistics printed on them. Aside from their hit points, you can also see their attack power, defense power, skills, speed, weakness, attack range, and cost. We didn't get to see all the cards but we assume that, like most card games, stronger cards have higher costs because you're limited to a certain cost total when selecting your cards for battle. You can place up to nine cards at the same time in a battle, so it's your choice whether to go with a small team of high-cost familiars, a huge team of low-cost familiars, or something in-between.

Once you're ready for battle, the screen changes to a bird's-eye view of the battlefield. In the stages playable at AOU, the player's team started out in its base in the south end of the screen, whereas the enemy's team was located at its base in the north. There are three Arcana stones scattered on the map for each team. The objective of the game is to capture all of the opponent's Arcana stones, which can be done by simply placing your character within a circular radius drawn around the stone for a given time. There's an Arcana stone meter at the top of the screen, which is like a life meter for the stones and indicates how close you are to conquering them. Killing all of the enemy's characters won't let you win the game; they just return to their base with a time penalty and revive again. However, killing all of the enemies depletes a bit of your opponent's Arcana Stone meter, which brings you closer to victory.

The controls for Lord of Vermillion, which plays on a tabletop-style cabinet with a monitor facing toward you, are pretty high-tech. To select which familiars to use and to move them around, you place your cards on a large flat panel in front of the game screen. It's the same with your main character; you move the player card around on the flat panel, and your character will move around accordingly on the screen. Placing your cards in a formation will let you create a battle formation in the game according to the situation at hand. And there's a joystick to the left of the panel that can be used to move around all your characters on the field while keeping the formation at hand.

When you make an encounter with the enemy, the battles happen automatically. Each character has a range of how far it can attack, and some characters can attack all the enemies within their range, rather than just the one closest to them. The character's range is usually limited to the way that it's facing, so it's important that you rotate the cards to make your characters face toward the enemy.

Some familiars have special-move meters that, when full, let them execute special attacks. You rub the familiar's card on the panel to select it and then press a red button on the right side of the panel to execute the familiar's move. The main character also has a similar special called an overkill, which can be executed in a similar fashion.

The battlefield in Lord of Vermillion can be somewhat big, so the minimap on the side of the screen is helpful in figuring out where you and your enemy are. As one strategy method, you can disable your opponent's ability to see your characters on the minimap by sealing his or her search-eye facility, which is located near his or her base. There's also a facility called the Arcana stone shield near your opponent's base, which, when sealed, lowers the defense power of the opponent's Arcana stone and makes it easier to conquer. The search eye and Arcana stone shield can be sealed by placing the player's characters nearby, just like when capturing the Arcana stones. However, in the case of the two facilities, the opponent can revive these functions by placing his or her characters similarly close by for a while. You also have a search eye and an Arcana stone shield near your base, so it's important to protect them.

Lord of Vermillion seemed to play as a relatively solid and standard card-battle arcade RPG. The game is slated for release in Japan in June. No word on when (or if) this game will head stateside, but stay tuned to GameSpot for additional updates.

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