Lord of Arcana is a badly-wrought copycat of the far superior source material that it blatantly borrows from.

User Rating: 5 | Lord of Arcana PSP
Lord of Arcana isn't so much a retread in Monster Hunter territory; rather, it is a full-blown, badly-orchestrated copycat. While most gamers will probably be drawn to its mature presentation and Square Enix charm, the rest of us jonesing for a different kind of multiplayer action role-playing game will be left disappointed by a throwaway plot, derivative gameplay, jagged pacing and stale, frustrating combat.

The player assumes control of a lone Slayer who has travelled to the land of Horodyn seeking the power of a mystical stone known as Arcana---which supposedly has the potential of granting anyone that lays claim to it the opportunity to rule the world. In this case, a mysterious voice asks you to find and use the Arcana to restore balance and bring an end to the chaotic manifestations of several horrific monsters. A brief tutorial will familiarize you with the system before dropping you to a hub with nothing more than your undergarments, forcing you out of sheer embarrassment to seek the assistance of a Guild and partake in quests to get your bearings in order. The game's plot is forgettable, but at least it hands you some sort of reason (or an excuse) to explore the vestiges of a shattered world and kill monsters with several other PSP-owning friends. Once you're given some decent plates and weapons, you'll be asked to partake in several introductory quests that will eventually lead you to your first major boss fight.

Yet, it is during your first outing as an official Slayer when Lord of Arcana starts to become problematic. Instead of fighting enemies on sight in real time as you'd do in other similar games, you will instead be transported to a small arena where you'll square off against a pre-determined number of foes. Not only does this severely disrupt the smooth flow of the experience, but it also drags the exciting action to a considerable snail's pace when you compare it with Monster Hunter or even Phantasy Star Online; where you would ordinarily engage in a life-or-death battle right on the spot with swords drawn. To make up for such shortcomings, this particular system does implicate some interesting new gameplay features like cinematic Coup De Grace attacks and button-timed death-blow finishers that will end most major boss fights. Yet, even with all of that firmly in place, it doesn't do enough to sweeten the rather dull and arduous, thumb-bruising combat. Making matters worse, most boss monsters are ridiculously time-consuming with awesomely overpowered behemoths designed by the world's foremost fantasy and comic-book artists (such as Todd McFarlane of Spawn fame and Yoshitaka Amano). Lord of Arcana forces the player to locate a particular targeting point on the monster in order to severely injure it before finally bringing it to its demise with a cinematic finisher. Unfortunately, in most cases, you will need to find a particular item to identify the sweet spot and, if you don't have it on you, you're obligated to use trial and error, and that in itself is irritating. Adding to these frustrations are an obstrusive method for targeting, clunky controls and high rate of difficulty during most boss fights, signficantly limiting any sort of fun you're supposed to be having.

Outside of battle, Lord of Arcana gives you plenty of opportunities to craft armor and weapons, purchase items, accept quests or play cooperatively with others. Like Monster Hunter, the player can "mine" for materials to create items, weapons and armor plates, but this activity only ends up being an exercise of button-pressing tedium. You might be able to find certain materials by killing specific enemies, but you would need to fight boss monsters over and over again to order to nab rare drops. Furthermore, you don't have much access to higher end armor and weapons during the beginning of your adventure apart from the flimsy stuff you get early on. That said, Lord of Arcana doesn't necessarily do a good job in easing in newcomers.

For a game this dark in nature and violent in content, Lord of Arcana looks only surprisingly decent with very little in the ways of visual magnificence. As stated earlier, some of the industry's foremost artistic talent have come together from every corner of the world to contribute to the various monster designs found in the game; while many do look great, others aren't all that representative of the best efforts of their artist. Nonetheless, the artistry is inspired more or less from outside sources as well as derived from the figment of their own twisted imaginations, and usually translates well in three-dimensional form. The dungeons and play areas themselves are diverse by nature, hindered only by cut-and-pasted corridors and a disingenious map layout that looks oddly (if not unsurprisingly) similar to Monster Hunter. Load times are also a problem---even if you have the game installed.

From a company like Square Enix, Lord of Arcana is a vastly disappointing effort. In lieu of its rather blatant plagiarism of familiar sources, the game squanders any glimmer of potential it had in being a decent attempt at doing something different with a tried-and-true formula. While it is the only Mature-rated game of its kind on the market currently, no amount of blood and gore can drench the crippling flaws that plague the game on all cylinders. Anyone who has ever loved the Monster Hunter series and were hoping for a refreshing new experience befitting of its respective gameplay genre will not find anything of the sort in Lord of Arcana, and are probably better off looking elsewhere.