Enchanted Arms is a role-playing game developed by From Software, a company best known for the long-running Armored Core series of mech sims. Taking a break from battling robots, From Software has developed a competent role-playing game that isn't overly impressive or memorable but is a capable representative for games of its type. As a result, it's a solid choice as the first Japanese-style role-playing game to appear on the PlayStation 3. The game sticks closely to the console role-playing template made popular by the Final Fantasy series, to the point that even the victory music that plays after each battle sounds eerily familiar. Androgynous characters, melodramatic plotlines, random encounters, and ridiculously overblown battles form the basis of Enchanted Arms, and if you have any previous experience with this type of game, you'll feel like you've seen it all before. Despite that, if you give it plenty of time, you'll find that Enchanted Arms is still worth playing if you have any interest in role-playing games.
You've heard this story before. A feisty young man with no memory of his past discovers within himself a hidden power capable of saving--or destroying--the world. His name is Atsuma, and he's a student at Enchant University, where he studies a type of weak magic known as enchanting. However, some people seek a more powerful form of magic, which has been lost for the past 1,000 years. Turns out that a millennium ago, humans were quite proficient with magic and used it to create artificial servant creatures, known as golems. As you might expect, the golems one day went berserk and turned on mankind, nearly destroying the world in what's known as The Golem War. The most powerful of these creatures, called devil golems, were sealed away to prevent another disaster. Flash forward to present day, and some conniving megalomaniacs start fussing with the seals to draw upon the powerful magic that lies within. At this point, Atsuma's destiny as savior of the universe is revealed, along with a mysterious power that resides in his right arm.
As Atsuma, it's up to you to keep these nasty golems in check, which you do by running around the world battling not only golems, but also the humans who are attempting to manipulate them. Enchanted Arms plays like a traditional console role-playing game. You spend most of the time running through dungeons or down long, linear paths from one city to another, engaging in random encounters, collecting money and items, and developing your characters to make them stronger. Between battles, you'll often be treated to some heavy dialogue or the occasional prerendered cinematic sequence. The story sequences in the game can be quite lengthy, with conversations lasting several minutes. You might be tempted to simply skip through all the chatter, but if you do that you'll miss out on a lot of the charm that Enchanted Arms has to offer. The dialogue, while sometimes overdone, is relatively natural and engaging for a role-playing game. There aren't many characters in the game, but that works to its advantage by letting you focus on the dynamic between four entertaining personalities. There's also plenty of humor, and although a lot of it is downright silly, it doesn't feel forced and is funny enough to prevent your eyes from glazing over during every story sequence.
Throughout most of the game, you'll be running on a linear path from one point to another. While in these areas, you'll be drawn into battle with a random assortment of enemies. The encounter rate is usually reasonable, letting you cover plenty of ground between battles. Sometimes, however, you'll find yourself going from one battle to another every few steps, which gets tiresome. It doesn't help that the game requires you to backtrack through these large, empty spaces several times, which is boring and takes quite awhile since you're prone to being attacked every step of the way.
The nature of the combat system in Enchanted Arms results in some often very lengthy battles, but the system is fun and challenging most of the time. Each battle takes place on a flat, 6x4 grid that is divided down the center. Your party is randomly arranged on one half of the grid, while your enemies are on the other. You can't pass the center line into the enemy grid, so you have to plan your attacks accordingly. You can have up to four characters in your party, and during your turn, you can move those characters and assign actions in any order. Once you've done that, you press go and the actions are carried out. The battles all come down to positioning, because each attack has a specific range and pattern. Some attacks will hit only a single square, others will hit a line of squares, and still others will hit an entire area. The battle system doesn't require much in the way of strategy, but it does demand a bit more than simply selecting the attack command over and over. It feels almost like a puzzle game because you have to figure out the best order and position for each of your characters to maximize damage.
The game is very forgiving, and enemies will often move within range of your attacks, if for no other reason than to avoid a stalemate situation. Between battles, your characters automatically regenerate both their health points and their ether points, which are required to perform all attacks. However, over time your characters will lose vitality points, and characters with no vitality points left won't regenerate any health or ether points between battles until you reach a replenishing station. This system works well, if only because it gives you incentive to make use of all your characters, rather than using just a few powerhouses throughout the entire game.
Having extra characters is never a problem in Enchanted Arms. Throughout the world, you'll encounter golems, and usually if you defeat one of these creatures in battle, you'll get its core, which can be used along with some other items to synthesize that golem. This is just a roundabout way of recruiting enemies to join your party. There are more than 100 different golems in the game, and they're all quite diverse and useful. Each golem has its own attacks and abilities, and each one can be leveled up and made stronger, just like the human characters. There seems to be a golem for every occasion, from mermaids that can absorb hit points from enemies, to a massive Sasquatch with frosty breath, and even a pizza-headed creature that can shoot fire. The PlayStation 3 version of Enchanted Arms includes an additional 30 golems that aren't available in the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Other additions to the PlayStation 3 version of Enchanted Arms include the use of the Sixaxis motion controls, as well as a few minutes of additional prerendered cutscenes. The Sixaxis features are completely superfluous. The most prevalent use of the motion controls is to charge up your EX gauge. To do this, you can press the R1 button any time you aren't in battle to initiate a goofy dancing minigame where you have to shake the controller to make Atsuma dance. This then fills up your EX gauge, which lets you unleash super attacks in battle. Not surprisingly, violently shaking your controller isn't terribly exciting or fun. Another significant change to the PlayStation 3 version of the game is that it's missing the online multiplayer mode included with the Xbox 360 version. It's not a significant loss though, since the online play in the Xbox 360 game isn't especially compelling.
The presentation in Enchanted Arms is disappointing for a PlayStation 3 game. The character models are fairly detailed, but the animation is awkward. During story sequences, you'll see large versions of the characters as they jerk and spasm from one fixed position to the next without any sort of transition. The environments aren't impressive, either. You'll see a lot of huge, wide-open areas that show no signs of life whatsoever. The entire world feels empty and uninhabited, which makes for dull viewing. Sometimes you'll see some shiny textures, but for the most part, this game pales in comparison to other PlayStation 3 games, regardless of whether you're viewing it on a standard definition or high-definition television. If you are playing this game on a standard definition display you'll have a very hard time reading all of the text in the game, which is a major problem because there's a lot of text to read in Enchanted Arms.
Furthermore, there's the problem of getting a workable perspective in battle. There are a couple preset camera angles to choose from, but none of them offer an ideal view of the battlefield. The heads up display often obscures enemies, to the point that you might not even see an enemy until it attacks you. The camera is also zoomed out to get the whole battlefield in the picture, but that also makes some of the characters appear tiny, and their colors tend to blend into the background.
The game does look good in a few respects, though. Most of the attack effects are flashy and exaggerated, but they all look good. In particular, there are EX attacks, which feature more lengthy and over-the-top animations than the standard attacks. In addition to the special effects, the prerendered cutscenes in the game look great. There are only a handful of these, but they're each worth watching multiple times.
The sound in Enchanted Arms is also behind the curve for PlayStation 3 games. The English voice acting is pretty bad most of the time, but there's an option to listen to the Japanese voices instead. Even if you can live with the annoying voices during the story sequences, you'll probably find it hard to bear the chirpy phrases uttered by your characters with every single attack. It gets old hearing the same two or three phrases repeated a dozen times or more in a single battle. The music is typical of a role-playing game, and it's mostly good. There are dramatic orchestrated tracks, as well as ambient loops that softly fade into the background. None of the music ever gets annoying, which is perhaps the best thing that can be said for the music in a game that takes 40 hours or more to complete.
While you can finish Enchanted Arms in about 40 hours, it will take you considerably longer if you spend the time to find all of the golems in the game. The game is paced reasonably well, and although it's very linear, you'll never be stuck wondering where to go or what to do next. This keeps the game moving along most of the time, but it still tends to drag in spots. There's too much backtracking required, and it often takes an inordinate amount of time to get where you want to go. If you have the patience for it, though, you'll find that Enchanted Arms is a solid addition to the PlayStation 3 library, even if it isn't a very original one.