By Jason Quinn / March 3rd, 2017
|Release Date||February 8th, 2017|
|Age Rating||ESRB E for Everyone|
Arelite Core is an RPG inspired by classic RPGs of yore, made by game developer Dragon Slumber. An ancient evil is threatening the world and it’s up to you, a lowly blacksmith, to stop it. The story of Arelite Core is very clearly inspired by SNES and PS1 era JRPGs, and even borrows some elements from them. What you see is what you get here. There’s an ancient evil, and it’s all up to you to take care of it. The story takes you through a multitude of locations as you try to uncover the plot to resurrect this ancient evil. The main character is a rather modest blacksmith, rather than a sword-wielding hot-blooded adventurer type.
The cast is reminiscent of classic archetypes, but they have more than that going for them. That said, some feel a bit more fleshed out than others. The villains, unfortunately, get the short end of the stick. Whenever you see them, dialogue consists of them just being evil. An issue with Arelite Core in terms of story is the dialogue. Spelling and grammatical errors are all over the script. Dialogue also feels pretty stilted at times. It’s not so bad that it ruins the story or anything, but it’s a pretty common occurrence.
There are some folks out there that say turn-based battle systems are a relic of a bygone era. I’m not one of those people. Arelite Core brings a couple interesting ideas to the table. What this game does to make it stand apart is add a combo system and a stun gauge. When you attack an enemy, you’ll add combo points to the overall count. The higher the combo point on an enemy, the more damage they take. Special attacks called combo crashes will deal substantially more damage the higher the combo count is. When an enemy attacks, that will also reset the combo counter. The stun gauge works in a similar fashion. When you hit an enemy, a bar underneath their life bar will fill up. Once the bar is full, they can no longer attack for a while. Capitalizing on these two systems is key to fighting effectively.
Each character has special abilities, and the way you level them up is also unique. Abilities have three categories: Strike, Parry, and Blitz. Strike affects normal attack, Parry affects your guard option, and Blitz is for special moves. Abilities have three levels, but you only have a finite number of points. You’re also not locked into anything, as you can reallocate points at any time. In fact, the game encourages you to experiment with different abilities. Towards the end of the game I had seven points to use for each category, so you can never have every ability maxed out. As someone that can spend hours mulling over how to build characters in a RPG, having a noncommittal level up system like this is pretty nifty.
Most RPGs have some sort of mana resource that is used up by special attacks. In Arelite Core, you have a blitz meter with three pips on it. Battle starts with one pip, and attacking or being attacked increases the meter. The special attacks you can use consume a certain number of pips. This means that you won’t be just saving up your resource for a boss. Because it fills up by battling and isn’t a static resource, you’re free to use these attacks against normal enemies as well. Considering how many JRPGs have an issue where you want to just hoard your magic points, this is a great change.
Since you are a blacksmith, crafting is a component in this game. Various ores and other materials can be found around the world, which you use to forge weapons and armor. You can also buy them, but forging them yourself is generally going to be the best course of action. An issue crops up from this, however. As is usual in JRPGs, you can stumble across weapons and armor out in the wild, but with a couple exceptions, they’re inferior to stuff you can craft. This really takes that sense of discovery away. Rather than finding a cool new weapon, you just basically find something to sell for a bit of money.
The game mechanics work very well and there are different strategies you can employ. However, after awhile I found myself leaning on only one. Building up the combo counter on an enemy and using a combo crash seems to be the most effective. The abilities I’d level up would be to make it easier to do that, and I’d ignore most everything else. Other strategies are certainly viable, but none could match the damage output. I love the fact that characters don’t really fall into any typical JRPG classes. Every character has a multitude of different abilities, though they tend to do something better than any of the other ones. For example, one character has a full party heal ability if you level it up.
Arelite Core has a few interesting quality of life improvements to make things a bit easier. Healing the party is accomplished by just entering a town rather than needing to go to an inn. After you’ve completed an objective in a dungeon or something, the game won’t require you to backtrack out, which is very nice. You can skip cutscenes by holding a button. It’s a bit odd then, that the battle system leaves out one key feature. You can’t normally run away; you have to use an item. Item management is lacking, as there’s no way to sort items. These sorts of issues surprised me, considering the lengths the game goes to in other areas to make things more convenient.
The weakest part of this game is probably the visuals. Some of it, most notably the backgrounds during battles, look pretty good. There are many areas in the game that look like they were cobbled together with RPG Maker assets. Many tile sets, specifically the one used for caves, are recycled quite frequently. Some assets even look like they’re from a totally different game. For a $20 game the visuals are very lacking. The soundtrack of the game is okay, once again taking cues from classic JRPGs, though the sound quality is a bit better than what you’d find there. A similar problem with the visuals, some songs are recycled a lot. Every cave and dungeon has the same theme. It gets grating after a while.
This is a tough game to recommend. On one hand, the game has some interesting mechanics. There are some nice character moments despite the generic story. On the other hand, the script is pretty poor, the visual quality is all over the place, and the music loses its luster quickly. The simple JRPG throwback story might not appeal to some. It took me just shy of 18 hours to beat the game, so at least it doesn’t drag on. The thing that left the biggest impression on me was the unique gameplay mechanics. If that seems interesting to you, and you don’t mind the game’s rough edges, it might be worth checking out.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
ARELITE COREDragon SlumberJRPGPCRPG