By Josh Speer / April 24th, 2020
|Title||Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition|
|Release Date||March 26th, 2020|
|Platform||PC, Mobile, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone 10+ – Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language|
It’s kind of remarkable I didn’t play Ara Fell a lot sooner. After all, a friend gifted me the original game at least a couple years ago, where it quickly got lost in my massive Steam backlog. But then something wonderful happened – Stegosoft Games went and remastered the original game as Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition. That same friend suggested I review it for the oprainfall site, and I’m incredibly happy I finally listened. And while you could make the argument I would have enjoyed this whimsical adventure sooner, I’m glad I waited. Because Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition is just a much smoother, easier to access game with the same meaningful story intact.
For all intents and purposes, Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition is the same game that was reviewed on the oprainfall site 4 years ago. However, there are some key differences. The battle system has been revamped, the user interface for menus is really easy to parse, and they even added new character classes and skills, apparently. They also upgraded the systems present in the game, such as crafting and enchanting, added difficulty modes, a handy autosave and more. While I wasn’t able to compare and contrast these changes much, not having played the original, I did find a few videos online, and I can say the UI has been wonderfully streamlined. Battle menus aren’t clunky, and it’s clear and obvious what your options are, and even in what order attacks will happen. And while I’m not usually a fan of crafting, here it’s very well implemented. All you need is to buy the recipe for an item, have enough of the requisite ingredients, then hold A to craft. You can craft single use items, as well as upgrade your equipment to provide better stats for your team. Enchanting is also very easy to do, and works pretty much identically. The key difference is you can attach up to 4 passive enchantments of your choice to character equipment, such as increased health, critical hit rate, the capacity to poison with regular attacks and much more. By contrast, crafted items have set properties.
Steve was dead on when he said the game is one of the best RPG Maker games ever. I honestly didn’t even realize this was a RPG Maker title at first, since it has such polish and poise. Sure it looks like an old game, the same way Chrono Trigger looks like an old game. Meaning this looks totally authentic to a certain time period, and that’s not a complaint. Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition could easily have been a touchstone RPG from the 90s, chock full of heart, great gameplay and a really interesting story. Take it from a wannabe fantasy author, that last part is hard to do, especially in a genre full of cliches and overused tropes. And while the story isn’t the most complex, it also does a great job of introducing key elements organically and tying them together in a satisfying arc. The tale revolves around a floating continent, a mysterious relic, elves, vampires and one fierce young woman. I don’t want to ruin it by saying too much, but trust me that it’s a joy to experience, and the lore of the world of Ara Fell is really intriguing.
A large reason I enjoyed the story of Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition so much is because of the characters that populate it. Lita LeCotta is the spunkiest, most deadpan little tomboy you could ever want. She’s delightfully snarky and full of personality, with hilarious one liners aplenty. What I especially love about Lita is that she fights against the mantle of hero, and just sees herself as someone that stumbled upon her destiny. But her strength of character, determination and desire to protect her loved ones makes her truly heroic. Or take Adrian, Lita’s childhood friend who has grown up in harsh circumstances, yet found the drive to become a knight. Sure he gets taken by the occasional schemer, but he’s always there to protect his friends, and he may even have some feelings for Lita. Then there’s Seri Kesu, a strong and beautiful sorceress with some serious hard edges. She’s a master of her craft, and her only weakness is one bad relationship that’s soured her to this day. Finally there’s Doren, a mysterious turban wearing bard that’s immensely passive aggressive, and who seems to have a surprising reservoir of knowledge of ancient times. It’s a great cast, and their interactions make the whole story a delight to experience. Even the villains set against them are complex and unexpected. All in all, the entire cast of Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition makes for a very compelling tale.
None of that would matter if the game wasn’t fun to play, but I can say that Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition is a glorious retro RPG. I played on the normal difficulty, and found the combat easy to understand, yet challenging. It’s turn based, with an ATB showing the turn order. One unique aspect is the Injury system, where your character is weakened if they perish and are revived, and only fully recovers by healing at an Inn or other safe location. As the game progresses and your team fills out, the challenge scales accordingly, but I never found anything unbalanced. It’s really fun and hard to put down. You select attacks and engage the foe, and as you battle your Ultimate bar fills up. This allows characters to use super powerful attacks against the foe, but you can’t rely on these. Each character’s Ultimate takes a different amount of time to charge, and your entire team uses the same Ultimate bar. So once I use any Ultimate attack, the bar resets. Thankfully, you have a lot of control over how your team grows, and even can tweak how they fight. Every time you level up, you are allocated points to distribute to various stats, and the game clearly tells you what each corresponds to. I decided to focus on making Lita a speedy assassin, while I supercharged Seri’s spellcasting at the cost of her speed and defense. As you wander the world, you’ll find magical stones that an be used to augment your character’s abilities. At first all you can do is make them more powerful, but once you have fulfilled their class quests, your options blossom. You can pick from one of two advanced classes for each character, with pros and cons. Once that’s done, you can choose branching options for your abilities, such as Adrian’s Whirlwind attack healing your team, or Doren’s Holy Light affecting all foes. You can even tweak their Ultimate attacks, allowing for a lot of customization options. By the end of the game, I had a really powerful team that was capable of taking on any foe without worry.
The combat is a lot of fun, but so is just exploring the world of Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition. Normally I don’t like getting lost in games, but this one was built to accommodate exploration and reward you for it. You’ll constantly come across natural resources you can harvest for use with crafting and enchanting. Lita will grab fish from the water, pluck leaves from various plants and mine ore from cavern walls. I just wandered and wandered, and probably spent a good extra 4-5 hours enjoying myself. It’s fun to jump across ravines, crawl through narrow tunnels and swim all around. The world of Ara Fell is a big one, and it’s truly beautiful. Since the entirety of the game takes place on a floating continent, you’ll see eerie sights like waterfalls descending hundreds of miles, or haunting ruins suspended in mid air. Yet, as much as I explored, I only got lost a handful of times in my 20+ hour playthrough. Once was late in the game when a group of damn faeries got me mixed up, and later I couldn’t find the class quest for Doren. Thankfully most activities are well signposted, and you can always check the pause screen for a reminder where you’re supposed to go for continuing the main quest. The only optional quests that were really flummoxing to locate were the various Bounties, of which I only managed to find half.
Visually, this is a really attractive game. The portrait art for the characters does a great job of expressing their personality. Meanwhile, the overworld and sprite work is both faithful to the retro focus and eye catching. Pretty much all the enemies are distinct, with no color swapped nonsense. The game runs at a smooth clip most of time, and I only had very few moments of slowdown, and only while exploring. The music does its job. I wouldn’t say it was the best soundtrack ever, since it’s mostly low key, melodic and occasionally haunting. If you’re coming here for snazzy rock and roll tracks, don’t bother. But all the music and sound effects do their jobs well, if perhaps without much distinction.
Honestly the biggest negative for me is that Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition ends at all. I really got lost in this wonderful RPG world, and was sad to see it end. I know I love a game when I even enjoy the puzzles in it. Thankfully there’s an epilogue after the credits roll, which does a decent job of tying up plot threads while still leaving room for a potential sequel. Suffice to say, I really hope Stegosoft Games has a sequel in the works, cause I desperately want to return to this fascinating world. If you love classic RPGs and want something you can get lost in for only $14.99, look no further. It’s easily one of my favorite RPGs of 2020 thus far.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Ara Fell: Enhanced EditionDANGEN EntertainmentoprainfallPCPS4ReviewStegosoftSwitchXbox One