When Arc the Lad was originally released, it did not make it over to North America and Western gamers were not necessarily shedding too many tears considering the fantastic lineup of RPGs alone released around the same period amongst the consoles. As the review for Arc the Lad mentioned, the sequel was also included in the Arc the Lad Collection, therefore gamers immediately had the opportunity to pick and choose which game they would prefer to spend their time devoted to. The same can now be said for PSN users.
Arc the Lad II does not stray far from the formula of its predecessor in terms of gameplay, graphics, audio and presentation yet it still manages to come out on top as a better game.
One of the first signs of a sequel being a success is when it manages to remove and/or modify some of the shortcomings of the original, and herein is where Arc the Lad II thrives giving gamers a more user-friendly, if not refined strategy RPG. The sequel adds more customization, more selectable characters, more quests and while linearity was a pro for Arc the Lad, the sequel adds more venues, more places to interact and more quests to partake in all the while still making it easy for gamers to get from point A to point B or if they prefer, they can skip B and proceed to C, D and E and come back to B later.
The story this time around begins with a scene that is more visceral and disconcerting than what occurred in Arc the Lad. An assault on the village of Touvil (Arc's hometown) causes mass destruction. People in the village are raided and subsequently gunned down in cold blood. Among those spared from the execution are this game's title character Elc who is the last of the Pyrenians, an ancient tribe that has mastered the ability to summon fire. He is imprisoned in an institution known as the White House where he is the subject of scrutiny and manipulation. Eventually Elc is rescued but the nightmares of the White House remain fresh. Elc is enlisted into an assignment which allows him to seek retribution and attempt to find the whereabouts of the individuals who destroyed his village. Gamers will be surprised to learn that Elc's initial suspect and target is none other than Arc the Lad himself.
For those who have not played the original, Arc the Lad II provides both familiar and new game mechanics. Battles still take place on a grid where the gamer moves their party around the battlefield where enemies, obstacles and treasures await. While Arc the Lad featured a party of seven and as many as a dozen enemies to fight at a certain time, Arc the Lad II scales back the party to five with usually less than ten enemies on a screen at one time.
While the party size one takes into battle is smaller, the number of characters in which to select from becomes enormous. Elc has his own band of merry men and women who join him on his quest. One character, a Beasttalker named Lieza brings a monster into the troupe but this is just the beginning. Early on she learns a spell that allows for her to capture monsters the party comes into contact with in battle. Not only does this bring in hundreds of new potential party members, but they level up, equip weapons and learn new abilities as well.
In Arc the Lad, there was a clear distinction between some character's usefulness over others. In the sequel, as long as the gamer is leveling them up, the main characters will more often than not prove sufficient but with the option of bringing captured monsters into the fray there is no shortage of characters to utilize. If that isn't enough variety, the familiar faces from Arc the Lad eventually become playable and bring with them all their old bag of tricks. It becomes quite a juggling act deciding who to place in the party of five from one battle to the next.
Arc the Lad's focus on battling was considerably repetitive even though it made it fairly straight-forward to progress through the game. In Arc the Lad II, there are still many encounters with enemies to look forward to but there is more to expect beyond massacring the masses of monsters. Characters can adorn armaments and items that each has their own individual levels and stats. Towns are more populated with NPCs to interact with and allow gamers more variety beyond going to the Inn and saving the game. Guilds appear in nearly every town. Within these Guilds gamers can check out wanted posters of enemies that will bring in good coin if they are defeated. Additionally, there are quests to partake which bring in more bounty if they are completed successfully. These are generally optional diversions but can prove worthwhile by helping a party gain experience or acquire specific items.
Also new to Arc the Lad II are Smith Shops, these allow gamers to upgrade the levels and stats of equipment or outright enhance them by combining certain weapons or armor together. Another place of intrigue is Mother Claire's. She's a Witch who will upgrade the monsters in the party either by changing their class or giving them new abilities. Gamers can also sell off any monsters for some extra cash if they desire.
Rounding out the welcome additions to Arc the Lad II is an interactive world map. No longer are gamers subject to pointing to a destination and then selecting it. Now characters actually travel from one location to the next. It can get very confusing to move around as some areas which could be places of entry turn out to be nothing while other places that doesn't resemble anything pop up inconceivably. In the original Arc the Lad dungeons and the like were often small scale exploration expeditions. This time around gamers will devote more time to flipping switches, opening doors, backtracking and possibly even getting lost in more expansive, detailed areas.
Despite the additions and changes, the sequel does have some idiosyncrasies it shares with Arc the Lad. Visually, the games look nearly identical. The audio is certainly ripe with ditties for battling, exploration and visiting towns, but the astute gamer will recognize the recycled music. While the AI overall is generally more balanced, they still often perform actions that the player cannot; (being able to counter attacks from behind or countering successive attacks). It is still advisable to beef up character stats through levelling as speed running through the game will prove foolhardy. The prompt save that was so frequent in Arc the Lad is unavailable in Arc the Lad II, so be certain to save when possible, and save often. Finally, while the characters and verbal exchanges are still amusing, there is no way to skip anything and some of the conversations and in game-cut scenes go on for an excruciatingly long time punctuated with unnecessary filler.
As a sequel, Arc the Lad II is a definite improvement. It provides gamers with a Strategy RPG that successfully builds upon the original with two intertwining stories, more customization, characters, quests and friendlier AI resulting in a longer, more engaging title. While the sequel does bring some baggage along, Arc the Lad II should not be overlooked based solely on what its predecessor brought to the table. The price to download this title alone is worth the cost of admission and for those that played through Arc the Lad, considers this your just reward.