Arc the Lad II

   If you ask an American gamer to name a PlayStation RPG sequel that both continues the first's storyline and makes use of the original's save data, most will answer "Suikoden II." Before Konami's hit 1999 title, though, there was Arc the Lad II, which was the first to Japanese market with both of these then-novel features. Thanks to Working Designs upcoming Arc the Lad Collection, North American gamers will be able to enjoy not only Arc the Lad II, but all of its companion games as well.

Off we go into the wild blue yonder

   Though the story picks up where Arc the Lad left off, it now centers around a new main character. The story is basd around Elc, the last surviving member of the tribe that protected the Fire Guardian, and thus has the power to wield fire. With the help of Shu, a bounty hunter, Elc escapes to become a mercenary, and along the way meets both the returning heroes from the first game and a new cast of characters. The new allies include Lieza, who can recruit over 100 monsters for your party (which can in turn be used in Arc Arena, also included in Arc the Lad Collection); Shante, a bitter orphan; and Diekbeck, an ancient sentient robot. The way that Arc II collects its cast of characters is fairly unique, as well; instead of centering around one character who runs around the world and recruits others, the story moves from person to person as characters are separated from each other. The separated characters meet new allies, thus continuing the finely woven story. For a good amount of its 60+ hours, players will find themselves controlling small 2-3 person groups before all of the characters finally meet up.

   As one might be able to guess from the style of collecting characters, Arc the Lad II has quite a complex story, especially compared to the first in the series. In reality, the first game serves as a mere prologue to the tale that is told in Arc II; all of the characters from the first appear again, both good and bad, and the story picks up right where it left off in Arc I. Gamers who finished the first unsatisfied with its plot can rest assured that the second greatly improves and expands on the story.

 Only you can prevent forest fires.
Ah, the wonderful smell of a burning forest

   Graphics and sound remain much the same as in the first, even to the point that many of the locations are re-used. While this may sound like a corner-cutting measure on G-Craft's part, but it is in fact a welcome feature; a player will move onto what he thinks is a new area, but in reality it is one that was played through in the first game. The passing of time is evident as well, as some of the game's towns have fallen into disarray in the years that pass inbetween the first and second games.

   Though the game does borrow heavily from the first, the gameplay has been tweaked in serveral ways. First, the game is much longer than its 10-15 hour predecessor, clocking in at a whopping 60-80 hours. Because the cast has grown so much from the first game, you must now choose which party members you'll use in battle. In addition to this, Arc II limits the number of characters in battle to a mere 5, greatly cutting down from the first game, which used upwards of 14 controllable characters, including summoned monsters. The battle system in Arc the Lad II has been changed in other ways as well. The most obvious is the addition of an ever-present on-screen display, making it easier to see both character's and enemy's HP and MP totals. Projectile weapons are introduced to the series for the first time; weapons in Arc I could only strike adjoining squares on the battle grid, while weapons in Arc II can have 1-square, 2-square, or v-shaped ranges. Both weapons and armor can level-up in Arc II, another feature lacking from the first. A new weapon may appear to be weaker than a character's current weapon, but after using it in battle a few times the new weapon may prove to be more powerful. Building up weapon levels does increase a character's proficiency with a type of weapon, though, so time spent leveling a sword will not be totally wasted upon moving to a new type of sword.

'Cause green is more fun.
Elc tries to catch up with the mysterious man to find out who his hairstylist is

   The game does retain what made the battle system in Arc I so enjoyable; it is quick-moving and easy to learn. Attacks are executed with a single press of the X button, while magic and item menus are accessed through the Circle and Square buttons, respectively. Ending turns is just as easy as the rest of the controls, requiring only a press of the Triangle button. While some of these features may sound rather obvious, when compared to the multiple button-presses to execute a turn in a similar title such as Final Fantasy Tactics, the streamlined approach that Arc the Lad uses is very welcome.

   Another new feature in Arc the Lad II is the Guild system, which lets the player accept various jobs around town to earn both money and guild status. This provides a great break from the action, letting the player do anything from find a woman's missing burro to stopping bandits that are plundering ruins. With the game's heavy focus on combat, the breaks are greatly appreciated, and let you acquire some unique items as well. One of the most interesting new features, however, remains the ability to use saved data from the first game; when you eventually meet the original heroes, they'll be just as powerful (or weak) as you left them.

   Arc the Lad II should prove to be an integral part of Working Design's upcoming Arc the Lad Collection. With the continuing storyline of the series, as well as the shared memory card saves, Working Designs definitely has the right idea with bundling the game together with Arc the Lad I, III, and Arena. Japanese players had to wait years in-between chapters, but American gamers can experience the entire epic at once when Arc the Lad Collection hits shelves late this year.

Preview by Nich Maragos and J.T. Kauffman, GIA.
Arc the Lad II
Developer G-Craft
Publisher Sony
Genre Strategy RPG
Medium CD (1)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  11.01.96
 November 2001
18 opening sequence screenshots
Main characters
Japanese packaging