Every now and again, every RPG fan has the same question cross his or her mind: If that blacksmith has all of the legendary weapons, is totally on board with your quest, and is honestly probably a higher level than you could ever hope to be, why doesn't he take on this quest himself? Arelite Core by Dragon Slumber is a game that answers that question with a resounding "No real reason, so here, play a blacksmith." That said, that and the game world itself were the only thing the game does that's completely original, or at least that is original and good. Do you like retro JRPGs? Well then you'll like Arelite Core just fine. Are you not so much a fan of the genre? Steer as far away from this as possible. Myself, I did enjoy the game well enough, though I will confess I was not able to finish it due to incredibly long story, drawn out and occasionally frustrating gameplay, and just enough bugs to make me scream and close the game while I went to cool off.
Arelite Core is available on Steam for $19.99.
In true JRPG fashion, you get to name every character who enters your party. I know the protagonist's name is supposed to be Karden, but I'm just going to call him "Dad" because he's pretty much the strong, responsible grown man who usually mentors the young and brash protagonist only to die to give the character motivation in other games. Dad is in line to be the next master smith of his village when the mines of his village once again hit a vein of the mystical metal called "Arelite." Though you initially leave your village with your trusted friend Baeme to study the methods of the world's smiths so you can best serve your village, you are quickly embroiled in a plot to stop the resurrection of the world eater Talameq. Party members come and go, as usual in these games, and each one is rather distinct. You get a mystic cow man named Aurek, a brief flash with an avian warrior woman named Pharj, and a vengeful combat monk named Ibram among those who will enter your party, and none of them seem like cardboard cutouts of archetypes.
The story is probably the strongest point of this game. Though needing to stop the resurrection of a world-eater isn't exactly breaking new ground, the smaller stories along the way are what really grabbed me. Though I didn't find Dad particularly exciting, I enjoyed many of the subplots the other characters brought to the table as well as the game world itself.
However, I will say the villains were pretty stock. There are two kinds of villains: Cocky jerks and sanctimonious jerks. All of the villains will give you either a speech about nihilism, an arrogant laugh, or both. When I'm done with this game, I may remember the magician because his concept was more on the creative side but aside from that the villains aren't super memorable.
This is a JRPG, so you know the drill. Overworld, dungeons, villages, turn-based combat. I won't bore you with everything you already know. Rather, I'll tell you everything they do differently.
To grind or not to grind?
Something the game throws at you immediately is the option to pick grind mode or not. That is something that I think all JRPGs need to have. The primary problem most people have with this genre is the fact that it's so grind-tastic, but I will say that my (what I hope was) most of a run was a lot lower on grind than many others. Never at any point did I have to walk in circles and crush lower level creatures just so I can fight, I just went from A to B and took what came, and that seemed to be enough.
Something cool and different about the combat is the stance system. Striking, parrying, and your special moves all have different stances that you can put points in and can respec anytime, so the constant shifting in party composition never leaves you completely SOL. At one point in time I was having trouble with a boss, so I just restarted outside of combat, switched over to some different stances, and the fight was a lot easier.
But is there crafting?
Dad is a smith, so of course there will be a crafting system. As you explore, you will find bits of ore and gems laying around. When you hit the town again and go to a smith, you can combine these in any which way you desire to create new and stronger weapons and armor for any of your characters. I recommend outfitting Dad first as he's the only character you can rely on sticking around, but the ore is scarce enough to provide a decent exploration element.
I've given some points of what I liked here, now let's get into the bad stuff. Here's a massive problem I have: there is no option to run from combat. Imagine you're playing Pokemon going through Mount Moon. Now imagine that the repels work maybe half as well at best and the zubats are all the same level as your pokemon. Now take away the run option. Do you feel that little involuntary scream of frustration that comes from thinking about having to deal with all those vermin? That's how this game works. Now, granted there are items to let you escape and avoid combats so it avoids all of my wrath, but the ability to have a chance to run from tedious combat should be a standard feature that doesn't require in-game currency. Also with the infrequency of the shops in one particular part of the game, there was a while where I had to force myself to slog through with nearly no provisions and tanking each encounter. When I got to the boss of that stage I nearly punched my monitor, because I had no good healing to speak of.
Even the snake oil is snake oil
Many of the items look like they should be useful at first glance, but through what I think is a programming error they wind up doing less than nothing. One item should have healed a party member in full, but wound up just giving him one health back. Another should have healed stun, which is a totally overpowered condition that happens too often by the way, but wound up doing absolutely nothing. This unreliability really can shoot down a good contingency plan if your only hope lies in an item which bugs out and does precisely jack squat.
Graphics and audio
I ask two things of graphics: That they be consistent and distinct. I don't need to see every pore on the protagonist's nose, that not only paints artists into a corner but isn't fair to non-triple A developers. Sadly, Arelite Core doesn't really meet my mark on these. That isn't to say the designs are bad, but I thought they looked like sketches of that one friend you had in middle school who was super into anime and filled her sketchbook with original characters. They're good, not great. The backgrounds, however, go from either standard to some of the most stunning watercolors I've ever seen. The sprites are okay, not great, but I could have used more diversity. For a while it seemed every smith looked kind of like Liu Bei from Dynasty Warriors, so I thought I was entering a Nurse Joy situation, but in Pokemon it's played as kind of a joke, while here it was like the developers hope we won't notice (Side note, I swear I've played more than Pokemon games in my life, but the comparisons keep coming). Also, your characters keep their overworld sprite form when you enter combat, which normally I wouldn't hold as a problem but there comes a time when you need to defeat your rivals and they have these animated 2d forms in combat that make them look about five times bigger and more detailed than your RPG maker-esque, which kind of wrecked my immersion.
If you want to have a nostalgia trip, just lean back and listen to this game's soundtrack in all its retro epic-ness. By that I do mean "epic" in the actual sense, in that through its bleeps and bloops it conjures the feeling of an epic quest, a massive world, great heroes, and dastardly villains. Alternatively, the music can sound very homely and simple in the quieter settings. However, the music didn't always seem to match the events of the games. One particular moment in the early game saw a black knight come in and massacre a good chunk of the population, then once you defeat the boss the music goes back to the normal calm village soundtrack as you mix among the bodies, which gave the impression that Ghengis Khan just ran a raiding party through Pallet Town. Maybe some more variety in the soundtrack would have done this game some good.
I reiterate what I said earlier: If you like JRPGs, this one will suit you just fine, but I don't see it winning anyone over to the genre. Where it fixes some areas of frustration, some of them are much, much worse. The main story is a bit unoriginal, but the subplots are cool. The lack of need to grind is replaced by a system in which getting out of combat is difficult. The graphics are nice and the music is awesome, but both need a bit more diversity. Where in one place I have a problem, another popped up. I will say that it obviously shows that Dragon Slumber did this out of love for the games of their childhood rather than solely to cash in on the nostalgia of people who remember when this kind of the game was the best we can do. Will I finish this game? I don't know, probably. My approval of this game is very tentative, maybe wait for it to go on sale first as the price tag does seem a bit steep to me. I've seen some decree this a must have for fans of this genre, but I would classify it more as a "could have." I could have a conversation with someone about this game, but I won't find myself turning conversations to it. A worthy attempt, but to some it will seem just a bit dull.
|+ Decent side stories||– Standard main quest|
|+ Adaptable characters||– Frustrating combat|
|+ No need to grind||– Item bugs galore|