Since a few years we have seen a resurgence of the tactical RPG genre that was once so popular thanks to the likes of Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, developers who grew up with such classics are now trying to replicate those golden ages with their own project. Launched earlier this month, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark of the Californians of 6 Eyes Studio is an ambitious and cheerful project, but still very far from being fully playable.
In Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark we are transported to a fantasy world that has been given a pinch of steampunk to create a very special atmosphere. We slip into the skin of guardian Kyrie, who witnesses a murder by a snooty nobleman at the beginning of the game.
As an agent of the Immortal Council, responsible for stability and order in the country, we take the culprit into custody to drag him to the court. But it turns out that the guy is signed for the succession of a ruling member of the Council in question and thus is above the law. Thus, the noble lacquered monkey with his murder so unscathed, while he goes on a pilgrimage to ascend to become the next member of the council.
Since we do not trust the guy by any means, we take up the chase without further ado. The adventure begins. The quite clichéd plot of Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark comes in the first few hours of play relatively slow in motion, but also comes with some clever ideas and surprising twists, which we want to leave unmentioned here for spoiler reasons.
From a playful point of view, though, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark has got it all going, with a multi-faceted, incredibly strategic combat system that will delight fans of classics like Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre. On the world map, we navigate from area to area, with either levels with crisp battles or if we’re not going to battle, we can buy new items, armor and weapons in cities, or recruit new members for our group in the guild.
The tactical fights are where Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark actually shines. Anyone who has ever played a tactical RPG will quickly find their portion of entertainment. For beginners, there are extensive tutorials at the beginning, which familiarize us with the game mechanics. Depending on the area, we face a certain number of enemies. The more adversaries we face, the more troops we can launch. They also want to be cleverly positioned at the beginning. Melee to the front, scoundrels and rangers to the sides. Mages and healers should be positioned behind the front line so that they do not become the first target for our enemies. Once we have determined the starting positions, we can start.
All characters have two actions per round, a bar at the top of the screen shows who is next. We can move and attack a certain number of spaces or cast spells or use an item. Which of these actions we perform first is up to us. So far, so well known. But it will be exciting when we have to include the terrain in our strategy. If we attack an enemy from the side, we cause more damage. From the back our attacks are particularly devastating.
However, it should be remembered that surface attacks and spells not only hit enemies, but also damage our own troops. At least, as long as we have not yet unlocked the appropriate skill. Yes, in Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark, our characters rise in the best role-playing style, unlocking a variety of new abilities. However, where the title skilfully stands out from the competition is in the use of the items and the classes. After all, items are not consumed, but are available in limited numbers in each fight. Once we create a strong healing potion, it will be available to us forever. The difficulty, however, lies in the fact that only a certain number of usages per fight are available to us. Incidentally, this includes certain elemental stones that we can use to thunder our enemies to the head to cause damage for example.
Technically, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark makes a lot and convinces with a beautiful, hand-painted graphic style, which can be absolutely gorgeous. Especially the sometimes crazy character design is catching to the eye, in the animations and effects, however, could have had a little more time to perfect it all. Nevertheless, the tactics role-playing in itself is harmonious and conjures a dense atmosphere on the screen. The successful, driving soundtrack, which almost perfectly accompanies the action on the screen and which stays lingering in your mind, also contributes to this. However, the music does not offer evergreen potential, as there is also a lot of spoken English texts to be said to continue and strenghten the characters further.
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark surprised me positively. The turn-based RPG actually walks on the paths of genre classics like Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre, with some great new features. Especially the different classes provide a lot of variety and invite you to experiment. In combination with the harmonious technique and the first-class combat system, genrefans and those who want to become one should take a closer look at Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark. Only the somewhat clichéd story and slimmer size poke up sour. But from a playful point of view there is almost nothing to criticize. One of the best tactical RPGs I’ve played in the last few years, which gives it a certain ‘buy it!’ clarification.
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Marl is an exciting and challenging tactical RPG that scores with fresh ideas and an ingenious combat system.