If you're in the market for a traditional JRPG with plenty of battles, consider Arc Rise: Fantasia from Imageepoch and Ignition. It doesn't exactly push the genre forwards (who said that's needed anyway though, right?), and even though I still consider myself a newcomer to the genre, Arc Rise: Fantasia (ARF) feels familiar and decidedly textbook. That said, I believe that there is always room in the genre for another good entry, which is what I have found Arc Rise: Fantasia to be.
A JRPG'ing We Will Go
The adventure begins with a brief cutscene that shows our hero, L'Arc Bright Lagoon aboard a lightship (i.e., flying ship) doing battle against the evil Feldragons. The Meridian Empire has long since battled these beasts and when it was discovered that the dragons were going to invade the Imperial land, a fleet of Lightships under the command of Prince Alf were dispatched as a way of hitting the dragons first. L'Arc is on board to help, but he quickly finds himself falling from a lightship with a wounded dragon, crashing to the ground moments later. Injured, he is saved by a Diva, a priest of North Noireism known as Ryfia. She's the typical JRPG female role, or at least one that we've seen many times: highly powerful, yet, unaccustomed to battle and the world she finds herself in. Through a variety of dialogue sequences, L'Arc gets to know her and she is one of several important characters you will meet.
Within minutes, players are introduced to the battle system of ARF. The battle system is turned based and players are required to keep watch of AP, or Action Points. Each action you command your party members to take requires AP, be it attacking, casting a spell, using an item, or just waiting or moving. You can tell how much AP each action will consume from the battle menu that you use to issue these commands. Players get an advantage for attacking enemies from behind, so if you can manage to approach them as such in the game world, you will earn First Attack and you will start with full AP. Otherwise, if you are attacked from behind, players are then Ambushed and start with lower AP for the first turn.
In addition to Action Points, ARF utilizes SP and MP. Special and Magic Points are used for Excel Acts and Magic. Excel Acts are powerful, special skills that characters learn as they progress in the game, while Magic attacks include the typical offensive and defensive spells you're probably familiar with.
The battle system also includes a handful of other features like Tandem attacks and Follow-ups. The manual explains these mechanics in great detail, much more so than the game does itself, so it's well worth a look. Battle is a huge part of this game, and given some of the difficult encounters you will face, it's a good idea to know what you're getting into before it's too late, especially considering save points are somewhat scarce.
Besides knowing the battle system really well, players can also use part of a turn to run an Analyzer over their foe to discover their weak points. NPCs will also sometimes say something if a boss is about to unleash a big attack, giving you a quick window of time to prep defenses. The best defense is often a overpowering offense though, so it's worthwhile to partake in the numerous random battles spread out within the game world before reaching a major battle. Doing so will net you XP for your characters and weapons, as well as money to buy additional gear in the various towns you encounter. Towns offer inns to rest up and cure status effects, vendors who sell items, armories, workshops for fixing and upgrading Orbs, tailors for changing out your attire, and guilds.
The basic flow of the game has you visiting and returning to towns after exploring the world map. While exploring, you'll encounter plenty of random battles and the people within your party will engage in conversation, at what seems to be random times, to reveal more about themselves and the plot in general. These brief, random moments of dialogue were welcomed. Dialogue sequences aren't uncommon in this game as there are plenty of NPCs to talk to in town, but I liked that the main characters I controlled would talk to one another.
In terms of presentation, ARF is an interestingly mixed offering. Graphically, it's definitely meant for the Wii. While there is a lot of nice color usage and some neat environments, many things look very jagged, and not just the anime-style hair, either. Animations are mostly smooth, but I encountered some framerate issues at times, too. This could pass as a Gamecube game in all honesty, but that's what we've come to expect from the Wii. As for the audio, I really liked the instrumental score, it was fitting and enjoyable. The voiceovers, however, are really bad. You can tell from the opening minutes of the game, just as soon as L'Arc and Ryfia start talking. It doesn't take long to get used to how bad the voice acting is, but it definitely doesn't do the game any favors.
Overall, Arc Rise Fantasia is a very competent and good, if not maybe great, JRPG. It doesn't have the hysteria surrounding it as other popular RPG/JRPGs, but, Wii-owners should give this game strong consideration if they are looking for a JRPG.
To the summary...