[Review] Lord of Apocalypse

After Lord of Arcana on PSP in 2010, SquareEnix released the 2nd installment in this portable Hunting-RPG series: Lord of Apocalypse. Although Osaka based developer Access Games is best known […]

After Lord of Arcana on PSP in 2010, SquareEnix released the 2nd installment in this portable Hunting-RPG series: Lord of Apocalypse. Although Osaka based developer Access Games is best known in the west for games like Spy Fiction, Deadly Premonition or even their Ace Combat PSP ports, the Lord of titles got quite some attention in Japan. Unlike Capcom’s Monster Hunter license or Namco’s God Eater Burst, or even SEGA’s Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity, this game is unique mainly in its combat system with a better camera and lock on.

Being the only RPG available at launch, it is one of the much anticipated titles of the PS Vita in Japan, bearing in mind that it also came out for the PSP. Also Nintendo having “temporarily” (Capcom isn’t stupid enough to not release their cash-cow on the Vita) acquired the rights for the Mohun franchise on handhelds, this title has a real chance to get a head-start on other multi-player co-op hunting games on Sony’s next gen portable. So let’s see what this title has to offer!

 

ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A STONE…

Like its predecessor, this sequel is based on the Lord of Vermillion arcade card game from 2008 which can only be found in Japanese game centers. The story pretty much evolves around the Vermillion stone, which holds the forbidden magic power known as Arcana to create unlimited worlds and become a god like creature. In Lord of Arcana, after you get to the end and become the Vermillion lord, that is the end of the story. Lord of Apocalypse is much like its prequel: at first there was a human who wielded the power of Arcana which ended up breaking up into 7 stone fragments. So your main quest is basically to go through seven worlds and retrieve those fragments in order to become the next Lord of Vermillion. This time around, however, there is a mysterious dark entity which is swallowing up all the worlds and it’s your destiny to stop it. In a nutshell, it’s not that little twist that will make storytelling a major thing in hunting games. But you’re not playing these games for its storyline, do you?

If you choose to rush through the game as fast as possible, it might take you about 5~ish hours of game-play depending on how good/bad you are. But there are many other side quests which greatly help you gearing up for higher level quests. Though I’m not going to give away any spoilers, I’ll just mention that if you do like watching stories in anime style, then you will definitely be positively surprised as this game introduces that type of narration for the first time with beautiful cut scenes… that can be skipped!! Game engine scenes are therefore almost inexistent.

 

LORD OF… MERCENARIES

The controls in this game are quite basic. The standard controls are carried over from the former PSP version and haven’t changed. It means that you still get the “L” lock on button, “R” item menu, Triangle, Square, Circle, X, button are used in the same way in battle. The only difference with the Vita version is that you get a 2nd analog stick to control the camera (you can now toggle between standard and reverse) and that you can also pick up dropped items from mobs from far away with just a swipe on the screen. Although seemingly gimmicky at first, it turns out to be very helpful. When I mean, far away, I meant REALLY far away. You can literally pick up dropped items from the edge of the screen just by touching it.

In Lord of Apocalypse, you no longer need to go into a battle sequence every time you engage an enemy, which makes this game a lot more fast-paced and thus much more enjoyable. The weapon combo system is quite unique as some combos are only good against few enemies which helps to keep the game balanced. Although the weapon attacks are quite similar to most other hunting games, what I liked was that you can cast magic while in the middle of doing your combo which most other games don’t have. Also level-ups now happen in real time and you recover full HP instantly which adds up to its dynamic game-play.

If you liked Lord of Arcana‘s finishing Quick Time Events, well, they’re back in Lord of Apocalypse. Before you could only kill a boss at the end if you completed the QTE sequence correctly. But now, if you incorrectly mis-input the button prompts, you won’t get another chance to do the QTE again and instead the boss will just die. Also if the boss is limping and very low on HP you can skip the QTE by using a summoning card instead to overkill the creature instantly. But these two alternatives don’t come without penalty, because you sometimes won’t get the boss’ soul gem that you are looking for, or maybe you’ll just get a fragment of the soul gem, meaning that you have to do boss battles more than just one time…

Many people complained about the annoying difficulty in single player mode of Lord of Arcana (especially boss fights), so the developers came up with the inclusion of mercenaries which help you a great deal progressing in the game. Although the NPC’s AI is sometimes questionable, they are, for the most part, quite formidable. They do have quite a bit of damage output and also resurrect you whenever they get a chance. NPC’s AI is managed in modes: You can set them to be aggressive, defensive, or neutral. You can also set their target as well to closest to the NPC, focus on the one main character he’s attacking, or leave it to the NPC.

However, there is one part of their AI that really angers me. Only 1 NPC is designated to resurrect you while you are dying. When you are dying, a 30 seconds countdown kicks in during which you can be revived without any penalties. The problem is that if that NPC designated to revive you happens to be stunned or running very slowly (due to low health), you are doomed unless you use a revive charm, of which you can only carry 3. Since other NPCs won’t resurrect you when only 1 is assigned, this poses a problem when tackling difficult bosses such as the Minotaur.

While sometimes your mercenaries NPC don’t seem too useful in battle, they are really useful off battle. There is actually an area you can go to, where you can hire them and send them on conquests. These conquests help you by increasing drops or weakening enemies in areas that you hunt. Also when these mercenaries succeed, they will receive experience as well as money.

Mercenaries vary by weaponry and each one of them comes packed with a different skill-set which cannot be changed though, leaving no room for customization. The lower level mercenaries have some skills that are only unlocked until they level up higher or until you reach maximum friendliness with them. Some mercenaries can heal you in battle depending on their weapon type, whilst others can lay traps as well as cure your status effects. So they’re quite useful overall. This makes the game a lot easier when playing with many mercenaries instead of just soloing a quest, especially during boss fights where they can be used as a distraction bait, allowing you to go after the boss.

It’s also worth noting that the maximum level cap of your character is 200 whilst your mercenaries can only go up to a 100.

 

LORD OF… MANA/STAMINA

Another real big difference is that although there is a mana bar, it isn’t used for casting your magic, it’s used for summonings. Once charged to full, you can call upon the bosses you defeated to help aid you in battle. Mana bar is charged by either attacking an enemy or using a mana crystal item which can either be obtained by slashing a box during a mission or be bought at the town store if you have the sufficient materials/ingredients and money. Summonings have to be bought using a very special “currency”. If you’ve beaten a boss, you can use its soul to purchase a summon card of that boss at the local store. Not all summons are strictly offensive; some are used for healing, attack boost etc.. so try which combination which works for you. Note that mana bars are different in length depending on the summoning you want to use, which actually didn’t change from Lord of Arcana.

Magic in this game, however, works in the same way as Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity, where magic power is drawn from your stamina. While Fire, Dark and Light carry over from the previous PSP version there are 3 new elements that appear in Lord of Apocalypse: Wind, Ice and Earth. While Wind is a fast hitting normal damage magic, I find Ice to be the most useful because freezing enemies in place helps you kill them faster.

 

LORD OF… MEDALS

Another great addition of this game is that you can perform item exchanges using medals. Medals can be accumulated after doing special missions, which need passwords to unlock, or also can be obtained if you were to level up your friendliness with your mercenaries. It should be worth noting that these passwords are usually only obtained on the publisher’s official website, while other Mohun clones propose to download these add-ons through in-game menus. This password system being just an annoying marketing strategy, I just went the lazy route and found them on someone else’s blog. Silver medals can be used to exchange for weapons and armors, while the gold medals can be used to exchange for experience points or skill points. It is also worth noting that silver medals can be used towards buying summoning cards instead of forging them through the usual vendor. Because of this implementation, collected materials to create weapons and armor now seem to be more a surplus than anything else and you could argue about whether or not this part of the game is broken and makes it too easy… This said, some weapons and armors cannot be obtained solely by purchasing from the store or exchanged from medals and need to be forged and upgraded with materials. So materials still play quite an important role in crafting.

In Lord of Arcana, you used to carry materials in your current inventory until you finished the mission. In the sequel, once you pick up an item, it gets sent straight to your item box so you don’t have to carry it on hand, saving up some space for potions etc. Since in the Vita version, there are trophies based on collection of weapons and armor and also maxing out the level of skills, this comes in really handy and is a lot fun for grind junkies.

 

LORD OF… MOHUN?

As with any other Mohun clone, game-play through is extremely straight forward. There’s no open world map and you have your town which is your base for recovering, buying/crafting stuff and preparing your escapades. From there just select a quest and complete said tasks, be it killing a boss, or collecting items. Getting ingredients can be a daunting task, that’s why this game is best played with 2-3 other people, including mercenaries. Having mentioned that, for the Vita, there isn’t a very good multi-player support since it doesn’t support Internet play like ad-hoc party. Because of that, it is quite a pain to use Near to scan the area and see if there are other people playing the same game. I mean it’s not like everybody lives in Tokyo and can go to Akiba’s Yodobashi Camera to sit on a bench and play with others… Even though playing single player mode in town does seem easier, playing multi-player mode can be more beneficial as there are potions you can buy to help you on your mission. They range from being better rewards to increase in mana gauge etc. A very important, yet disappointing fact is that you cannot play the Lord of Apocalypse Vita version in ad hoc mode with someone playing the PSP version.

The graphics are very nice with sharp colors overall enhanced by the Vita’s processing power granting faster loading times when getting from one area to the next. The character models are very detailed and you have now a few neat additions during character creation like choosing facial hair and so on. However, the music themes being very limited, listening gets quite repetitive and drowsy. Especially when you are walking through an area in total silence and all of sudden music kicks in when you enter a battle sequence. You could argue that this has been done on purpose like in Demon’s Souls where it contributes to the overall gloomy atmosphere… well either way it just doesn’t work. In the worst case, before getting really annoyed by this, there is a workaround by playing your own music in the background. How’s that?

For those of you who were hoping for DLCs, well, just like its previous version, there are no DLCs for this game. Pretty unfortunate but that’s the way it is with this title. Also supposedly you can use your old save game from Lord of Arcana which carries over some of your stats. Unfortunately I couldn’t test this feature since I played the Vita version and as said before, both version are not compatible.

 

If you’ve ever played Lord of Arcana, you were probably turned off by its repetitiveness and overly long, hard boss battles in single player mode. Well, the sequel on Vita drastically improved on all of these shortcomings which makes it now a better alternative to Capcom’s Monster Hunter series, but also still keeps its old style feeling. This being said, when it comes to collecting and crafting armors and weapons, the Lord of franchise has still a long way to go, to seriously compete with Mohun. As with most Monster Hunter clones, this game is worth picking up best when you can get other people to play with you, which requires more than just luck if you’re not dwelling in Japan. However, it’s still enjoyable even if you solo throughout the whole game. Just don’t expect to be able to do the extra end game quests alone. Lord of Arcana came out by the end of 2010 in Japan but eventually had an international release in early 2011. Nothing has been announced by Square Enix regarding a western release date yet, but let’s hope for the best…

Advantages:
- Dynamic Battle System
- Enhanced Graphics
- Stick controlled camera
- Addition of Mercenaries

Drawbacks:
- Annoying Music
- No online adhoc
- No PS Vita/PSP cross play

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