I’ve spoken at length before about how my favorite PSP game is Jeanne D’Arc, but in case you’ve missed the memo, here’s why: it’s a fantastic game! A deep strategy RPG with surprising combat mechanics and a powerful story led by a female character (inspired by French heroine Joan of Arc’s story), Jeanne D’Arc is about as engrossing as games get on the PSP, and that’s saying something. So, when I saw Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark was coming to the Switch, I just had to see if it could hold a candle to a title with which it obviously shared a lot in common.
In terms of story, there are definitely parallels between the two: chosen leaders, a nation under siege, power struggles. It’s standard SRPG fare, sure, but in Fell Seal, much like in Jeanne D’Arc, you can tell that the story has been crafted with love, paying attention to the evolution of the characters and their story arcs. While some villains in particular may act and sound cartoonish, there’s some real depth to the struggles with power and authority within the game, and I appreciate that. I do wish there was more emphasis on diversity, though. I think we’ve come a long enough way now that we can have a more diverse cast based on real people, or at least, real ethnicities. I realize not every game needs to make a statement about this, but representation will always go a long way towards making me enjoy a game.
The combat, which is at the core of every good SRPG, is tremendously solid, if perhaps not as deep as the games upon which it’s inspired. While there are 20 classes and over 200 abilities, as well as tons of gear, the in-situ strategy options are a bit limited beyond this, and could have used some of the more advanced mechanics seen in other entries in the genre, such as stats being influenced by ally proximity or topography. But I do understand this is a small indie title, and balancing a more complex combat system would have been, perhaps, overstretching. On the filpside, the absence of these systems makes the combat more streamlined and easier to understand, making Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark a very good entry point for people who want to get a taste of SRPGs without getting into an extremely complex battling system. Cool stuff!
In terms of presentation, I absolutely adore the way the game looks. The hand-drawn style ticks all the right boxes for me, particularly in an age where even I am definitely running into pixel-art fatigue. The game runs beautifully, too, even in handheld mode, which I’m very appreciative of. Sadly, the music is a bit lackluster and there’s no real voice acting to speak of, so once again, the indie/budget nature of the title once again shows through the cracks of an otherwise very impressive presentation armor.
The game flows really well, even in the beginning stages, which is commendable, seeing as how even big developers sometimes struggle to strike a balance between welcoming players new to the genre, and accelerating the passage of those who are long time fans. This is indeed a good thing, as you can look forward to spending around 35-45 hours on Fell Seal: Aribter’s Mark. That’s a lot of meat on a $29.99 bone, and in terms of amount of content, I’m more than happy to recommend the game to people looking for a good dollar-to-hour-spent-ratio.
So, is it a new Jeanne D’Arc? Not quite: it lacks a bit of depth in the combat system, as well as hallmarks of bigger names in the genre, such as voice acting. But as a streamlined experience for both newcomers and seasoned players, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a great-looking, fun and enjoyable SRPG that does not overstay its welcome, despite providing plenty of content (particularly for the buck). Fans of the genre: pick this one up without a second thought. And for newcomers: this might be one of the best entry points into the SRPG genre to grace the Switch so far.