Game of the Month May, 2003:

System: Super NES Developer: Hal Laboratory
When I think about obscure, but enjoyable, SNES RPGs, Arcana is one of the first to come to mind. Although not as well-loved as many other RPGs to appear on the system, it certainly can hold its own against the likes of Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Chrono Trigger, Lufia, and Earthbound. But unlike all those aforementioned games, Arcana has a first-person perspective, a la, Might & Magic or The Bard's Tale. But even if you've never liked any of those dungeon-crawling-style RPGs before, you may be interested to know that Arcana plays more like a traditional role playing game, with a more linear structure and a storyline to follow. You play the role of Rooks, the last of the remaining Card Masters. An evil wizard named Galneon is planning to resurrect the ancient evil empress, Rimsala, and only a true Card Master has the ability to stop this unholy awakening. As in Final Fantasy games, various characters will join and leave your party at certain points in the game, each bringing their own unique weapon and spell-wielding capabilites. And for this journey, you will need as much as you can get, because some of Arcana's dungeons can be very tough, indeed.


Hearing it straight from 'The Man'. Arcana's dungeons start out relatively simple, but soon evolve into twisting, complex mazes. The Ice Mine Dungeon, in particular, is a maze-lover's nightmare! But you won't have to worry too much about getting lost, since the game's nifty auto-mapping feature will keep track of where you've been. However, you will have to contend with the dozens of dungeon denizens that could all potentially end your game at any moment. Battles are random, but enemy parties within a single area are usually so varied that you never know what you'll fight next. You could be fighting a relatively harmless single Thief, only to be attacked by a cavalry of seven Manticores, each bearing spells that can affect your entire party at once. The kicker is that you must keep ALL of your party members alive at all times (with the exception of your spirit card helper.) Losing just one member ends your game instantly; there is no resurrecting dead characters here. Enemies vary per floor in a dungeon, so the farther up (or down) you go, the harder things will get, which keeps up a good level of suspense. The battle system runs very quickly, and it's fun reading the "trash-talk" that your characters dish out to the enemies.

Graphically, Arcana bears more than a striking resemblance to the Sega Genesis game, Shining in the Darkness. The dungeons are composed almost entirely of tiled brick walls. Arcana does have some areas with a bit more interesting scenery, such as the rocky Draven Pass, the misty Forest of Doubt, and the elegant halls of Bintel Castle. Enemies and characters are all represented in the form of tarot cards, which, although a bit goofy, keeps with the "card master" theme. Enemies are completely animated in battle, and palette-swapped monsters sometimes even have slight alterations to their animations. You will often stumble into boss fights with no warning, so it's best to be prepared for anything at all times.

When the red, red dragon goes drag, drag, draggin' along!

The only major drawback Arcana has that I can think of is that it's translation is less-than-spectacular. Often dialogue seems inane, inappropriate, or just plain confusing (I'm still not sure what really happened at the end.) But the music is absorbing (some of it good enough to rival even the Final Fantasy series), and the game has a unique atmosphere that simply drew me into its lovely world. The final boss is quite a toughie if your levels aren't pumped too high (and if you play like me, they probably won't be the first time you get there.) Though there are better RPGs out there, Arcana is still an easy recommendation to make to anyone who would like a decent, challenging, and fun RPG experience on the SNES.

Arcana Links

  • My Arcana Review - A complete review of this fantastic game.
  • Arcana @ - A complete shrine to Arcana.


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