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Lord of Arcana preview: Bloody bad monster hunting


Ever since Capcom's Monster Hunter Portable lit up the Japanese sales charts, there's been no shortage of clones hitting the PSP. This year's TGS show floor featured follow-ups to many of them, including Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, God Eater Burst and Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity. Square Enix is throwing its hat into the crowded monster-hunting genre with Lord of Arcana ... and doesn't appear to succeed.

If you've played a dungeon crawler on PSP before, Lord of Arcana will feel immediately familiar. An on-screen mini-map will direct you throughout the dungeon, until it ends with a climatic battle against a giant boss monster. Along the way, there are battles with smaller creatures, and straying from the beaten path will reveal loot-filled treasure chests.

Lord of Arcana attempts a more adult look than its competitors, with bloodier, gorier graphics. While that may have its appeal, the art looks bland and uninspired. The muted color palette of the dungeons quickly bored me, and the sub-par texture work makes this one of the worst looking PSP games Square Enix has ever produced. Lord of Arcana replaces Phantasy Star's colorful worlds,

If you've played a dungeon crawler on PSP before, Lord of Arcana will feel immediately familiar.

Monster Hunter's cute charm and God Eater's gorgeous steampunk scenery with generic art ripped from Game Design 101.

The gameplay doesn't add much to the Monster Hunter formula. It's pedestrian, with slow movement and uninteresting attacks. There is the occasional Final Fantasy flair, in the form of "Ultimate Spells." Essentially Final Fantasy summons, these flashy cutscenes end with a wide area attack on the field. There are also "Cinematic Sequences," moments where the game turns into a QTE and allows you to perform a high-powered attack. These provide a welcome break from the monotonous button-mashing the rest of the battles entail.

The TGS demo was an exclusively single-player affair, and it made fighting the end-level boss a tiresome experience. What should have taken only a few minutes went on for ages. After whittling the boss' health halfway down, I was eager to finish off this foe -- not to see what happens, but to put the game down. Considering the numerous options available on PSP -- each better than Lord of Arcana -- I don't see this game as capable of competing on the same level as Monster Hunter.

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