Thanks to Idea Factory International for the review code
Title: Arc of Alchemist
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 01/30/2020
In a world covered in desert, a group of heroes embark on a journey to try to rebuild civilization, in this Compile Heart RPG adventure! It’s a self contained story, but for some odd reason, it doesn’t really feel like you start this game properly, with little context on events taking place with the main cast before the game.
The plot feels pretty haphazard and throwaway as a result, and it’s incredibly hard to care about any characters due to barely knowing anything about them, save for random cutscenes that play when you’re back at base. It just doesn’t make me care one bit.
Arc of Alchemist is a 3D RPG, looking not too unlike other Idea Factory RPGs, with similar UI, menus, and visual styles, so if you’ve played something like Fairy Fencer F, then you kinda know what to expect from the Arc’s look. Being that this is an Action RPG however, you don’t have separate battle scenes, nor do you go into dungeons from a map, rather you teleport to a checkpoint of the game’s massive maps, since this game’s dungeons are pretty darn huge. The music is substandard, not really doing anything special and getting pretty annoying after you hear the same battle theme a hundred times in a row, and the voice acting is all in Japanese, so it simply gets the job done.
So on the surface, this game still seems like a decent looking RPG, and having covered other IF RPGs in the past, that means I have nothing else to note, right? Well, unfortunately, this Switch version of Arc makes the entire game look the worst I’ve seen of any game on Switch to date. Those 3D visuals and typical IF models? Smeared as if they’re bathed in vaseline. The menus? Despite being at a higher framerate than other parts of the game, there’s odd input delays and they stutter quite a bit.
And speaking of which, the framerate? Completely unacceptable for a Switch port. I cannot stand other Switch ports that cut framerate to make the game look as pretty as possible, and thus I consider ports like Doom and Wolf II to be the absolute worst port jobs on the system, due to not running the games at their intended speed, despite how if the resolution was lowered, it might have been able to run those games uncapped or at least a bit better. So you’d think that with Arc of Alchemist looking like vaseline, the framerate should be the same as the PS4 version, right? Well, somehow it runs far, far, far worse, to the point in handheld mode I’ve had the game dip to single digit framerates whenever an enemy came up on the screen. Hell, even my party members cause the game to drop frames, since turning the camera to obscure the other party members would make the game suddenly run better. The game runs so slow at times I get scared that it’ll crash on me, but despite the ass framerate, it never did that thankfully. But for an action RPG like this, dependent on actions, commands, and motions, the low framerate is unacceptable and would make this game completely unplayable if it wasn’t for the generous difficulty options available.
Docked mode has the game run a little bit better, but that’s not much of an upgrade. You won’t get single digits in the same spots as in handheld, but it still runs far worse than the PS4 version, and the textures are still low quality. If this is a dealbreaker for you, then jump off now, because it ruins the entire experience.
Being an action RPG, Arc of Alchemist tasks you with guiding Quinn and her team throughout the desert, beating up enemies and using her Teargem abilities for magic. Thus, there aren’t any battle scenes, since everything is done in real-time. It seems like a pretty good change of pace from the battle scenes in every other IF RPG, and if the game ran better, it would be. Generally, you’ll be exploring the desert, mapping out new areas, beating up enemies, and gathering their materials, repeating over and over as you travel the desert. You have a basic attack and a special move that has a recharge, and you can even lock onto enemies to aim at them better, which helps for projectile moves.
You even have a base camp that you can return to once you reach a checkpoint. Here, you’ll learn more about your main characters, (instead of knowing more about them at the start, like you think you would) adjust your party formation and change the main character (with each character having their own moveset), sell and buy items/weapons, and upgrade or build parts of the base with funds and materials. It’s also where you save your game, so it’s important to check back now and then, especially if you have the means to upgrade facilities for better items.
Unfortunately, any good from these aspects are completely negated by the Switch version’s horrific performance. I already mentioned the gist of how bad this port runs, but it really, really slows the pacing of the game down to a crawl, and makes a lot of aspects not fun. Multiple times I would get stuck for minutes to even an hour, due to being unable to tell what exactly I was looking at due to a vital item I needed to light up with my fire attack being so blurry/dark I couldn’t even tell what it was, while at other times, I’d get hit by enemies due to the shit framerate causing input delays and me to under or overestimate my movements.
I quickly made sure the game was set to the easiest difficulty solely to avoid any frustrations caused by the framerate, yet I still got stuck at points for the reasons above, and when I got past those points, I’d simply get stuck on a puzzle further on or be uncertain where to go. It’s utterly obnoxious and both the combat and exploration take a critical hit due to the game’s horrid framerate. I can’t get into the gameplay loop here when the way the game runs gave me a literal headache after hours of non-stop playing. Yet the odd part is, the core gameplay loop still works, although barely, so I feel that if this had a framerate patch I could actually enjoy this game a lot more. But unfortunately, it’s been seven months since launch, and the one patch that launched since did nothing to improve the godawful performance.
In conclusion, Arc of Alchemist is a catastrophic disaster on Switch. The game dips and climbs in framerate constantly, the visuals are so downgraded that it can be difficult to even make out key aspects, and the experience is overall miserable. There is a decent enough action RPG buried under all of this, but the abysmal performance should have never been accepted for release, and I’m outright ashamed they thought this port was in a good state to release, and haven’t fixed it since.
While I did have decent fun with the core gameplay, despite not caring about the story one bit, I much, much rather you pick this up on any other platform if this game sounds interesting to you: avoid the Switch port at all costs, no matter what. Clearly they aren’t going to fix it, so you shouldn’t give this port your time or money. If it seriously wasn’t for the fact the gameplay loop was still somewhat decent, this would easily be the worst game I’ve ever covered on the entire Nintendo Switch system, and that says something.
I give Arc of Alchemist a 1 out of 10.