Release Date: March 26, 2020
Rating: T (Teen)
Platform: Nintendo Switch
A code for this game was provided by DANGEN Entertainment.
What's It About?
Ara Fell is a world of floating continents, elven ruins, and vampire cults. Our hero is a young woman named Lita, a talented archer with plenty of gumption and sarcasm. Together with her best friend Adrian, the two get wrapped up in a plot to destroy (or save) the world! Along the way, they encounter a mysterious bard named Doren and a powerful mage named Seri Kesu. With this newly formed four-person party, you can take on the vengeful vampires and try to restore peace to Ara Fell.
That's all I really want to say about the story without giving away too much. Suffice it to say, you'll encounter plenty of plot twists along the way. Some, admittedly, are pretty obvious. Others–not so much. For anyone who's played 16-bit JRPGs, you'll notice plenty of familiar tropes here. Still, regardless of cliches, Ara Fell has a lot of heart and is a ton of fun to play.
This new Enhanced Edition comes with plenty of new goodies: an updated combat system, new character classes, an upgraded crafting system, and about half a dozen other additions. Seriously, there's a lot of stuff enhanced in this Enhanced Edition.
There is so much to love about Ara Fell. If you're looking for a game with great traditional turn-based combat, then look no further. My favorite part of the game might just be the combat. The Enhanced Edition comes with a new UI that looks like Octopath Traveler‘s combat screen, but the combat is more akin to Dragon Quest or classic Final Fantasy games. It isn't a matter of Attack/Defend/Use an Item, however. There are plenty of skills that require strategic use if you're wanting to get past enemies and especially bosses. The party formation is a typical attacker, tank, mage, and healer. It all works well together, and I found myself intentionally getting into fights with random enemies just because the combat is such a blast.
The world reminds me a lot of Dragon Quest VI, with its floating continent hovering over another land mass, and its quirky charm. But Ara Fell also has a serious adventure game vibe. It's a world meant to be explored. There are countless caves and side paths to check out. The layout feels very much like Secret of Mana. There are also fairy rings to find, which allows Lita to fly around to hard-to-reach places where other fairy rings are located. There are smaller nooks and crannies that must be explored by pressing Y and crawling. A Rangers Guild in the main town gives you bounties to hunt. Then, there's the many side quests that can help you unlock new classes, find helpful new crafting items, or just give you a ton of XP and gold. You get my point. There's a LOT to explore in this game.
Initially, the characters seemed a bit generic. And maybe they are. But you know what? I still liked them. Lita and Adrian's bickering can get old, and I grew tired of Seri Kesu calling Lita “girl” every other sentence, but those were minor annoyances. By the end of the journey, these were characters I cared about–flaws and all.
I'm honestly amazed this game was originally started using RPGMaker. While Ara Fell often looks like one of those games (and definitely has some limitations from it), Ara Fell doesn't feel like it. There's so much working together here. As someone who's dabbled in RPGMaker before, I think I'm MORE impressed by Stegosoft for making this game that way than if they hadn't used RPGMaker at all. I know how intricate it can be, and how much effort you have to put in if you want an RPGMaker game to be both good and feel unique. Seriously, I can ramble on and on about how impressive it is that this was created with RPGMaker, but I won't. Because even if Ara Fell weren't made using RPGMaker, it'd still be a heck of a fun time.
Much like the 16-bit JRPGs it's imitating, Ara Fell can sometimes suffer from being unclear in where to go next. There are several times in the game that your objective is pretty vague, and you might spend some serious time trying to figure out. If you grew up playing SNES RPGs, then you know the feeling. But with so many other quality of life upgrades that make Ara Fell feel more modern, it could've benefited from showing objectives on the map–or being more clear in the Quests sub-menu.
The controls are also hyper sensitive. Too many times, I'd run into enemies or into a wall by barely moving my analog stick. Early in the game, it made it more difficult to navigate the world, since Lita was constantly running too far in a single direction. Eventually, I got used to the overly sensitive controls, but it still continued to be an issue throughout the game.
Now, at last, we come to the main problem I had with Ara Fell. The story, while familiar to anyone who played a JRPG in the '90s, is a bit too contrived for its own good. At a certain point, an homage can turn into unoriginality, and Ara Fell is somewhere between the two ends of that spectrum. The main story revolves around a vampire cult, and the whole thing feels hokey and silly. Maybe it's because vampires themselves feel hokey and silly in a post-Twilight, post-What We Do in the Shadows world. Whatever the reason, vampires just don't feel scary and evil anymore. And the fact that they're the main villains is just kinda…lame.
There really isn't a lot left to say here. Ara Fell is a great game. I've raved about it on social media and my podcast. I'm sure I'll rave about it long after this review is up. Even if the story leaves a bit to be desired, and the vampires feel a little silly, the combat and exploration make for a memorable and fun adventure. I'm convinced I'll remember it long after I've beaten it. I'm also convinced Ara Fell is one of the best turn-based RPGs on Switch right now. Play it!