Ara Fell’s inspiration is obvious from the moment it begins – Super Nintendo RPGs. It’s how you remember 16-bit games looking whenever fondly recalling the ‘90s, but far more technically accomplished than any SNES game could ever hope to be.
The number of sprites and detail within the backdrops would have made Nintendo’s much-loved` machine shed more sweat than Mortal Kombat’s combatants. This is rose-tinted-retro at its best. The pixel art is colourful and varied, and character sprites look razor-sharp. Things look a little chunkier and less refined when the Switch is docked, but nevertheless, Ara Fell is an attractive game.
I once believed RPGs lived and died by their stories, but that’s patently untrue. I love Final Fantasy VIII even though the story is incoherent garbage. It so transpires that RPGs thrive on their atmosphere and world-building. Ara Fell fares well at both. The story involves a magic ring and a war between vampires and elves, with some excellent incidental dialogue to compensate for its clichés. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there’s a humorous streak present throughout. Our protagonist, Lita, is sarcastic and funny in a way story-driven games often misjudge.
The gameplay likewise clings to the classics. It’s turn-based, with a turn-order marker at the top of the screen. It has the usual attacks and spells, and you can perform skilful combos. While combat can get a little repetitive, fun twists help elevate things. Become knocked out and your character will sustain an injury, lowering their stats until healed. There are no random encounters here either, so you can avoid most battles should you choose.
Like all good RPGs, Ara Fell is filled with distractions. These include side quests and a reasonably large map to explore. In fact, it’s a bit too large. Fast travel is limited to between certain locations and sometimes the similarity of backdrops means it’s easy to get lost. A quest indicator on the map would have easily rectified this.
Traversal, in general, is a bit of an issue. Controls feel imprecise and movement is twitchy. It’s also difficult to know which parts of the scenery you can walk over, and which are blocked off. A few other niggles hold it back, including the repetitive music, along with the fact that it’s very easy to walk into an area you’re vastly underpowered for. Old school to a fault, we guess.
While Ara Fell does a good job of mimicking RPGs of old, it doesn’t bring much new to the table. The contemporary crafting system feels tacked on, simply involving holding down a button while carrying the relevant materials. It’s fine, if unnecessary. Most of Ara Fell is fine, but it’s like listening to a cover band. I wanted developer Stegosoft Games to play more of their own riffs.
Maybe that will happen. Ara Fell has enough positives to make me interested in whatever the developer does next. If you’re an RPG diehard with a passion for Square’s 16-bit output this is a safe purchase. It’s akin to listening to a cover band, sure, but it hits all the right notes.