There’s not a shred of irony in that title, dear fellow gamers; and I’m not gonna write that AoA is so bad that it robbed me of my breath, or anything like that. I am totally sincere here; for the third time since I started that blog, I find myself loving to pieces a game that was slandered in reviews. The first two were Hometown Story and Astonishia Story; but with AoA, we’re breaking a new record when it comes to the gap between my own feelings and the general perception of the reviewing community.
See, we’re talking about a game that can claim the horrendous score of 36 on Metacritic, and the dubious honour of being the 6th lowest-rated Switch game on that same site since the machine’s release. Heck, the reviews were so insanely scathing that I gave AoA a hard pass at first, despite the fact that my gaming instinct was very interested by that game. I thought I was done with AoA then; but lo and behold, my gaming instinct roared to life lately and claimed that game, and wouldn’t be swayed by no bad review. I know better than to go against the gaming instinct, folks; and that’s how I found myself ordering a copy of the game, to be played upon receipt.
Two and a half hours of play later, I’m deeply in love with AoA — and seriously in awe of it as well. I didn’t choose that post’s title randomly: AoA really took my breath away, leaving me a bit shuddery and disoriented — in a most pleasant way. First thing first, I dig sandy vistas just as much as wintery vistas. In fact, you could say that I dig all barren, arid, open-horizon vistas, whether they be cold or hot: from the Gobi Desert in Terranigma to the Land of Dusk in Ayesha, those landscapes stir something deep within my soul. AoA’s ergs and regs are no exception, and running through them makes my gamer’s heart flutter deliciously. I genuinely emitted a cry of delight upon entering the darkened pass in the Abandoned City for the first time and seeing my characters silhouetted against the gushes of sandy wind. Heck yeah, Compile Heart — do you know I love you more by the friggin’ game?
Beyond my being a sucker for all things desert, AoA reawakened that wondrous feeling of wonderment already roused by games such as Legend of Legacy and Myst III: Exile. Once again, I felt like an explorer in an unknown world, left free to piece things together and try to understand what happened. I cannot describe that sweet, puzzled awe that grips my heart every time a contraption pops out of the sand, reminding me that I’m cruising a world full of mysteries. Who built that stuff, and what for? I don’t even want the answer by the end of the game, to be honest; just wondering, and fantasizing about that world, is more than enough for me — especially when it’s backed up by such a splendid soundtrack. Oh boy, that soundtrack! It’s heart-wrenchingly splendid, pure ear-candy that complements the vistas to pure perfection. Let me tell you: I ordered the Japanese PS4 Limited Edition just to get my greedy paws on the OST CD, and I don’t regret it one bit. Compile Heart is totally deserving of that purchase, and more, for giving me so many feels through a single bloody game.
But what about AoA’s glaring flaws, the ones that had reviewers seething and raging? Sure enough, that game is far from being perfect; but it's not that horrendous either. Combat, in particular, is much better than reviews would have led me to believe. It can be a hot mess — that is, if you're too lazy to use the dodging and target-locking features like I am most of the time. When you take the time to use them properly, you gain much tighter control over the flow of battle, and you can enjoy the fulfilling physics and dazzling animations to the fullest. The in medias res story is totally fine by me, because a) I don’t care about stories in RPGs, and b) I kinda like what I’m witnessing so far. I’ve already gone all mushy seeing Jester awaken to emotions through his cat, and I have an inkling I’ll end up shipping Quinn x Gareth and Axel x Micah before I’m done with the game.
I didn’t quite notice the framerate issue everybody rants about; either I’m very tolerant when it comes to slowdowns in games (which is highly likely anyway), or the game runs better on the Lite than on the regular Switch — and let’s face it, it’s probably a mix of both. What else? I don’t mind the general fuzziness, the lack of detailed backgrounds and the endlessly beige landscapes, because they come with the territory — meaning both the desert setting and the budget game one. I don’t mind the general simplicity and lack of depth of the game, because I fancy a simple and straightforward game as a refresher on a regular basis. Last but not least, I don’t mind the lo-fi graphics, because I’m a complete retro whore, and we all know it.
Long story short: I adore Arc of Alchemist. It makes me feel things I don’t feel so often in games these days — wonderment, wanderlust, awe, and the general feeling of being nine years old and taking my first steps into the world of videogaming again. Heck, it makes me feel, full stop; and any game that does that is more than worthy of my undying love. So, what does my loving a nearly universally vilified game prove? Well, it proves that one gamer’s trash is another gamer’s treasure indeed, and that my faithful gaming instinct is the most reliable compass I could ever dream of. I won’t go and recommend AoA still, for fear of making my fellow gamers lose their hard-earned money; but heck, I won’t deny my vibrant feelings for that game, and I totally own them. Until more gaming goodness comes, dear fellow gamers, keep playing and take care!