Ara Fell succeeds as both a poignant homage to RPG history and an excellent game on its own.
Available on: Switch, PS4, PC, X1
My expectations were low with Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition. During this trend where “throwback” RPG’s struggle to balance the fine line of being great games by themselves while also paying tribute to the very genre that inspired them, I have often been left disappointed. Cosmic Star Heroine and Child of Light come to mind first, both of which fall short of their nostalgic potential, having bitten off more than they could chew.
With that said, I can’t express how fulfilled I felt after completing Ara Fell. I wasn’t just pleasantly surprised – I was blown away. Its developers knew their limitations, stayed true to their inspirations, stuck with what they excelled at, and always had a firm understanding of the exact type of RPG they wanted to create. As you play through Ara Fell, you can truly feel the hard work, passion, and heart that went into its creation. If you long for an RPG that can bring you back to the days of Breath of Fire, Lufia 2, Final Fantasy 6, and Chrono Trigger, then you can’t go wrong with Ara Fell. It looks and feels like it came out at the same time as those classic RPG’s, but it still keeps up with the current faster-paced generation of gaming.
Without giving too much of the story away, Ara Fell stars a young girl named Lita. She has a longing for adventure, loves archery, and is very short in stature (of which she is reminded by many NPC’s). One day, with her close friend Adrian, she discovers a mysterious ring. Upon placing it on her finger, Lita unknowingly becomes the most important person in the entire world of Ara Fell. What begins with her cat going missing soon becomes something much bigger – something that could cause all of Ara Fell to crumble.
Like everything else about the game, Ara Fell’s story is straightforward, but well-crafted and creative. Lita serves as a great protagonist, and her relationships with the people she encounters are full of heart, humor, and a touching “we’re all in this together” sense of community. Despite its anime art design, there is a very human element to the world and people of Ara Fell. Soon, Lita is joined by three companions, and even early on the bond they share is strong and unique. Adrian is head over heels in love with Lita, and his flaky personality is his greatest charm. Seri Kesu is a powerful sorceress with an attitude (and lack of patience) to match. Doren is a mysterious bard whose secrets are both intriguing and, at times, hilarious. Overall, the atmosphere of Ara Fell is greatly enhanced because of its wonderful cast of characters.
The sprite based character designs hearken back to some of my favorite memories of playing RPG’s on the Super Nintendo. The world of Ara Fell truly feels alive, however, because the beauty of what is going on around all the characters. Lush fields with colorful flora and fauna blanket this living, breathing, floating world. Rodents scurry, insects flutter, and birds soar to and fro as Lita wanders the land. Waterfalls pour from the islands floating above, flowing into the rivers around you that empty down to the islands below. Standing at the edge of Ara Fell, you can see other islands in the distance, magically scattered all across the sky. As you get deep into Lita’s adventure, you understand that the fate of Ara Fell literally hangs in the balance.
The soundtrack of Ara Fell is also reminiscent of that nostalgic era of RPG’s. Most tracks sound like they belong on an SNES title, but now and then you may be surprised at how modern the music sounds. Tracks typically loop after less than a minute, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Sound effects are subtle, from the brief fiery explosions of Seri Kesu’s magic, to the barely audible chimes when selecting menu items.
Exploration is an important aspect of Ara Fell’s gameplay, and it certainly took me by surprise when I started playing. The world of Ara Fell is expansive, with much to see and do. Hidden areas are around every corner, each holding treasures big and small. It is always worth your while to check the nooks and crannies during your travels, because they almost always have something of value to help Lita on her journey. Sometimes navigating Lita around can be tricky, since it can be difficult to tell which parts of the ground she can walk over and which parts are impassible. Some may argue that the environments are cluttered, but since you can only move in four directions, there is very little actual trial and error. Furthermore, because the map of Ara Fell is so vast, all this travel is made a bit easier with almost every area containing its own warp point. This can be especially useful when you want to take a break from the story and work on some of the game’s many sidequests.
The turn-based battle system is extremely simple and will immediately feel familiar to anyone with even a small amount of experience with RPG’s. Your party of four and the enemies attack in order based on speed, and you are able to see the turn order at the top of the screen. Enemies wander the field and will initiate battle if Lita walks up to them, and they all respawn when you exit and reenter a screen. Enemy variety is a bit sparse per area, and you will quickly figure out the best strategy to take care of them after a couple battles. It does get a bit mundane after the first handful of battles in an area, but thankfully enemies are also easy to avoid – this may prove beneficial anyway depending on your difficulty level, since you can easily become overpowered after fighting many random battles. You also are completely recovered after each battle, which I had no problem with because it meant less time spent in menus. Something I really loved about Ara Fell is that when a character levels up, you get to decide which stats to improve. I loved making Lita lightning-quick, while favoring Adrian’s defense to make him a brick wall.
The boss fights are where the battle system really shines. There are many boss fights in Ara Fell despite its short length, and each boss has its own strengths and strategies that it will use against your party. Boss fights can range from pretty easy to deathly difficult, and it is during these battles that you must take advantage of all the skills at your party’s disposal. Lita is a speedy powerhouse with her bow and arrow, and is quite versatile in any situation, while Adrian’s high defense makes him best used as an aggression-drawing tank. Seri Kesu’s powerful magic and debuffs make her mostly offensive, while Doren typically works as supportive. Magic points recover slightly after every turn, which is a great relief during the more exhausting bosses. With that said, your party’s abilities are more than enough to handle the toughest battles, which means that item usage is usually pointless. This is a bit disappointing because of how much Ara Fell encourages players to use its item crafting system. Yet, I can count on one hand the number of times I had to use items during my 25 hours with Ara Fell. This may change on the highest difficulty level, but for those playing on Normal or even Hard, chances are you won’t need to use many items despite having dozens of them in your inventory.
The crafting system is still important though, because this is the only way to improve your characters’ equipment. With all the exploration you do, you are bound to find materials and treasures that are required to make these upgrades. Immediately after each upgrade, you will notice the significant improvements in your characters’ damage output, speed and defense. You can also upgrade skills, which usually means more than just a simple damage increase. I was eventually able to have Lita’s “Rapid Fire” skill cause additional bleeding damage to the enemies it hits. When it comes to equipment and skills, the crafting system in Ara Fell is extremely satisfying.
One thing I really love about Ara Fell is that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It shouldn’t take most players more than 30 hours to complete, even after doing the extra content. Ara Fell was developed by a small team of RPG lovers who knew exactly what they wanted to create and made the most of it. They knew what they were capable of with their limitations, and as you play you can tell how passionate they were about this project. Ara Fell will most likely fall through the cracks on most gamers’ radars, but if you happen to read this review and have been let down by other recent “throwback” RPG’s, give this game a chance. Playing Ara Fell is like taking a nostalgic breath of fresh RPG air.