The golden age of RPGs is often a time that is referred to when it comes to the 16-bit era of gaming. Both the SNES and, more notably, the PS1 were platforms that spawned some of the most iconic RPGs ever to be devised; even to this day, titles such as Final Fantasy VII are still revered. Since then, many have tried to replicate this era of gaming, but mostly succumb to the realms of forgotten titles. However, one particular title, one that was surprisingly created with the RPGMaker program, managed to put together the elements of magic that held such games together and that game was Ara Fell which released on the Steam platform in 2016. Now, a new upgraded version is giving the game another breath of life, as Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition role plays a release onto the Nintendo Switch.
Developed by Stegosoft Games and published through DANGEN Entertainment, this new version of the game has undergone a series of improvements that includes a revamped combat system, a host of new side quests, improved UI, enhanced character classes and skills, a new crafting and enchantment system, aspect ratios, difficulty modes and an autosave feature. PHEW! Despite a plethora of new features to enhance the overall gameplay, it still retains the same level of charm and gripping storylines of the original title; resulting in an indie RPG that harks back to the good old days of 16-bit adventuring, yet holds a distinct level of presentation that rivals those of a more triple-A standard.
The story revolves around a young heroine, Lita, who resides in the lands that comprise Ara Fell; a series of islands that float high above the world. Although a peace has resided throughout the islands, an order of vampires have plagued the lands for a number of years; their cult culminating into an ever-growing threat that endangers the very existence of Ara Fell and its inhabitants. Without giving too much away in the form of spoilers, Lita uncovers a secret that his been hidden away for many years and now, our protagonist and a group of companions band together to stop the rise of the vampires and prevent an impending doom from enveloping the islands around them.
The game owes much of its charming formula to a story and characters that truly invest you into the game. Its plots, theme and overriding arc are superbly written and presented, creating a series of backgrounds to each character. Between them, they share some complex back stories and investing relationships; producing a dialogue that is largely funny and intriguing in equal measure. It holds a very similar level to the storytelling that is usually found within visual novels. On more than one occasion, the storyline branched and twisted in a way that I never saw coming; keeping me engrossed and invested in the development of the story and the characters that revolve around it.
In terms of story, Ara Fell is heavily laden with its lore. This in no way detracts from the overall fun that this game presents. If anything, it actually enhances everything that it has to offer. It’s atmospheric, emotional and surprising. However, there are also a number of elements that comprise the overall game and come through as equally important as the main storyline that the game follows. There’s a strong emphasis on exploration, not just within regions or dungeons, but also within the world as a whole. There’s so much to explore here, with secret passages or doors, dungeon-esque levels and large caverns. You can crawl, swim, jump and even fly, as you embark on an adventure full of puzzles, secrets, treasures and wondrous locations.
Its overall world is also open to explore from the moment you disembark from your home village, Aloria. However, some areas may be too much to handle until you have acquired a level of strength with which to combat the monsters that reside within such areas. This brings us to other feature rich element of the gameplay: Combat. Using a turn-based mechanic, the combat to Ara Fell has a very familiar style to it should you be a veteran of the 16-bit era. Each bout, or turn of combat, presents you with a menu of various options. You can attack, use skill sets, perform magic or take a more defensive stance. In fact, as you progress through the game, the defensive measures of your party become paramount to your success, as the monsters you come across and combat in general, provides a stern challenge within the game. It’s never impossible or frustrating and is actually in fact, all the more rewarding for it. It’s tough, but not unbeatable.
There are also a number of other elements that come into play during your time with Ara Fell. Crafting is an important asset, as you combine items to produce a series of potions and magical effects that can provide healing properties, defensive abilities and offensive measures. These become more prevalent during combat situations, as outside of battle, the health and magic points of each characters regenerate. It adds a form of streamlining to the overall game, making a more enjoyable experience as you simply focus on the three main elements of story, exploration and combat, rather than stocking up of health potions of watching your mana reserves.
Viewed from a top-down perspective, the world of Ara Fell is a beautiful place to look at and explore. It’s vast network of islands holds a variety of biomes, from bustling villages to haunted dungeons and ruins and desolate landscapes to snow-filled tundras. Even its character animations and monster presentations hold a high level of design and its easy to see that a lot of love has been poured into the development of this game. Also, its audio levels are highly presented, with a rousing soundtrack that matches the environments you find yourself in; all of which is presented in a modern style rather than the chip-tunes of old. In fact, I can only best describe this game as an amalgamation of the golden era of role-playing that is infused with the modern traits of other, popular, JRPGs with a distinctly Western flavour.
Overall, Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition is a wonderful example of indie role-playing at its best. Its overall production is as sky-high as the islands of Ara Fell themselves. Its story-telling, character depths, charming locations and endless surprises urges you forward in the discovery of its outcome. If I have one minor qualm with the game, then it would be its control system which can feel a little ‘loose’ at times, but it’s merely a very minor complaint. This is largely because, within the bigger picture, this is a game that looks fantastic, plays beautifully and more importantly, holds a level of investment that is near-borderline infectious in its delivery. A perfect glimpse into the golden age of 16-bit role playing from a more, modern eye.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition Review
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition provides an amalgamation of the golden era of role-playing that is infused with the modern traits of other, popular, JRPGs with a distinctly Western flavour.