Tactics games have always been a personal favourite since I first played Final Fantasy Tactics as a kid. Trying to find new games that filled the void that game series left has always been hard; a lot of games take the jump but few stick the landing. Luckily for me, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark did a lot of things right, making it a great candidate to scratch the itch.
The game’s story starts with a short introduction, talking about a great evil and the heroes that sealed it, becoming immortals and ruling the land. Being unable to be everywhere, these immortals created the Arbiters, a task force in charge of maintaining the peace across the land.
After this, the protagonist is introduced in the form of Kyrie, a captain of the Arbiters. While walking through town, Kyrie and her captain in training encounter a murder in progress, which they cannot stop. Luckily, the couple captures the culprit, a nobleman by the name of Alphonse, who cockily brags about trials being a farce. In order to make sure justice is dealt fairly, Kyrie decides on going to Illuster, base of the Arbiters and home to the council of Immortals.
Once they arrive, Kyrie hands in Alphonse and is promptly told all captains have been summoned to an important meeting by the Immortals. During the meeting, captains are informed one of the Immortals will pass down his mantle, beginning the pilgrimage of the Marked. These marked are cherry picked by the current Immortals, being above the law for a time while completing tasks in order to ascend. After the meeting is dismissed, Kyrie finds out Alphonse has been chosen as a Marked, clearing him of his crimes. She sought justice to find out who could’ve marked Alphonse, Kyrie and her team go out on the chase.
Despite not being a miracle of storytelling, Fell Seal’s story is entertaining. The characters in it are also a very welcome surprise, with well written dialogues and personalities. Throughout the chapters the relationships between these individuals are explored and developed organically, making them loveable.
The game’s graphics are also quite good, though a bit off at times. You see, Fell Seal was made by an indie team of two and independent contractors, thus having several styles. All illustrations featured are incredibly detailed and high quality, while the in-game models look a tad uncanny. Everything besides these illustrations is made with high detail pixel art, which works very well for environments and monsters but not as much on humans. Despite this, getting used to the models is easy, especially thanks to the incredible amount of customization the game offers for non-story characters.
Fell Seal’s sound also follows suit with a great soundtrack and SFX, though sadly there is no voice acting besides on the intro cutscene. The songs featured on the OST are varied while still in the same epic fantasy vein. Sound effects stand out thanks to the game being turn based, giving them time to shine alongside the animations. I found the effect of hammer attacks, especially satisfying, a big “crunch” right after the hit.
Gameplay does not differ from all other categories, it works without a hitch. That said, Fell Seal doesn’t really revolutionize the genre; while adding its own touches, it generally builds on existing mechanics. Characters are placed in a grid and move in turns based on their speed, during their turn, they can use skills from their class or items, simple enough; as enemies are defeated and battles won, characters grow with experience and ability points, learning new skills and unlocking new classes. Here is where a small twist enters though; enemies also level up during combat, making them a tad stronger if left on their own.
The level up system is surprisingly deep, including a main and secondary class from which abilities can be used. Other classes unlocked by the character still grow as well, instead of remaining stagnant. This applies to benched units as well, allowing them to not fall as far behind as in other games.
Ally defeats are also handled quite uniquely, making units receive injuries which decrease their stats for a few battles. While this mechanic allows players to not constantly worry about their units, it significantly eases combat. Recovering a unit from an injury is as simple as clearing a low level map without using them.
The general difficulty is not particularly high, though not only because of the previously mentioned mechanic. Instead, it’s simply because the game allows free grind, enabling players to keep the pace with little issue. This grind is not even required, though; one can just choose to follow the story non-stop and still maintain the rhythm, just making it harder. Luckily, hardcore players are in for a treat; the game includes the possibility to enable permadeath or permanent stat decreases at will. There is also a whole slew of difficulty options to mess around with, though the Very Hard difficulty has already enabled most. I’d like to mention that combat can become slightly tiresome on harder difficulties, since enemies get items. At certain points fights become a turtle battle, where enemy healers undo most damage dealt. This forces players to focus on them or blow up single units, adding a layer of depth but also way more turns.
Something worth mentioning is how the game handles items, making them globally unlimited but limited during combat. This means each item has a few uses per combat, but regenerates after each of them. Upgrades for these items can also be crafted with collected components from enemies, improving their effects or adding new ones. This crafting system also applies to equipment, giving access to quite good gear.
Overall, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a very enjoyable and accessible game, valid for new and existing players of the genre. Its price at £23.99/$29,99/24,99€ may result a tad high for some, though it is deserving of it. Those on the fence may opt to wait for a sale, where it reaches quite reasonable prices.
I had a complete blast playing this game, even if I haven’t finished it yet. According to most sites there are upwards of 20 hours to play, which most likely means I’ll take 60 on my current rhythm on Very Hard. With everything but permadeath enabled the game is not difficult if you are willing to grind a bit, though, as I said earlier tactics masterminds will be able to power through.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark Review
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
An amazing game with loads to offer for both lovers of the genre and new players.
- Great gameplay and music.
- Battles can take a tad too long.