Chronus Arc Review

The further removed we get from the 16 bit 'golden age' of Japanese RPGs that don't have the word 'Final' in their title, the more of a market there is for games that aim to stir the positive memories of such classics by evoking them.

One such release in that category is Chronus Arc, a staunchly traditional download-only Japanese style RPG from KEMCO and Hit-Point. From the moment the download is booted the inspirations become obvious, with the most obvious nod coming in the form of the title's visuals.

A single glance at the world map betrays all of this title's inspirations.

These feel like a more modern take on those seen in a number of classic SNES titles - stripped back and simplified in the same manner in many ways. They also make use of the fact that a modern machine isn't as limited in things like color palette; here's also a depth of color that wouldn't be found on the 90s machines.

The game casts you as Loka, a young boy who is only part-way through his training to become a knight. In typical JRPG coming-of-age fashion, greatness is thrust upon him early and very quickly as his training is interrupted by nefarious types who set in motion world-threatening events.

Something of the narrative introduction early on actually felt vaguely like Golden Sun - which is no complaint - but that feeling doesn't remain for the whole adventure.

Narratively the game stalls beyond its base ideas, however, with Loka never quite coming into his own as an effective character and those around him, including a Princess, suffer the same.

The Chronus part of Chronus Arc of course evokes chronology. It refers to 'Chronus Fragments', a maguffin that is used to undo historical events and change the past. RPGs prove a perfect place for timeline-bending time travel antics thanks to their long-form stories.

While Chronus Arc delivers what narrative it has decently, it never expounds enough on any of its ideas to be truly interesting. Worse, it is dogged with an inconsistent localization which does little to inject local color into the script. 

Battles are fun, but there's far too much grinding expected.

As you'd expect, most of your time with Chronus Arc is spent with the game's battle system. There the game keeps up its love letter to the past motif with a standard-issue turn-based system that sees three party members face off against a few enemies.

All the things you'd expect hold true: Agility and Speed stats help to determine turn order, while strength and other stats power up over time through leveling. Everything here is serviceable, but there is a key flaw present throughout: a woefully uneven difficulty curve.

At times the game spikes in difficulty to seemingly random degrees, and for the most part the average curve of the game is far more steep than the pacing of the game's narrative seems designed for.

The alternative is simple: grind. Even grinding isn't quite as easy as it should be, though, with truly random encounters ditched for on-screen enemies you have to initiate combat with. They just don't seem to spawn frequently enough to justify the hefty upswing in the strength of the enemies you must face for story purposes. Skills unlock as you go, and characters generally effectively increase in their utility - it's just unfortunate how much grinding is required to make that happen.

Beyond leveling up, your party can also be bolstered by equipment, which is at least executed here in a manner very different to its peers. Rather than merely finding equipment in chests or on enemies or buying it in stores, your primary aim is to pick up 'Boost manuals' which in turn level up the items your characters arrive equipped with.

Basic puzzles, such as block pushing, are a dungeon staple.

Beyond the manual itself additional ingredients are required. You're given information on what is required but not where it can be found, which is sometimes frustrating and leads to more fruitless grinding. Generally I found the equipment upgrade system enjoyable to toy with. 

Once characters hit level 30 a class change system also opens up - and this actually helps combat a fair bit but is also lamentably locked behind requirements for entry that, again, encourage a hell of a lot of grinding. One quickly has to wonder if the length of this game has been very deliberately extended by forcing a lot of points at which the player needs to grind to proceed, and that's unfortunate.

Elements like this ultimately make up the whole of the story of Chronus Arc. Repetition is the name of the game - and that doesn't just go for grinding, but even in how some of the art is deployed and more noticeably in some of its music use.

Buried deep within Chronus Arc are some neat new ideas mixed with a well-meaning tribute to one of the genre's golden ages, but there's so much that serves to spoil the enjoyment of its well-crafted elements that it's very difficult to recommend to all but the most devout.