Publisher KEMCO has put out some of the best (and worst) budget RPGs currently available on the eShop. KEMCO’s partners, most frequently EXE Create and Hit Point Co, churn out new RPGs like candy, with each game following some familiar design thread from titles that came before. Just a cursory glance through their catalog, and you can easily see which games share the same DNA, evolving and experimenting with new ideas, storylines, and characters. Some of these titles end up being duds, while others are hidden gems. Telling the difference between the two can be tricky, though it is my pleasure to sample KEMCO’s catalog and help find these diamonds in the rough and bring them to the attention of eager RPG fans.
Recently, I had the chance to play a Hit Point Co game that starts a whole new line of budget RPGs. This title stands apart from their previous titles, with a fresh design scheme that is focused 100% on being a self-aware budget experience. Priced at just five dollars, this title takes all the elements you know and love about RPGs and distills them down into a few hours of gameplay and storytelling. My task when setting off with this little title was to determine if those five dollars would be well spent, or if RPG fans should avoid this entry in KEMCO’s catalog and wait for the next gem to come around.
Let’s jump into Archlion Saga.
Right from the outset, simplicity is the name of the game with Archlion Saga. The graphic design leans heavily on basic spritework reminiscent of the 8- and 16-bit eras. Individual character sprites and enemy portraits are distinct and have some level of personality, but the overall design of each locale could certainly use a little more flair. That’s not to say the game isn’t without some sense of charm – it would be hard not to be at least a little charming given the game’s art direction – but you won’t find anything here that blows you away. The graphics are there for utility, not for any ambitious visual flair.
The same story could be told regarding the game’s music. While some KEMCO games have managed to pull off excellent, if limited, soundtracks, Archlion Saga definitely plays it safe in this department. After all, with only a few hours of gameplay, you can afford to be sparse and utilitarian with your soundtrack. Perhaps the most memorable tune in the game is the one used for the title screen, a bleak little number that conveys the seriousness of the overarching story.
The lore behind Archlion Saga will feel familiar to RPG and fantasy fans, as the game continues to lean on standard tropes to expedite its storytelling process. Godly forces of good and evil are locked in an unending battle, with the titular Archlion keeping evil at bay in 1000 year cycles of death and rebirth. At the end of each millenia, the Archlion begins to falter, and evil begins to seep into the world in the form of a deadly sickness. Only the Archlion King, a fabled hero who arises every 1000 years, can restore the Archlion and reset the cycle again.
Despite its simple premise, Archlion Saga does manage to do a lot with its story in just a few short hours. The game is split into 5 distinct chapters, the first four chapters introducing you to your four party characters, with Chapter 5 serving as the endgame and lead up to the final boss. Within those chapters, Hit Point Co manages to cleverly and honestly explore the implications of its storyline. Each of your party members reacts to the impending crisis in a different way, some rising the challenge, others enamored by the power of darkness, and some even giving into despair. Surrounding each of these characters is a town or village facing some existential crisis in the face of the world’s doom. Despite being less than an hour each, these chapters manage to cover a lot of ground, testing just what would happen to different societies when they know the end is nigh.
To face the forces of evil, your party members will band together in traditional turn-based battles – but with a twist that is rooted in the game’s mission of simplicity. Your party shares one pool of health, and attack together each turn. The enemy party does the game, standing and falling together before the might of your heroes. Meanwhile, each of your party members have unique abilities that can be used in lieu of the group attack, each having a charge up time based on the number of turns taken in battle, specific levels of health, or other status conditions. In this way, Archlion Saga manages to offer both the simplicity of a 1v1 battle, alongside the illusion of a team of heroes working together towards a goal. The way special attacks charge also creates a nice ebb and flow to each battle – particularly for bosses – forcing you to think through your strategy each step of the way.
Of course, no combat design can function well without a sense of danger. Thankfully, Archlion Saga strikes the perfect difficulty balance for a game of its length. Enemy attacks hit hard from the very beginning, letting the player know that this game will be no simple walk in the park. At the same time, however, the player is always equipped with the tools necessary to win. There are healing items and abilities abound, and as long as the player is making smart choices, they shouldn’t be forced the see the game over screen. Beyond simple damage ratios, enemies also inflict a variety of status ailments on the party and vice versa. A key part of your strategy will be mitigating these status affects while inflicting ones of your own, lining up defense-lowering attacks ahead of when your most damaging special abilities are ready to trigger.
Exploration and Bonus Features
There is no overworld to speak of in Archlion Saga, as the chapter structure limits players to roads, towns, and dungeons. Each area is very simply and sparsely designed, fitting with the game’s overall design philosophy. In fact, with a single button press, the player can light up a path of arrows to their next quest objective. The game allows players to simply follow this straight line from one bjective to the next. Relying completely on this feature, however, is not advised. Like any good RPG, Archlion Saga manages to hide a few secrets here and there. Scattered around each Chapter, hidden just off the main path, are little star tokens the player can use throughout their adventure. These stars can be spent after battles to double experience or else used to open special treasure chests with equipment upgrades. In a few points throughout the adventure, there are locked doors that require a star to open, but generally speaking, players should have a large enough inventory of stars that they shouldn’t find themselves blocked forever.
Dungeon design, meanwhile, follows are more traditional system. Each dungeon has its own mini-set of puzzles that draw on some standard RPG tropes. Switches, invisible floors, and hidden items are used with efficiency, giving the player just a taste of RPG dungeon crawling without overstaying its welcome. As an added bonus, the guide arrow feature is turned OFF in dungeons, forcing players to use their wits in these areas if they want to progress.
All told, Archlion Saga succeeds in its mission to be a budget-friendly, bite-sized RPG. While there are certainly some issues with the game – most notably that the translation gets almost incomprehensible whenever the characters start getting philosophical – none of the flaws added up to seriously hurt my enjoyment. Archlion Saga is well worth the five dollar price tag, offering you a brief and enjoyable RPG that fully embraces its central conceit.