For Switch RPG fans, KEMCO has quickly become a household name when it comes to budget JRPGs, and that is not a bad thing. Although their titles can often be hit or miss, they fill a price point and subgenre like no other company does. Chronus Arc is the latest in their ever growing lineup of Switch RPGs, but this time in the developer seat is Hit-Point Inc instead of the usual EXE Create, the entity responsible for every other KEMCO Switch RPG released to date. Judging by the press release alone I could tell that we were in for a major departure from the typical KEMCO published RPG, but would those differences serve as a boon or a hindrance to the overall experience?
Every ten years, the Kingdom of Kiribay holds a festival where certain things once thought irreparable are mended anew thanks to an item known as the Chronus Fragments. The restorative properties which are a product of the rite do not extend to everything and everyone, however it doesn’t stop the masses from partaking in the festival in hopes of fixing the brokenness in their own lives.
Loka, a Sorceror Knight-in-training is tasked with acquiring a Chronus Fragment for the festival alongside his longtime mentor, Teth. What was to serve as a moderately difficult rite of passage for the young Squire into full Knighthood ends in disarray when the pair are faced with an ambush. Teth demands his young apprentice to abandon him in order to seek reinforcements. Alas, upon returning to the scene of battle he finds that his mentor and the opposition are nowhere to be found, along with the Chronus Fragment.
Loka and his longtime friend, Sarna, head out into the great unknown to recover the Chronus fragment and, hopefully, find his mentor in the process. Chronus Arc has clearly been influenced by another time-oriented adventure, Chrono Trigger, right down its three starting characters. While Loka doesn’t really resemble Crono at all in appearance, they share the same affinity to the Lightning element. Sarna is almost identical to Marle, with both of them being blondes, their shared passion for the Water element and the fact that they are both princesses. The final protagonist, Kuril, is similar to Lucca with her ginger roots and alignment with the Fire element.
These parallels are a little too similar to be mere coincidence, and as a result might be a bit off-putting to some, but the story as a whole veers off in its own direction far enough that it should not be cause for concern. In fact, the opening act of Chronus Arc had me legitimately excited for what was to come next, more so than any budget RPG has in a long time. Unfortunately, the initial sequence of events are followed up by translation issues, uninteresting key characters, and overall bad plot pacing. Chronus Arc, although starting off relatively high, ends up sitting right below the “average” line where most other KEMCO RPGs land in regards to the story.
Chronus Arc is a traditional turn-based JRPG through and through, but features a class change system akin to the reincarnation mechanic found in the Disgaea series. Each of your party members are eligible for a class change upon reaching level 30. The process resets their level to 1, but most of their stats and all previously learned abilities carry over to the new job. This can be done an indefinite amount of times, and drastically increases the power and available skillset of each character.
These transmutations come at a price, however. Each time you perform a class change, a discipline book (or book of attainment) is expended as payment for the rite. While some can be found naturally throughout your journey, the easiest way to acquire them is to purchase them with Mana, an in-game currency that can be collected after defeating a certain amount of enemies. Mana shops are found throughout Chronus Arc and offer various quality-of-life features to the player, among other things and the previously mentioned class change items. Sadly, it seems as if Mana will be purchasable with real money as well, though this feature was not available in the review version of the game. While I recognize the fact that these class change items can be found organically and that the in-game currency can be farmed if you have enough patience, locking a resource that is fundamental to a game mechanic behind an in-game shop is pretty low.
Forging and Reforging
Chronus Arc handles gear progression in a way not so different than that found in Secret of Mana. Instead of going into each town and emptying your wallet for the latest and greatest gear at the local gear shop, you’re better off just continuously improving your initial equipment. A blacksmith will indefinitely improve your gear for a small fee and some crafting materials each time. Occasionally, your gear will transform into a completely new item with potentially different traits (but always superior stats).
While I really dig the whole crafting system, you should be aware of a few caveats with it. The sheer amount of materials required and available upgrade tiers means that crafting in itself is a massive time and resource sink, and there really isn’t any way around the system. You cannot hope to succeed through level ups alone, as the stat increases from improving your weapons and armor are just too good to miss. Although weapons and armor will occasionally show up in towns here and there, I found them more as a means to get past the occasional hiccup in the upgrade process rather than reliable, consistent upgrades. And with how difficult some points of the game can be, it is essential to keep your gear up to snuff through frequent use of the reforging system.
Chronus Arc demands you to grind, and without knowing immediately where some materials come from, you will often wander aimlessly through previous areas in hopes of finding their source. Luckily, the developers realized this and provided a very useful fast traveling system to help ease the burden of it. Another potential issue stems from some upgrade tiers that force you into imbuing your equipment with an element, and there is no way to know whether that element is going to be beneficial or detrimental before committing to it. The elemental situation is a bigger deal than it should be because you can’t necessarily just run to a store and revert a mistake by purchasing new gear. Regardless of its problems, I found the whole Secret of Mana-like upgrade system and material farm to be a satisfying loop of content.
Kill and collect-a-thons are the name of the game when it comes to most side content in Chronus Arc, but they handle it in a better way than most do. Instead of acquiring a task from various individuals with no personalities or logic behind their requests, you can take up quests from the local Guild. These quests are primarily the aforementioned kill/collect objectives but occasionally feature bounties to eliminate more powerful enemies as well. When you complete a quest, simply go back to the Guild leader of the town and turn it in for your reward. Many of these are repeatable, and are good ways to shift around your materials and make a load of cash in the process.
I can see how some may view the departure from your standard source of quests (ie. an uninteresting damsel in distress, etc.) in favor of a more contract-based system might be a turn off to some, but to me it cuts out unnecessary bloat to completing an objective that, chances are, wouldn’t have been very engaging or interesting (from a story standpoint) in the first place. In that respect, it almost feels like a light take on the contract system used in Trails in the Sky I, which is a good thing.
Puzzles, Puzzles Everywhere
One of the best things about Chronus Arc are its puzzles. Pretty much any contested territory you enter will have a few block-pushing puzzles you must figure out in order to progress. The vast majority of puzzles aren’t going to give you a whole lot of trouble mind you, but the fact that such an emphasis is put on them is quite refreshing to see in a JRPG. It is a nice change of pace from your standard monster slaying and gathering tasks that can potentially become a bore over time.
Graphics and Sound
The most recognizable feature in Chronus Arc compared to other KEMCO Switch RPGs thus far has to be its graphical package. Having a new developer on board meant that the graphics would likely be different than the, in some ways, tiresome EXE Create look found in the other games. Don’t get me wrong: I have no issue with the former developer’s “RPG Maker”-like looks at all, but it is obviously nice to see something different this time around. Despite having a lean roster, all of the sprites (both inside and out of battle) are really well done, and the maps are not too bad either.
In typical KEMCO RPG fashion, Chronus Arc makes use of only a handful of tracks which are repeated throughout the entire game. Fortunately, I found all of them to be pretty great, but you might get annoyed by them quickly if you turn out to not be a fan.
The Biggest Problem(s)
If you’ve made it this far into the review, you might be getting tired of the emphasis on the grind, but it is for good reason. Yes, Chronus Arc is a grindfest, but it is really over reliant on it because the main campaign is very short. You can easily reach the final boss in less than 10 hours, but the problem is that you’ll have to go back and grind that much more in order to defeat the final boss, granted you aren’t using any sort of experience boosters along the way. Chronus Arc suffers from difficulty spikes throughout, and if it wasn’t for the need to stop and grind along the way, you could probably reach the end in only a few hours. Such an extreme level of grinding makes the very short campaign that much more obvious.
Grinding is not a bad thing, and can absolutely be used to extend the longevity of a game. But I feel that it is only fair and applicable when the actual campaign content of the game is long enough to not feel “empty”. And not only is Chronus Arc short, but what little story is there is not really exciting after the opening sequences. After you factor in additional issues like the absolutely massive difficulty spike at the end boss plus the in-game shop purchase requirements, you’re left wondering if the whole process is even worth it at all.
Despite its glaring flaws, I found Chronus Arc to be fun. The fresh take on equipment upgrades and the emphasis on puzzles are really nice to see in a JRPG. The music and graphical overhaul in comparison to your standard KEMCO RPG is a sight for sore eyes (and ears) as well. These are really the only things holding me back from giving Chronus Arc an even harsher verdict, because even partially gating the class system behind the in-game shop and grinding literally being 75% of the content just does not feel that great in practice.