The Atla Archives Review (Switch)
Release Date: March 3, 2023
File Size: 2.1GB
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Version Reviewed: 1.2
Upon first launching The Atla Archives on for the purposes of review, I was greeted with a loading screen that lasted two minutes and thirty seconds, with no visual indicator of progress. About thirty seconds into this, I was sure the game had soft-locked itself, but after some email correspondence, I found that this was just an extremely heavy, front-loaded sequence meant to make the actual play experience much smoother. I went off to perform some other tasks while the game prepared itself for play.
I am not telling this anecdote because I enjoy dumping on smaller, independent developers. Instead, I found this first impression of The Atla Archives to prove indicative of the entire experience: lacking polish despite its lofty ambitions. I respect the attempt made by developer Elushis to provide the Nintendo Switch with a smaller-scale first-person RPG featuring several novel ideas, but that is exactly what this game is: an attempt. This review will critique the game’s design from a gameplay, narrative, and aesthetic perspective, in the hopes of providing valuable feedback to its developers for future endeavors.
In short: I would not recommend buying this game.
The Atla Archives has a fairly unique premise, all things considered. You are a former citizen of The Great City, which was utterly ruined in some cataclysmic event in the opening cutscenes. Your player avatar was then salvaged by the survivors and subjected to various experiments in the hopes of wielding the Ark of the Covenant, a device that, when filled, will fuel the Fountain of Absence and prevent a cyclical catastrophe from wreaking havoc on the continent.
This translates to the game’s time-keeping system, which not only impacts the player’s ability to accomplish tasks, but also factors into the larger, world-altering mechanics. The player can only operate and complete tasks during a specific time period every day, as they will collapse from exhaustion past a certain hour each evening. If they have not paid to stay at a local Inn, they will be booted back to their home base in the hub city of Atla, regardless of their location on the map, status, or relative safety. This keeps the player honest in their ambitions and establishes a minute, but genuine element of realism.
Failing to fill the Fountain of Absence will result in a destructive, randomized calamity somewhere on the world map. This is pretty bad news, but with proper planning and progression, this may not prove an issue for your brave player character- they’ll fill the Fountain and determine whether or not they want to take on the Demon King, a pretty intense dude. However, if taking care of this catastrophe really does become relatively manageable, the game needs to rely on the strength of its lore and narrative to justify its campaign- more on that later.
The Atla Archives… controls. When you press inputs, your avatar will respond in kind. Movement and camera control are mapped to the Left and Right Control Stick, and access to a number of actions are mapped to the remaining buttons. Drawing your weapon is mapped to the R Bumper, and your currently-equipped magical spell is mapped to the opposing L Bumper. The player can sprint across terrain using the Y button, attack with the X button, and interact with objects using the A button. Pulling up the menu with the B button will allow access to items, equipment, and a quest log, which are all useful pieces of information.
The main gameplay thrusts are completing sidequests, collecting Monster Blood for your Ark, and following the main quest to completion. The sidequests are largely basic in nature, though they do encourage the player to comb every map for details and objectives. You’ll need to retrieve items, occasionally assassinate some ne’er-do-wells, or perform deliveries, but that’s about the extent of things. Filling the Fountain is as simple as consistently and systematically slaying monsters in order to get the randomized drops that operate as its “fuel,” so combing the landscape for encounters is absolutely essential for maintaining a decent world state. If a town is wiped off the map, its NPCs are gone and the area becomes plagued by monsters.
Aesthetics and Narrative
I want to be brief about this, as I don’t think it’s fair to be too critical with the aesthetics implemented by an independent developer. The Atla Archives is an aesthetic mess. The character models feel as if they have been ripped from some 3D, top-down title with little consideration for texture updating. Their faces are extremely pixelated and muddled, with some obvious differentiation in species and certain kinds of facial hair, but not appealing in any way. In conjunction with the environmental design, which clashes in its geometric simplicity and basic color work, and the fairly basic music, sound, and voice acting that feels poorly balanced and uninspired, The Atla Archives manages to look like something of a mess, despite running decently. Because of the extremely squared environmental design and asset structure, it feels as though the game should have been depicted in a top-down fashion, rather than from a first-person perspective. This would have negated the complexity of having to look around and aim attacks, but it might have improved the experience overall. Despite all of these shortcomings, the menu design is very orderly and uses a suitably fantastical font.
There’s some kernels of intrigue to be found in the game’s main narrative, which teases some connection between the current state of the world and the cataclysm that sank the Great City. The player is seen as less-than-a-citizen due to their captured and experimentative nature, so much so that they have a handler who gives them tasks as they explore the world. The relations between the respective denizens of the world are hinted at being complex, but the overall storytelling is too lacking to generate a sense of investment. In addition to this, the NPC dialogue possesses some sense of in-universe jargon and authenticity, but none of the characters have enough to say to make them feel memorable.
Impressions and Conclusion
While The Atla Archives does indeed function as it should, its combat makes the game feel unpolished and barely-complete in a way that feels frustrating and sad. The game will often drop frames when the player inputs an attack on an enemy, but this is if they are able to hit them in the first place. There’s very little audio or visual confirmation of hitting or missing an enemy with melee inputs, and the player must rely on lining up their center-screen cursor with an enemy and swinging away to see if they even deal damage. The magic-centric characters are able to avoid this, as their spells sort of auto-snap to enemies, but are completely reliant on mana, which is a limited resource that must be replenished with potions. This differs from stamina, which is indicated with a green gauge that diminishes with each attack, and will result in a cooldown reset period if the player should completely deplete the resource. Ultimately, one must dodge and weave in order to make sure they have sufficient stamina to attack, but the player can often find themselves backed into a corner by enemies, who will wail on you until you’re dead and leave you stuck respawned at their home, one day closer to calamity.
It gives me no joy to dunk on the work of a fledgling developer, but The Atla Archives simply cannot compete with the majority of RPGs on the Nintendo Switch eShop. While its time- and consequence-centric gameplay would provide enticing in a game with just about any other combat or aesthetic choices, the idea has been executed far more impressively in other contemporary titles. There’s a great deal of potential and ambition to be found, but the game feels like it’s barely held together by its overall progression loop. If there’s anything productive that could be attained through a purchase of The Atla Archives, it would be to give meaningful, constructive criticism to the developer, who has done a decent job at putting together some functional gameplay elements, but failed to wrap them in an appealing package.