Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a great strategy game hindered by conflicting visuals.
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
Genre: Indie, RPG, Strategy
Developer: 6 Eyes Studio
Publisher: 1C Entertainment
Release Date: Apr 30, 2019
I recently wrote an article about five somewhat overlooked series of games that I would like to see make a return, of which Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was one of them. The game has some great visuals set in a fantasy world of a well-established franchise, not to mention that it also has a diverse job system which allows characters to use skills not belonging to their current class. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark heavily draws inspiration from the aforementioned title, or more accurately, its progenitor, Final Fantasy Tactics. While undoubtedly similar in various aspects, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark has made steps to improve and add to the existing formula so much so that it could be considered a spiritual successor to the Final Fantasy Tactics.
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a turn-based tactical game. There is an overworld map divided into nodes in which you can move your party of adventurers around not unlike Final Fantasy Tactics and the Guild, Shop, and Side Events can also be accessed from here. The real battle starts when the node takes you to an isometric map and you have to deploy characters into combat against enemy units. There you’ll find uutside hostiles and you can expect different parts of the map to have varying elevations, chests, and other hazards that you may have to plan around. For instance, certain melee weapons like a dagger cannot attack adjacent units if the elevation difference is 2 or higher and so on. It goes without saying that each weapon, items, and abilities all have different utilization distance and height restrictions.
Dissimilar to most RPGs, the items work a bit differently. Firstly, they cannot be acquired from the shop as they only offer equipment and weapons. The player will have to craft and upgrade their own items outside the basic ones like potions. Certain pieces of equipment are also craftable provided that you have the right components which can be obtained by various methods. Another interesting thing is that the consumable items are refilled automatically after each skirmish so using them are greatly encouraged.
One of the main highlights of Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is the class system. In the same vein as FF Tactics, you start with a very limited amount of classes that seem fairly generic in RPGs. It is when they have some experience and gain job levels that the fun starts as more classes are unlocked. Mixing and matching abilities from various classes is a primary feature. That’s right, once learned, all abilities from one other class can be equipped as a sub-class in addition to all the skills the character currently possess. What is special about the abilities in this game is that each class have their own ability trees. Don’t worry about being overwhelmed as they are fairly simple with only two branching paths like in the XCOM series except that they often converge near the end. Any abilities from the other path can be acquired as long as you have ability points earnable from any engagements to spare. Needless to say, the replayability potential that comes with this feature is through the roof. There are about 35 classes or so in total, so go nuts!
Another highlight that I should mention is the level of customization you can do to the characters to alter their appearances. 6 Eyes Studio has put quite an effort for this as there are a lot of options to change ranging from faces to clothing to accessories. You can also pick a character portrait from a decently sized selection to go with. The level of detail goes beyond what some MMORPGs have to offer which is quite impressive. Although I must say this creates a problem in which the vast majority of non-key human characters you meet will never look like any of the selectable portraits, which I find to be a bit frustrating. I often find myself having to work my way backward by customizing characters that I recruit at the guild to match their portraits to make them at least look consistent.
Clashing of Visuals
One of the pet peeves I have with Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is the clash in its overall art style. I will come and say outright that I am not a fan of how the main key characters look in their unique portraits which, in itself, is not a problem. Art is subjective after all. However, this becomes an issue when there is a disconnection between the main 2D art and how they translate in-game.
You do not have to be an expert to see that the character 2D assets are going for a semi-realistic style while the actual character sprites are distinctly anime. This is a problem that does not exist in Final Fantasy Tactics as the level of detail is low and simplified but there are just enough similarities for the players to make the connection. Disgaea does not have this problem because the anime art in that game translates extremely well which only gets better as they transition to HD sprites and other games like Bravely Default bypasses this problem by presenting the in-game models in chibi style. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark does not use any of these approaches. The main art does not translate well to sprites which are also presented in realistic proportion (7- heads tall). They are also too detailed in that its own style becomes too noticeable, making the style clash even more prominent. From my observation, this is a case where less is more. This might not be as big of an issue to some but, personally, this lack of artistic cohesion destroys my immersion.
I want to be clear that my intention of bringing this up is not to discredit or fault any of the artists. Both styles are just fine, it’s just that they do not mesh well in this particular case. I’m sure they all did to the best of their abilities. This is more of a fundamental problem rooted in the conceptual stage.
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark feels like a spiritual sequel to the Final Fantasy Tactics series and improves upon the customization aspect, be it the visuals or the skills of the characters. The major visual disconnection between the main art and the sprites may turn some away. I would take the overall rating a notch down if art cohesion is as important for you as it is to me. However, if you are do not share my gripes, or able to overlook this, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark will give you a solid tactical turn-based RPG experience that has built upon the foundation laid by Final Fantasy Tactics and others. I rate this game as a Save and worth the time and money involved to play it.