Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark fashions itself as a story-driven, tactical turn-based RPG. One that’s set within a steampunk-esque fantasy world in which players take on the role of Kyrie, member of the titular arbiters. Kyrie is an agent of the immortal council, and as such, is tasked with maintaining peace and order throughout the lands in which the game is set. It’s a relatively interesting premise, and one that opens with an equally as interesting backstory and plot structure. Sure, there’s some issues present, but all in all, it’s a decent affair.
The game tells of a tale that saw seven warriors coming to power via immortality through the use of a powerful stone during a fight in the great war. These immortals, as hinted at above, are in charge of protecting the world. Despite their great power, the council found it hard to govern the vast world and instead, decided to recruit mortal agents to oversee these tasks; the arbiters. Though, as the years went by, the arbiters grew greedy and relentless with their fabled stature, and now, few good arbiters remain – one being Kyrie.
What ensues is a story full of political intrigue, which, even by today’s standard, manages to remain surprisingly gripping. During the opening of the game, you witness a murder in cold blood, committed by a posh snob known as Alphonse. Given that you’re an arbiter that values the role, you beat him in battle and take him to justice. Some cutscenes later, you learn that one of the immortals wishes to step down from their role, meaning that the six remaining immortals must each select a person from around the globe to become marked.
Essentially, this means that they’re above the law, and much find their own path to becoming the replacement immortal. Low and behold, Alphonse is selected to be marked. Outraged and in disbelief, Kyrie and her growing team of allies wont stand by and watch this unfold, and so set off to follow Alphonse and get to the bottom of what’s going on; weeding out the corruption and the reasoning behind why he was selected. Like I said, politics plays a big role in Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark, but it’s executed so well, that it’s hard not to like.
The game draws inspiration from the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, two shining examples of the genre that this game sits in. If you’ve played those games, this will feel not only familiar, but fresh too. The game is a turn-based adventure in which you’re limited to a set number of allies to work with on each confined passing map. You’ll utilize abilities that are specific to each party member and class, with no shortage of move sets to pull from that can be mixed up with other class moves to pull off some devastating output.
Traversal boils down to a classic grid-based system, which factors into how your defense and offense pans out; distance, availability, and so forth. The amount of depth on show is incredible, with countless classes to learn and adopt; from standard Mercenary, right up to the likes a Plague Doctor. Being fantasy-based, you can expect a great deal of outlandish characters to draw from, many of which are as interesting in design as they are in practice. Character and class development takes front seat, with you able to max classes and unlock other classes in the process, allowing you to combine traits and perks across the board.
Throw in a healthy system of passive abilities and other tidbits, all of which prove to be not only greatly varied, but massively useful, and it’s hard not to scoff at the depth on show. Essentially, the game gives you the freedom that a traditional RPG cant, and as such, opens the doors to so much strategic potential that it can quite simply spoil you for choice. I’ve had a ton of fun unlocking classes and moves, and then combining them with prior moves and abilities, resulting in some of the most gratifying turn-based combat in recent memory.
I couldn’t possibly go over all the depth within on this front alone, so I’ll say this, if you’ve a soft spot for the game’s inspirational content, but seek something much deeper and much more intricate, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is right up your street. The game’s mechanical depth across class management and party structuring alone is unlike anything else, religiously granting you access to a shed-load of options, perks, and traits to unify with other options, perks, and traits to then build a party of your dreams. It just feels so seamless, and endless.
Of course, all of that class and ability depth would mean very little if the game didn’t hold up elsewhere, and I’m happy to report that it does just that. Each confrontation takes place on several maps that are not only well designed, but provide heaps of distinction and difference in comparison to the next. The art direction is quite delightful when it wants to be, blending lots of vibrancy with an overarching darker theme to a good effect. It helps, of course, that the menus and UIs remain clean and clutter-free, often a downside to these game types.
It takes quite a sum of time to work through each bout, and when we factor in that maps can house multiple levels and hidden areas, you can imagine how much gameplay you’re getting for your buck. Nevertheless, you’ll explore, you’ll fight, and you’ll move on. Combat itself is relatively easy to pick up on, even in the face of the game’s depth, and it’s all well relayed to you throughout. Subsequently, this ensures that the game remains appealing not only for those that have a keen love for the concept, but for curious newcomers too.
To those unaware, being a turn-based game means that you’ll trade blows (physical and magical) with your opposition until one party falls; gaining EXP and AP for use in bettering your stats and capabilities. It pays off to play on your enemy’s weaknesses, at the same time as playing on your strengths. There’s a difficulty pool to lean on if you wish to alter the level of challenge, coincidentally throwing more replay value into the mix as a result. Whatever the case, to say that this was created by a very small team, they’ve got a whole lot right.
Combat remains strategic at all times thanks to how robust the AI is, and although you can grind and circumvent some of the game’s tougher foes, the best way to win is through the use of a keen mind. The enemies in this game rarely ever give you the easy route, nor do they squander a single move on something ridiculously stupid, as is present in many of these sorts of adventures. Instead, they’ll consistently pressure, exploit, and flank you whenever, however, and wherever they can. You should never get too comfortable playing this.
You’re also able to buy new equipment in between areas, or even hire new party members to add to your team. What’s neat is that not only are you able to select the class type (so long as it’s unlocked) but you can change their outfits in a range of different ways. You’ll also be able to buy higher leveled players as you progress along the way, and more besides. It’s all rather well structured overall. The world map is presented in a very Super Mario World-esque way, being that each location sports a colored dot, and is joined via a branching path.
Locations that you’ve cleared out will sport a green dot, with locations you’ve yet to overcome a red dot. That being said, you’re absolutely able to stay in defeated locations and fight its enemies over and over; useful for when you need a spot of grinding. My only gripe is that, at times, the combat can be fairly slow and drawn out. This isn’t enough to detract from the otherwise thrilling experience, but it occurred enough for me to want to make an note about it. In regards to the story and pacing, it’s very well executed for the most part.
The story is text-based, but very well written and houses a great blend of seriousness, silliness, and humor. I wont lie, it’s very confusing from time to time, but it does hit all the right marks more often than not. The game’s visual and audio design gets a decent thumbs up too. Everything from the animation and the visual variety, right up to the audio cues and memorable soundtrack, sits extraordinarily well with the journey at hand. Bottom line? If you’re even remotely interested in what this is about, chances are, you’ll freakin’ love it.
That, ladies and gents, is the general crux of play. Sure, the combat may be quite slow in places, and the story confusion at specific beats, but the game certainly holds up across the rest of its entirety, and manages to deliver on its promise to dish up a well rounded RPG that rarely grows tired. There’s heaps of content to work through, and heaps of replay value past that. When we take the generous price tag into account, it, especially for fans of the genre, is absolutely a no brainer. Pick this up, trust me, you’ll thank me for it later.
Despite some slow combat and a few confusing plot points, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark offers a wonderful, intriguing, and wholly immersive turn-based RPG. The game’s depth in regards to its class management and its party building is second to none, but its ability to remain almost grind-free in the face of this vastness is what truly shines through. Here, it’s all about choice and strategy, qualities that many of its peers seem painfully unfamiliar with.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.