The role-playing-game genre has had a long and illustrious time in the media. From the earliest examples such as text based games, everybody has had some experience with the genre. You may have a favourite publisher, like Square Enix, or a favourite style, such as JRPGs. Whatever your taste, there’s plenty of content to get your fill.
However, what if you crave something less flashy but don’t want to lug around older consoles? “Classic” RPGs aren’t nearly as populous in 2019 as they were twenty years ago, after all. Thankfully, there is at least one option to satisfy those cravings.
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a perfect meeting of past and present. It brings Classic, turn-based combat and sensibilities with modern-day technological advancement. A beautifully hand-drawn love-letter to the games yore, Fell Seal connotes memories of Final Fantasy Tactics for the consummate player. For any fan of the genre looking to get back to its earlier roots, you can’t do much better.
Fell Seal kicks off detailing how, many centuries ago, a great evil plagued the world. The “Immortals”, heroes with legendary abilities and powers, were able to banish the evil from the world. Peace has reigned ever since. (Typical RPG-based story, makes you feel right at home in the familiar.)
These Immortals formed the Council of Immortals. There was a sense of order with the Immortals in charge but they were few in numbers. The Council could not oversee everything in the land so they enlist the help of their personal enforces, the Arbiters, to help govern the land.
However, while peace and order may have been the norm, secret chaos was brewing beneath the surface. Some civilians do not trust the Arbiters, as corruption has been well-documented amongst them. Still, they had to keep the order amongst the world and ensure the Immortals will be done.
You take the role as one such group of Arbiters. From the onset of the story, you are met with a troubling predicament. The Council is to name a new Chosen One, an individual to who will eventually replace one of the Immortals. Thanks to the decree of the Council this individual receives special diplomatic immunity. Even the Arbiters cannot touch them. So, naturally, the last person you’d want in such a position is the chief first antagonist of the story.
So begins the story that leads you across the land to try and right the wrongs and save the day. All sounds pretty standard for the genre so far, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Classic Yet Contemporary
What sets Fell Seal apart from others in the genre is the stylised graphics and neo-classic battle. As you can see from some of the images present, the art style is beautifully hand-drawn. The locations appear basic yet endearing, simple yet bold. With everything split into squares and differing heights and depths, everything has an isometric layout.
Even the combat takes this into consideration. Traditional turn-based mechanics are in play. Each and every combatant getting a turn to move, heal, attack, or defend themselves. When it comes to moving around the map, however, you are not free to roam wherever you choose. Each character has a set amount of moves they can make from their starting position. Which means you might have to wait for several turns before reaching an opponent. Thankfully, the same mechanics impair your opponents as well.
This can present an issue for gamers who prefer a constant stream of action, but this is not geared up for that mentality. Fell Seal plays more like a game of chess than Call of Duty. To get the best out of each scenario, careful planning and consideration need to be taken. Sometimes, the best course of action is not to go in all guns blazing. In this way, Fell Seal becomes much more cerebral.
Arguably not a game to play when you’re tired or just looking to escape for a few hours. Fell Seal requires a certain level of dedication which might put some people off, I know.
Fell Seal is also not an easy game to master. You get a choice of difficulty options, but the parameters that each level provides don’t make much sense beforehand. The normal setting tweaks enemies abilities, etc. and you think to yourself “yeah, I’ve gamed before, guys. I know what to do!” Then you get into combat, and after the tutorials, you find that none of what you’ve read prepares you enough. Difficulties don’t mean anything if you’re not ready. And I’m not afraid to admit I had to lower the setting down after losing the first battle twice.
Much like in a game of chess, a cocky player will always be bested by a smart player. Fell Seal harkens back to those halcyon days of yore when games weren’t as pretty but were oh-so-much more difficult. Modern gameplay mechanics have rendered us useless in comparison to our ’90s selves. And Fell Seal can make you regret ever picking up a controller.
The Choice is Yours
But then, it rewards you just as easily. Aside from the aforementioned art style and resplendent colour palette, the choices are second to none. You can customise any character to a myriad of styles and colours. Classes vary from rogues and mages to warriors and archers. And each class offers differing levels of skills and abilities.
The best course of action at the start is to try and acquire at least one of each class. You’ll find there isn’t necessarily a reward for sticking with a team of tanks. Especially when you’re getting shafted by mages every fight.
Winning a fight, therefore, makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. It certainly did with me and that’s on the lowest difficulty setting. I can’t imagine what it’s like playing and winning on the hardest settings!
Anyone who likes the isometric combat of XCOM will be able to pick up the wait and see battles instantly. Fans of old-school RPGs like early-Final Fantasy will revel in the mature narrative present. Those of us who appreciate hand-drawn aesthetics to our games will cherish the efforts taken. Basically, there’s a lot that Fell Sell can offer people from different walks of life.
However, the biggest challenge the game has is trying to appease an impatient demographic. Video games these days are rarely suited for the methodical players.
Sure, you can opt to sneak around in open-worlds and pick foes off one by one from the shadows. But a lot of the times, the action drives you to be fast-paced. Even stealthy games such as Hitman are filled with high-octane set pieces with split-second decisions sometimes needed. Fell Seal, therefore, might not appeal to you as a gamer.
Despite all of its pleasantries, it is a slow-burning gaslight in a world of nuclear LEDs. If you can though, please do give it a try, if only to remember a time before games being more akin to a Hollywood Blockbuster event.
Feal Seal is available to download on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC (via Steam and Gog.com). The game costs around £23.99. For further information, check out the official Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark website.
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Full Seal: Arbiter's Mark Review
- Overall - 7/107/10
A difficult to master RPG to harkens back to the classics, Full Seal can be a demanding play initially. However, with the right level of commitment and patience, it becomes a truly rewarding experience that offers beautifully lush landscapes, an interesting narrative, and challenging combat. The high level of customisation options is a welcome addition and the isometric combat means every fight needs to be approached with a gameplan in place.