For every massive Kickstarter that gamers hear about there are ten smaller ones that tend to go unnoticed despite ending up being successfully funded. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark happens to be one of those latter games as it may not have broken the bank but it did reach its initial goal and a little extra. With a lofty target of creating a tactical RPG similar to the classics that many fans of the genre remember, does Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark hit the mark?
Long ago a massive creature laid waste to the world and only through the powers of those deemed “Immortals” did this beast manage to be put down. In an effort to prevent such chaos from destroying the land ever again these Immortals banded together to create a council that would try to keep balance in the world. Though the Immortals are powerful, they cannot survey the entire planet and such have created the Arbiter position, men and women who act in the people’s best interests with their world being law.
Kyrie just so happens to be one of these Arbiters and has worked tirelessly to enforce the laws of the land while earning the respect of her close allies. Within minutes of starting a patrol Kyrie witnesses a wealthy looking man slaughter an innocent in the streets. After performing her duty and arresting the man who claims that he will receive no punishment, it becomes clear that the order of Arbiters might not be as flawless as it once was. Things grow dire as this man is not only released without punishment but is even crowned one of the “Marked.”
Whenever an Immortal wishes to leave their position, a Marked is chosen by each member of the council to undergo a pilgrimage that, if completed, will grant them a position on the council as the new Immortal. Above the law and seen as untouchable, Kyrie continues her pursuit, only to learn that the darkness that was rumored to plague the Arbiters has seeped further into the organization than anyone could have possibly imagined.
Being a tactical RPG Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark isn’t in a hurry to get its storyline moving at a brisk pace but even then it doesn’t take long to actually hook your attention. This is thanks to some strong worldbuilding and a likable core cast of characters that players will immediately come to like. The narrative build-up throughout the game is a strong one partly due to the unique style of lore and the optional scenes that players can view that expand upon the named characters in the party. It is also a rather nice touch that although magic exists, technology still thrives rather well to the point that firearms and other advancements have been made.
Alongside the main story missions and some side content players will find that Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a rather lengthy RPG but may clock in a bit under what many may expect for a tactical one, though this does vary depending on just how much you may want to grind levels. Even then this is a story that holds up incredibly well despite its slow pace.
Being a tactical RPG player will find that enemy encounters will take place on an isometic field where every unit has a turn based on a variety of stats. On a turn each unit can move and make an action such as attacking, casting a spell to deal damage, heal an ally (or an enemy), use an item, or take an environmental action. It is possible to attack and then move as well should you want to take advantage of a position then retreat. The interesting element in Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is that every action provides a unit with experience points. This means simply casting a buff can provide a unit with crucial XP, though if no action is taken then a unit’s next turn will come up a bit faster.
While enemies and player units have various weaknesses to certain elements, it is interesting to note that the terrain of a level can play a unique role in some fights. Moves that end up shoving the target can be used to bump them into another to deal damage to both foes, or simply shove them off a cliff for extra damage. Height advantages can allow ranged units and magic users to attack without fear of reprisal so positioning does play a factor here, making the game feel like a true tactical RPG.
Of course along those lines are the fact that there are numerous classes in Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark with each one having unique abilities and passive buffs. While most units only start with access to a few starting classes additional ones can be unlocked by learning enough skills in these classes. Completing battles rewards units with AP that can then be used to unlock various skills for their current class and it is entirely possible that you will need to shift their class from one to another even if you happen to like certain abilities simply to advance the unit further down their growth path. It is interesting to note that sub-classes can be equipped to keep certain helpful skills accessible, though these sub-classes do not receive experience.
It is worth noting that due to this high level of micromanagement that players will almost always need to spend some time with their units after a battle to apply various points, potentially change classes and equipment, and more. There is even a crafting system that allows players to upgrade and craft certain types of gear and items, which are handled a bit differently in this game. Generally items are a limited resource that can be hoarded like a dragon and never used but in Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark items are restocked after every battle but are limited while actually in a fight. New items can be crafted in the aforementioned crafting system and already owned items can be upgraded to be more effective.
While players are given a number of story characters to use in battle players can also create brand new fighters through the Guild. By spending gold new units can be hired and leveled up to match the player’s current level with their all currently unlocked classes being available to choose from. This system allows for players to not only fill in a niche role but also to possibly replace a former unit. There are multiple difficulty levels for players to choose from when starting the game and even a custom setting that allows the player to modify each setting to fit their playstyle.
This means that things can be made easier to allow players to make it through with minimal grinding and no real punishment for having a unit die in battle or crushingly difficult with enemies appearing in greater numbers, having elite units mixed in, and even featuring injuries that add temporary ability nerfs that stack for every loss (only recovered by sitting out a battle) to flat permanent death for units. As such the Guild may play a bigger role depending on just how difficult you want this game to be, which is a rather nice touch as it makes a tactical RPG such as this not only accessible for those who aren’t familiar with the genre but also one that can push veterans to the limit.
Visuals & Audio
Capturing the classic art style of popular tactical RPGs in the past is a hard task but 6 Eyes Studio has managed to pull it off swimmingly. Not only are the environments that players fight in varied enough to keep things interesting but there are numerous enemy types with little variations that help keep battles fresh. Even the designs and details of the characters are lovingly created, though it is worth noting that when creating a new unit in the Guild it is better to try and match one of the available portraits if you want consistency, though the actual sprites can be as off design as possible should the player choose.
One issue that does arise is the fact that the isometric battlefield does occasionally get in its own way, with units getting in the way of one another and proper targeting taking more time than it should and being able to swing the camera even one notch would have been a nice addition. The game also features a fitting soundtrack with a solid variety of background music that fits the stages well.
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark aimed quite high and has successfully hit that target by not only delivering solid tactical gameplay but also an engaging storyline that may start slow but feels engrossing soon after the start. With players being able to customize the difficulty as they see fit and a remarkable level of polish to the game’s mechanics, players will find that this game offers plenty of different ways to win and modify their party even if grinding and an occasionally problematic camera hamper the fun from time to time.