(Articles in the Ramble Ral section are presented “as is” with minor editing. For more information please see its section page. They will probably contain spoilers for the game in question)
So, I’m a bit disappointed in how they advertised Ara Fell and what the final result is – the Steam page listed it as “A combination of the best parts of JRPG and WRPG with an open world” and… well, no, it really isn’t.Pacing/Structure-wise, it’s more like Final Fantasy 12 (off the top of my head) – in between the forced dungeons to progress the story lines, you get to maybe explore a few areas and do a few sidequests before your next destination. There were like 2-3 “meat guards” but it’s kind of done in a way where you aren’t particularly that rewards for going out of your way to beat them early anyway.
Still, even though there isn’t that much of it, it’s still fun to run around exploring places and opening treasure chests to see what goodies you find. Unfortunately I noticed that as your approach the end game, the game becomes even more and more “closed” and discoverable hidden secrets start to dry up – maybe the devs studied game design with the Age of Decadence people.
Any time the game goes into “you got to beat this forced dungeon to progress onto the next part of the plot” is when the game starts becoming a slog because its free-form nature, limited as it is, is still its strongest gameplay element.
I like puzzles but Ara Fell is a bit frustrating because it falls into two categories – either it’s so easy because the hints are really blunt OR it involves trial and error “pull switches at random until something happens” or made me interact with objects that I thought was part of the background but in reality was actually usable… I blame RPGMaker’s tileset for this. I had to use walkthroughs a few times to progress in the plot, which was a bit more time consuming than usual because the only one available are videos… for an older version.
Battles are ATB and fall into the usual trap of “once you reach a certain point, you can win every battle with the exact same strategy” and that point is hit pretty early in the game – you only ever get around 5 abilities for each characters and that’s it.
Like a lot of JRPGs, it also has tooltips that are way too vague about the effects of your skill – how much does Skill X reduce Defense by? Not gonna tell you!
Character development is a bit wonky – it’s Super Mario RPG style where you get to choose from 5 stats to put 1 point in every level + respecs for gold and that’s it.
The wonky part comes when you combine that with the equipment design – for example, Heavy Armor tier 3 is cheaper than the rest of the tier 3 armors, so the optimization strategy would basically be to dump Def on level up and make up in equipment – leading to oddities like me spec’ing the “Tank” character for Intelligence and Agility.
There’s just a lot of half-baked mechanics which makes me think the game was probably planned to be a lot bigger before being cut down to size.
For example – early in the game, you unlock a “Rangers Guild” with 4 bounties to defeat. You expect more to be unlocked through the game but… nope, those 4 bounties are the only ones you got for the entire game.
Or how about the “skill shop” library, which allows you to raise the levels of your character skills!… from 1 to 2. Seems weird to implement things like this if it were only going to play such a small part.
Story is… fine, nothing mindblowing. Kinda like the characters, though MC Lita is basically Discount Estelle Bright and there’s a party member that might as well be named Discount Lina Inverse
The ending is kind of abrupt though in its execution. I don’t know how to explain it better without spoilers – They technically did resolve the plot and beat up the baddy, but the way it’s done you’re like “Wait, why am I suddenly at the title screen? Is there supposed to be more?”
Conclusion: Not on the “super terrible” end as far as RPGMaker games go but it’s kinda clear there was a lot of cuts made to get the game released.