Thursday, 03 January 2019 05:36

Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark Early Access Review

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Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark, developed by 6 Eyes Studio and published by 1C Entertainment, is a turn-based tactics game wherein you lead a team of Arbiters against bandits, monsters, and others trying to bring law to the world. I always feel a little odd reviewing early access games, especially ones who’s patch notes mention we’re at patch 0.5-something. Surely there will be more. It’s an unfinished product. Fell Seal, however, is an interesting exception, being more or less feature complete even at this phase of development, even by the developer’s own admission. By its release in April of next year, all that will be added are balances, optimization, and a finished story. If you’re only looking for a mechanical experience, there’s no real reason not to pull the trigger on Fell Seal in its current form.

Race to the Top

The world of Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is one of peril and lawlessness. Years ago, a great calamity fell over the land. Seven heroes assembled to fight it and, upon succeeding declared themselves “Immortals” and imposed rule upon the land. Since only seven people, regardless of power, can’t hope to enforce their will upon an entire world, they also founded the Arbiters, people with absolute authority to, well, arbitrate law. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, of course, so naturally, most of the Arbiters are corrupt. Worse, it seems the corruption comes from the top.

You play Kyrie, the last noble Arbiter. By the time you’re introduced, Kyrie is an old hand at being an Arbiter, even training an apprentice. What started as a simple arraignment, transferring a criminal to another city for a trial, quickly becomes a continent-spanning adventure trying to visit all the shrines and acquire their power before your enemies do. The main thrust of the plot sees Kyrie and her friends undertaking a trial for Kyrie to become the next Immortal. Every time an Immortal needs to be replaced, the other Immortals appoint a Marked apiece to run the trials. First Marked past the finish line gets to be the new Immortal.

All the Colors of the Rainbow

Ultimately, the story failed to grip me. Perhaps it was because I knew the story wasn’t finished at this point. Everything about this game, from its art style to its combat, evokes the old Final Fantasy Tactics games. However, Teora doesn’t feel as developed as Ivalice and the story isn’t as immediately gripping as the rain-soaked battle the original Tactics game evoked. The story is little more than a pretense to travel the maps and fight enemies. I found myself more invested in my customized characters than any of the main cast. Their characterization seems to be odd and more in service to the plot rather than anything else. One character went from quipping playfully with a random bandit group on the road to being all business in camp with no real beat to explain this change. I thought someone else was the main character until I noticed that Kyrie was immune to the injuries everyone else acquires upon falling in battle and that there was bonus experience granted for keeping her alive during a battle in spite of that.

This winds up being frustrating as Kyrie isn’t the only character you will be forced to use during any given story mission. While you will always have slots for your custom characters, and they’ll be present in certain cutscenes, these story relevant characters can also succumb to injuries, temporarily taking a debuff to their stats until they sit out one or more battles depending on how many times they go down before they rest up fully. This means if you have a plot-relevant character go down in a non-story-related mission, you’ll have to revisit old missions to fulfill the requirements to get these characters back up to full strength before heading forward again.

Do Your Job

Fortunately, the gameplay is very solid, even in this relatively early build. There are a total of thirty classes in the game, starting with your basic fighter-mage-thief and branching out by mixing, matching, and improving these base three. Once you unlock a class, you can create a custom character with that class without having to meet those requirements. If you have enough money, they can even be as high a level as your highest leveled party member. Class levels and character levels are tracked separately, the former being a total of how many class skills you have in that class and the latter being a measure for your character’s overall stats. Moreover, a character’s stats are increased via a random growth depending on what class they level up as. A custom character will be more consistent, but a manually leveled character has the possibility to be even more powerful.

This is further compounded by the ability for your characters to have a secondary class. Your primary class gets more class experience, but your secondary class allows you to use all the skills that you’ve unlocked in that class. In effect, this greatly increases the number of class combinations you can have. A Mercenary/Thief has different utility and play than a Mercenary/Wizard. You can also equip up to any two passive skills outside of either of your classes, as well as a single counterattack skill. You can spend a lot of time just experimenting with the different class combinations.

Fight to the Last

The combat itself is no slouch either. The typical mishmash of stats and skills are present here, but misses are rare and victory or defeat are more inevitable than in previous iterations of this genre. Facing, rather than affecting hit chance, modifies damage. This simple change means that it becomes less a game of flanking perpetually and more about tactical positioning. Flanking will still confer a benefit, but if it’s more advantageous to move a character out of range of an enemy’s prospective attack, you aren’t as punished for keeping your characters alive. Your enemies are also about as skilled as you are, dealing as much damage and hitting just as often as you do. With the aforementioned injury system, this can make every battle a risk-reward calculation as to what characters you’ll always want on the field and the ones that you can safely sacrifice and have more niche uses. Each class fits its own niche, iterating on and combining the typical tank-damage-heal trifecta.


The Verdict: Great

While mechanically solid, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark’s story seems lacking. Given that there are a few more months with which 6 Eyes can round it out more, this isn’t as condemning as it would be in a full release. If you’re looking for difficult, tactical battles and don’t mind the fairly stock fantasy setting, Fell Seal is a safe purchase even this early in its development cycle.

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John Gerritzen

John Gerritzen is a programmer by education, author by hobby, and game critic by occupation. While he usually favors RPGs, he will play anything that engages him narratively or mechanically. When he's not playing games for fun or profit, he's usually reading or watching anime.