ARC THE LAD / Sony + Working Designs / Playstation
Arc the Lad has an interesting visual design. It's darker in tone than the usual Japanese SRPG, has some really lovingly detailed 2D backdrops, and has an aesthetic that is sort of a combination of Noh play and the vibe of Cosmology of Kyoto.
Unfortunately, that's the one really positive thing I can say about the game. The plot and characters are standard claptrap anime, and the gameplay is simplified almost down to the bone and has little depth.
The design is somewhat like that of the Shining Force games for Game Gear and CD, in that the focus is on shuttling you from battle to battle more than giving you any kind of a fleshed-out world to explore. Here and there the game tosses you a one-room town to wander about in, and there's an Arena introduced at one point that lets you do optional battles for prizes, but the game has the pace and feel of a handheld game in that the vast majority of the playtime is just one quickly-paced battle after another.
The story is developed in non-interactive cutscenes between these battles and plods through the usual cliches of the Sealed Evil Monster Awakens And Must Be Re-Sealed plot.
Unusually short for an SRPG, Arc only offers up 10 to 15 hours of overall playtime. Strategy is basic as you only eventually end up with a party of seven at most, and a lot of the game is spent wandering about with 3 or 4 characters. The menu system is about as stripped-down as can be without getting frustrating; this was one of the first releases for the Playstation, and I presume Sony's staff was struggling with programming a style of game they weren't familiar with on new hardware. The game plays smoothly enough, and does have a much crisper pace than most SRPGS, but don't expect a lot of the creature comforts you've become used to from other games in the genre.
* Gameplay Video