Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark

As someone who ranks Final Fantasy Tactics as the best game on the PSX, and loves the turn based strategy RPG genre, there’ve been only a few games to be happy about in the decades since. I don’t think I’ll see another one of that classic style that can truly compare, but at least I’ve managed to find one that’s good.

Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is most comparable to FFT and Ogre Tactics, heck if you look the game up on steam the developers straight up say so. Even the story is influenced- yet not quite a clone, and I will give credit to them for taking something beloved and making a competent entry.

If you know strategy RPGs, gameplay is very typical, albeit with a few things they’ve put more focus on, some they’ve removed, and some they’ve kept the same.

What they’ve expanded on is customization. There are a large number of classes, each with their own small set of skills, passives and counters. You will always have the abilities and two passives (if unlocked) for your main class, and can pick a second class, two passives and a counter from anywhere once learned. At any point, you can spend GP to recruit up to your level from classes you’ve unlocked letting you skip having to continually grow new characters from the base classes. You also can fully customize their appearances, or have them simply use the equipment for their class.

What they’ve removed is the ability to rotate the landscape, and for small companies this is an example of when you have lowered capabilities and have to make a choice. The main concern with these sorts of games is when enemies or allies hide behind part of the landscape- and the answer is to design levels without portions that impede vision, something that they’ve (generally) done well, though some places can hide injured foes, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell where there’s a gap since some battles take place in the sky I guess.

The point is, it shows thoughtful game making when you have a limitation but you actually put thought into how to overcome it- something I wish certain other developers I’ve reviewed lately had done.

One thing that isn’t in the game is delayed casting- one of the central strategic parts of FFT was the ability to interrupt spells or take advantage in some way. Without that method of preventing major healing or damaging abilities from going off, trying to simply out damage and heal in battle is very time consuming. Enemies will focus fire your team and heal regularly right from the start, as well as often have an elevation advantage and better positioning.

Grouping up for buffs runs the risk of taking AOE damage, leaving gaps runs the risk of being swarmed by melee foes and then finished off by ranged, as if the AI knows the most common strategies we ourselves employ. The nice thing is, unless you want to just smack each other around, it quickly becomes clear how powerful ailments and buffs are in this game. The amount of damage poison and bleed can do well outweighs a straight damage attack and is better suited for attrition fights. I quickly began to use taunt to berserk wizards and healers alike, perhaps one of the strongest early abilities in the game. Making use of elevation and displacement abilities can also help greatly when it comes to terrain management.

Now, status effects have long been a part of such games, but often they’re just not necessary- so I greatly appreciate playing a game where their value is clear even early on.

Ultimately, I just don’t have many negatives about the game. It has a decent story, sounds good, looks nice, is of solid length and has enough simplicity for ease of play while enough depth to appeal to those who enjoy building up an army with broad variety. This game is very impressive for a first indie game by a small studio.

~~Alex Cumming~~

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