I have a serious love/hate relationship with Compile Heart. While some of their games — the mainline Neptunia titles in particular — can shine despite their obvious flaws, others tend to fall flat. The developer’s latest endeavor, a chibi-faced action-RPG called Arc of Alchemist, definitely doesn’t win them any favors. The experience as a whole feels slipshod and slapdash, and I never felt even the slightest sense of fun and excitement at any point during my playthrough. Were it not for this review, I would have shut everything down after 15 minutes and deleted the game from my Switch. Even if the lackluster story and rudimentary combat didn’t ruin everything Compile Heart set out to achieve, the poor optimization on the Switch effectively ruins any enjoyment you could hope to glean from the adventure. It’s a bad game.
Storywise, Arc of Alchemist seems like the follow-up to another game, one that properly introduced the characters and the world they inhabit. Set in a post-apocalyptic universe filled with barren Mad Max-inspired landscapes, the tale follows Quinn Bravesford and her squadron of scantily clad heroes as they search for a MacGuffin that will hopefully save humanity. This serves as a very loose framework for the journey that lies ahead, and if you’re desperate for something deeper, then you may want to look elsewhere. Arc of Alchemist doesn’t spend a lot of time with world-building or character development — it simply hits you with some exposition, shows you a handful of characters, and then starts smacking you across the face with tutorials. How you’re supposed to care about anything is beyond me.
Although the characters — who resemble thicc chibi characters powered by limited animation and zero personality — didn’t instill confidence, I’d hoped that the combat would at least help sell the experience. I’m a sucker for a nice, punchy, responsive action-RPG, even if the story and heroes fail to click with me. Unfortunately, Arc of Alchemist totally bungles that system as well. Smacking around the generic monsters who dwell in this drab wasteland never feels remotely satisfying; you simply press one or two buttons to chain together combos and call it a day. Assuming, of course, that your companions don’t completely stomp them before you have a chance to get a few swings in yourself. In fact, you may end up spending more time fighting the camera than beating the post-apocalyptic snot out of your foes. Once I realized I hated the combat, I knew I was in for a very, very long adventure. Emphasis on very, very long.
A word to the wise: If you still feel you need to play Arc of Alchemist for some bizarre reason but you absolutely despise difficulty spikes, then I urge you to rethink your decision. The bosses in this game pushed me to the edge of frustration — and then Spartan kicked me over the cliff. One boss, in particular, kept squashing my party despite the fact that I felt I’d over-leveled them by grinding for longer than I care to admit in writing. Again, the horrid combat system, accompanied by its camera problems, probably didn’t help matters, but it did send monstrous waves of irritation splashing across my otherwise even-tempered demeanor. That probably sounds overwrought and intentionally dramatic, and I apologize. Arc of Alchemist got the better of me. Curse you, thicc chibi!
When you’re not fighting creatures or wandering from one event point to another to push the story forward, you’re spending some time building your home base. Does that sound exciting? Kind of. Could I have lived without this aspect of Arc of Alchemist? You bet. Simply put, you spend some hard-earned in-game cash to expand your HQ, add some facilities to help improve your party, and generally perform tasks that feel tacked-on and downright boring. Sadly, I think I’d rather spend more time in the game’s barren wasteland than leveling up a base of operations I couldn’t care less about. Of course, the cliched “your mileage may vary” clause applies here, and at least Compile Heart had more success implementing this system than they did, well, everything else. Kudos for that, I suppose.
Finally, we need to discuss Arc of Alchemist’s frame rate on the Nintendo Switch. In short: It’s absolutely terrible and inexcusable. In handheld mode, it chugs along at probably 15 fps, maybe less when you spin the camera to take in the landscape. While it’s mildly annoying when traversing the map, it becomes even more of a pain during fights. A good action-RPG needs to feel fluid, crunchy, and responsive, but sadly, Arc of Alchemist never comes close to hitting those marks. Docking the Switch will help improve the framerate a bit, but looking at this thing on a 50-inch television shines a huge spotlight on the game’s inherent ugliness. It looks, feels, and plays like a mid-budget PlayStation 2 title, and while I have nothing against mid-budget PlayStation 2 games, it’s definitely not a good look for a modern release. Especially at $40.
Basically, I can’t imagine too many people walking away with pleasant thoughts and feelings about Arc of Alchemist. Even Compile Heart aficionados will have a difficult time defending this outing, especially if they pick this one up on the Switch (I can’t vouch for the PlayStation 4 version of the game since I haven’t played it). If the terrible story, generic characters, and lifeless combat don’t force you to pack it in and call it a day, the choppy framerate and subpar graphics will finish the job. Idea Factory stumbled with Super Neptunia RPG last year — a game that I could barely finish — and now we’re forced to contend with Arc of Alchemist. Although I’ll continue to see what the publisher does next, I’m starting to lose faith in the games they choose to release. Even this self-proclaimed JRPG geek can only bear so much.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Idea Factory.
Thanks to the choppy framerate, horrible combat, and forgettable characters and story, Arc of Alchemist fails to elicit anything more than a shrug and a sigh. Unless you're a hardcore Idea Factory and Compile Heart fan, stay far, far away from this one.