Review – Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
It’s impossible to mention Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark without bringing up Final Fantasy Tactics. As a huge fan of the PS1 classic, my initial interest in Fell Seal was based solely on its unabashed attempt to replicate that game’s genius. Normally, going in with this kind of attitude kills games like this. They end up buried under unrealistic expectations that games made by teams of less than ten people can’t stand toe to toe with genre giants. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is an exception. It isn’t buried under these comparisons, it wears them proudly like a badge of honor. It doesn’t fail to live up to unrealistic expectations, it looks them straight in the eyes and surpasses them.
Combat, as you might expect, takes place on a grid with your team of units facing off against a wide variety of enemy types. While functionally the same to Final Fantasy Tactics, there’s a few quality of life improvements and gameplay twists that keep things fresh and interesting. Content-wise there’s a wide variety of monsters to face, a large number of unique map tiles and locations, and map specific unlockables all of which make the game very replayable. Gameplay-wise, there’s a few UI tweaks and mechanics streamlining, but most importantly is a huge quality of life update to items that changes the game.
For every mission you are given a set amount of every item you currently have unlocked. After each mission this number is replenished back up to your maximum. This means you no longer have to hoard items between missions and save them for a critical moment that may never come, but can instead use them freely as needed on every single mission. Additionally, item use is no longer locked behind a specific class; every character has full access to the inventory at the same effectiveness level. This greatly opens up build variety, as Items is no longer a “must equip”.
Even without the changes to Item usage however, customization is already incredibly deep. It may be the same Job system that you’re used to at its core, but like combat there are some tweaks to make it more than that. There’s over twenty five classes to unlock and discover, even more than the War of the Lions port. Most are unlocked through traditional leveling, though the most interesting are usually found in map specific chests or through story events. Among the more traditional Knight, Wizard, and Assassin classes, are some intriguing newcomers like the Fellblade, Demon Knight, Druid, and plenty more.
Fell Seal’s twist on this system is a duel-classing. Much like in Tactics, every character can equip two class ability sets at once. For example, you can equip the Mercenary’s War Craft abilities alongside the Mender’s Holy Magic to create a Paladinesque character. However, unlike Tactics where you were penalized for using off class abilities, both sets of powers act normally. This drastically opens up customization, with both focusing on leveling up one class all the way or working on synergizing two classes fully, both of which are viable build strategies.
Customization doesn’t end at Units; difficulty gives you the ability to edit a surprising number of things to make the game either easier or harder in a variety of ways.
Sadly, the story is the one place where Arbiter’s Mark falls short. The premise at first is promising. You begin the game as an Arbiter, an enforcer of the Council of Immortal’s will, acting as judge, jury, and executioner. The Council of Immortals is a group of adventurers who long ago defeated an apocalyptic evil and in the process gained god-like power. It intends to tell a mature story focused on institutional corruption, loss of innocence, and how even the best of intentions can have evil ends. Unfortunately, the writing just doesn’t carry it. It’s not bad by any means, but it doesn’t live up to the plot’s promise, which is always disappointing to see. It is a decently long campaign though, with plenty of quirky characters that help move the plot along nicely. Ultimately it’s a vehicle for experiencing the amazing gameplay, and in that way it is a complete success.
Final Fantasy Tactics has reigned at the top of the genre for so long, that it has become near impossible to imagine a game topping it in any way. Yet against all odds, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark manages to do exactly that in almost every way possible. It takes everything about the genre and just refines and streamlines it to perfection, while adding in loads of content to continually keep things fresh. After so many years of desperately waiting for Square Enix to finally give us Final Fantasy Tactics 2, 6 Eyes Studio came out of nowhere to give us the game that we deserve.
Though initially turned off by the graphics style, it did eventually grow on me. Animations and art design are top notch across the board.
Final Fantasy Tactics represents the epitome of strategy RPG gameplay. At least, it used to.
Music is bland and unimpressive, and there is no voice work whatsoever. The many sound effects which imitate Final Fantasy Tactics‘ audio cues are a nice touch though.
Fun Factor: 9.5
This game just sucks you in and doesn’t let go. The story may be unimpressive and graphics underwhelming, but the sheer quality of the gameplay is unmatched in the genre.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is available now on Steam, PS4, and Xbox One.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark was provided by the publisher.