Review – Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition
Ara Fell from Stegosoft Games is an RPG that was originally released for PC back in June of 2016. It was created on RPG Maker and despite its charm, it was generally received with mixed reviews. Some praised it for its story and lore, while others bashed it for its clunky and antiquated gameplay mechanics. Now a few years later, we have the Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition. Did Stegosoft Games manage to right the wrongs of the past or is this yet another indie with a face lift?
As the story goes, a long time ago in the land of Ara Fell, elves and vampires were at war. In a desperate attempt to save all life on Ara Fell from the insatiable hunger of the vampires, the elves cast a spell to thwart the advances of their foes. In doing so, they doomed themselves and eventually all life on the floating continent. Now it is up to Lita, a young woman accidentally thrown into the thick of things, to save the world from impending doom.
In Ara Fell, you play as the protagonist, Lita. She’s a young woman who dreams of saving the world and gets into pretends to do so with her best friend, Adrian. Before long, her fantasies become reality and she’s swept into an epic adventure she wasn’t prepared for. Along the way you’ll find other companions to join you, each with their own strengths and motivations.
Gameplay-wise, this is very much your old school turn-based JRPG fare. However, in Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition, there have been some much needed improvements. In the original version, you were still operating on a turn-based system, but you couldn’t actually perform any moves until a certain amount of time had passed . This was hugely unnecessary and made the each battle take an absurd amount of time to get through. It also takes you out of the moment when your heroes and the enemies are just staring at each other, not moving until some unseen force deems it okay to strike. Luckily, Stegosoft Games was able to rectify this once they weren’t held back the limitations of the software they had available at the time.
Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition not only got rid of the action timer, but also added in new levels of difficulty. For example, there’s the Story Mode which allows you to automatically win any battle you’re engaged in. Personally, I think that defeats the purpose of playing a game, but I can see the draw for those who don’t have hours of time to dedicate to a game and mainly want to see its story. To each their own.
Speaking of the story, Ara Fell really impressed me. It starts off with a fairly standard setup and ultra cutesie characters, but as you progress it gets deeper and darker. There are quite a few twists along the way, and while plenty I saw coming from a mile away, there were a few that actually surprised me. It doesn’t make the mistake of taking itself too seriously though. There is a lot of humor woven throughout it, mainly delivered in banter back and forth between characters. It is very self aware and often pokes fun at some of the more obvious RPG story tropes, but there are some very mature moments in here that gave it a depth I wasn’t expecting.
Ara Fell is a game that encourages you to explore. It’s mostly open world, however there are some areas that will be blocked off until you progress to a certain part of the story. There are also some lands that will have enemies that are much higher leveled than you, but you can feel free to try and take them on if you wish (I tried and most of the time I failed). Along with exploring, you’ll solve puzzles to gain new ability granting artifacts, open up new areas, and unlock quests. Many of the sidequests involve helping out various NPCs in some way and it makes you care more about the citizens across the land of Ara Fell.
Aside from nixing the action timer, Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition has a few other gameplay upgrades as well. All four of your main characters can gain new classes, which give them varying attributes. Within each class, you can select certain abilities to better compliment your play style. They’ve also upgraded the crafting system, added more sidequests and explorable areas, completely revamped the UI, allow you to freely enter water without having to use the specified shining points, and added an autosave feature. They have truly enhanced it in many crucial ways.
Visually, this is a retro-inspired 16-bit art style. There has been a huge resurgence in popularity for this style in the last few years. In fact, I recently reviewed Monster Viator, which is another RPG that uses this style. However, unlike that game which has cute sprites, but mostly generic environments, Ara Fell has tons of details put in to each and every screen. There are quite a few lands you’ll visit along your travels and all of them feel unique. Each area has their own set of monsters you’ll encounter, although admittedly, there are usually only about four to five types of enemies per region. Still, that makes for a nice variety of creatures to slay in the grand scheme of things.
Then there are the bosses. Like any RPG, the boss battles are on a completely different level than the standard enemies you’ll face. Thankfully, if you stick to fighting any enemy you cross paths with along your journey, then you won’t need to grind too much. During my playthrough, I only needed to have a few short grinding sessions before three boss fights. Considering how many you’ll encounter along the way, that’s nothing, especially for a RPG. I really appreciate when games can have you level up accordingly instead of forcing you to sit for hours mindlessly battling the same few monsters over and over again.
I’ve already touched on each of the lands having their own look, but another aspect that really sells the difference between areas is the music. The soundtrack is outstanding. Nearly every important area has its own theme, with the exception of the open world sections that use the same song. Even some of the sub-levels, like a cave, will take a soundtrack from the town it’s near and will modify it slightly to have its own feel. Several of the tacks are highly memorable, especially the song that plays in your hometown of Aloria and that of the new area, the Lost Lands. They’ve been in my head for days and I don’t expect them to fade anytime soon.
Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition is everything fans of retro RPGs are looking for. It has well written characters, beautiful environments, decent combat and class systems, a fantastic musical score, and a story that gets deeper and more compelling the farther you delve into it. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but it delivers a fun and engaging experience that will stick with you for a while. Any fans of retro RPGs will fall in love with Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition.
A retro-styled 16-bit art design. The sprites are adorable and there is a surprising amount of detail in every screen. It makes the world feel feel alive and diversified.
Your basic turn-based JRPG gameplay. However, Stegosoft has added new upgrades to the Enhanced Edition, like getting rid of the move timer and adding a Story Mode which lets you bypass combat altogether.
No voice acting, but the soundtrack is outstanding. Some of the songs will stay with you for a long time.
A delightful journey back into the JPRGs of the early 90’s. The combat is tactical, yet fairly simplistic. The story starts off cute and whimsical, but gradually becomes much deeper and darker.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition is available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS, and Android.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition was provided by the publisher.