Review – Archetype Arcadia (Switch)
In the course of our lifetimes, we will meet about ten thousand people, or approximately one millionth of the world’s population. Yet the impact and resonance that we have from meeting these people is undeniable. We yearn for connection, to make these bonds, however brief, and it makes our species both strong and fragile, in equal and disastrous amounts. The shift to an online world has changed our perspective, yet the core remains the same. More than money, more than fame, more than any quantifiable value, we want to be seen, heard, and, in the existential sense, validated.
Archetype Arcadia, a visual novel from Water Phoenix and PQube, brings a curious look into a future that brings about many common tropes of post apocalyptic realms. Our main character, Rust, lives in a wasteland where almost every human has vanished: they either roam the world in a state of animalistic mania or they exist exclusively inside an online game designed to combat the aforementioned disease. His little sister, Kristen (nicknamed Sti), sporadically frequents the game, but falls into unconsciousness suddenly, spurring Rust into action. Logging in, Rust finds a realm of fantasy and magic, where people have forgotten entirely about the reality outside of the game. Rust must work together with a cast of characters to defeat the bosses inside the game in order to hopefully clear the game and, with some luck, restore his sister.
That, of course, is the elevator pitch for Archetype Arcadia, with the full explanation being so much more complex. The magic that exists in the game are tied directly to the memories of the players, using memories to summon avatars to do combat for you. Rust, for example, summons a chibi effigy of Kristen to hurl rocks at monsters. Another character, Allegro, uses personifications of both his wife, Carla, and another memory that he is reluctant to admit to Rust. The memories are also at stake with each battle encounter. If your character loses all their HP, they “Red Out” and run the risk of their memories being shattered. Besides losing the ability to attack with that memory, they very literally forget the connection. Rust, in an early battle, sees his whole world vanish as a monster brutalizes him, but, thankfully, is able to recover.
Coming at a visual novel, it’s always interesting to see how the intention and how the effect land with an audience. That is to say, Archetype Arcadia is looking to deliver more than just a straightforward novel, which would have been far simpler to print and publish. Instead, the ability to make choices that affect the overall story are essential to the gameplay, as well as the voicework, visuals and directorial narrative. As a result, there are some things here that are magnificent, some that are alright, and a couple that are so off putting that they sort of trample all over the game and jerk you right out of the experience.
The voicework, for example, is mostly spot on. Characters like Rust, Olive and Sti have unique and exciting dynamics, particularly the actress for both Kristen (the real world character) and Sti (the in game persona), as it’s a tonally different role. Allegro has some lines that are rather dramatic and often times too loud, especially when you initially meet him and he continually “freaks out” over you vanishing. Altia, a solid female ally character, often comes across as very one dimensional in her voicework, and the editing (or reading choices) create long pauses before the start of some sentences that are so mundane that it feels awkward. And the monster/boss Kokone is rather disturbing, so props for crafting something cute sounding that also sets my teeth on edge.
The artwork is commendable, and I have no complaints about the variety of settings and backdrops of Archetype Arcadia. Going through multiple areas and biomes, it’s great to see a perceived online game have some flavor and personality, even if those locales are pretty cookie cutter. A snowy village complete with abandoned castle, an overgrown city that mocks the ruins of society, plenty of underground and nighttime shots…it’s satisfying. The characters themselves are also a series of stereotypes, but that isn’t always a bad thing. I’d say the worst aspect is that the women all have pretty diverse appearances and nuances, but the male characters feel like there’s little difference between them. Mr. Candy, an older gentleman who plays an important role, is probably the most unique because he is, well, older. Rust and Allegro feel indistinguishable except for hair color.
Choice in Archetype Arcadia have direct results on the longevity of the game, but only a handful are subtle enough to be considered for something in the long run. That is to say, a good majority of the choices will instantly and punishingly give you a bad ending, though, to be fair, they’re also eye-rollingly obvious. When a game is called Archetype Arcadia, and you’re given the choice whether or not to log into Archetype Arcadia, it’s not a shocker that saying no results in the game ending.
In the same vein, some of the long con bad endings take a significant amount of time before their results occur, so players should use the twenty five save slots generously. While the index of the game allows you to quickly jump back to any chapter start or choice point, it won’t always overwrite previous decisions. So, for example, when you’re given a choice near the beginning of chapter two, choosing the wrong path will still give you a few chances to die from the normal way (being stupid) and then let you ultimately die because you have no other recourse. It was frustrating that it happened, but, thankfully, bad endings are clearly marked after they’re chosen, so getting back on the horse (and fastforwarding) doesn’t make it that much of a chore.
There’s a lot to like about Archetype Arcadia. The existence of the online world as an escape and rehabilitation offer for the Peccatomania (as the disease is called) is interesting, and I love the idea that people start denying the existence of the real world. There’s an obvious nod here to the escape from reality into Internet realms, though this is far from the first game/visual novel to tackle the subject matter. However, tying things so heavily to the importance of memory and empathy is a brilliant step, and Rust’s decisions to try and live in the present while honoring the past not only makes him a great protagonist, but also a generally good person.
Allegro, for all his faults, works in a way that is purposely detached, though he himself is not actually uncaring. It’s a forced act in order to achieve what he believes is best for the ones he loves and humanity as a whole. He is an incredibly compelling character, even if he’s sometimes given rather goofy and pointless conjecture early on. Alita and Olive both hold serious trauma and history under the guise of different coping mechanisms (Alita’s flirtatious, buoyant nature and Olive’s dissociative speaking patterns). The boss monsters, while clearly dehumanized, have elements shot through them of the extremes of human emotions (weakness, jealousy, doubt) that make them interesting and appropriate choices for the domains they guard.
The music, to be honest, is very hit or miss. There are moments of Archetype Arcadia that are accented by orchestral brilliance, and the use of the mourners song during various funeral moments added an element of genuine emotion to what could have been very static events. On the other hand, there are moments of very inappropriate jauntiness, like when Rust is losing his first battle to Dark Cerberus (the first boss) that shifts from “odd” to “mocking” in a moment. I would recommend balancing the audio so you can appreciate the speaking and just fade the scoreinto the background.
For the most part, a lot of the points and ideas raised in Archetype Arcadia are intriguing and interesting. The condition that Rust finds himself in – a child of a traumatic age that has become calloused and numb – is something sympathetic, and almost rewarding as he slowly peels back the layers of scar tissue to start feeling again. His relationship with Sti is complex but understandable, as most siblings are. In fact, Rust mostly carries a lot of complicated relationships throughout the game, even when more of the “brutal” paths are chosen. He can only navigate to the truer ending through maintaining his humanity and remembering the empathetic element in all of use. In that sense, he is a brilliant protagonist and mostly ideal for a visual novel concerning the human condition and our connections with each other.
However, I have some notes about tone and choices that make this game less than ideal. For one, the sudden and inexplicable sexualization of Alita during a teamwork scene. With nothing ecchi occurring before or after, it felt so weirdly shoehorned in that I thought I had missed something. While other visual novels might use a quick perversion joke to bring levity or break tension (see Anonymous;CODE), this scene went on way too long and even had some uncomfortable moments with an older brother talking about his younger sister’s chest. C’mon, do we have to lean into this kind of trope when we’re in the middle of trying to save humanity?
Additionally, the twist. There is a massive twist towards the end of chapter two that feels…invalidating. When it happened and I was presented with information, it was done so obtusely that I had to reload the beginning of the game to make sure I didn’t miss something. Without spoiling anything, it’s like if you came home and someone had eaten all your cookies from a plate on the table. So you say “I’m going to bake more cookies and figure out who ate them!” then get to work. Meanwhile, there’s this giant racoon on the table, covered in cookie crumbs, holding a sign that says “I BREAK INTO HOMES AND EAT COOKIES,” but you don’t notice the racoon until a friend comes over to bring you cookie supplies and says “woah, that racoon clearly ate the cookies.”
The fact that I needed Allegro to point out to me “This is a racoon, and it ate your cookies” and I got angry, went into denial, and had to essentially watch a documentary called Racoons and Why They Break Into Houses to Eat Cookies before my character accepted it is maddening. Yea, the cookies are obviously important (Kristen being unconscious), but I think that THE RACOON WOULD HAVE BEEN MENTIONED IN THE SAME BREATH (racoon). You don’t even need to say “racoon.” You can just say “something furry darted off the table” and then not mention it again, so the players can think “bet that was a racoon” and be super pumped when they’re right in the end. Don’t hide the racoon! Then you’re left questioning how dumb Rust is that he can’t see a goddamn racoon right in front of him.
Trying to overlook that and painting it as “Rust was traumatized by the loss of his cookies” is a weak counterargument. He has zero issue painting a GRAPHIC picture of when he needed to beat his father to death as a child (mentioned fairly early, no spoilers) and several other truly awful things happen over the course of this game. Given what we know about Peccatomania through very careful, deliberate explanations, the cookies could have been naturally explained without being blunt, but it feels like the writers went out of their way to hide the racoon, then reveal it with a flourish. You can’t just Scooby-Doo a plot twist if you don’t also have zany hijinks, and there weren’t any, so no go.
Having ranted all that, Archetype Arcadia is an interesting world, a unique setting and it hits all the notes that make it a popcorn visual novel. While it’s a girthy read, coming in at about 1.6 million words, a lot of ideas are repeated and overly detailed, so you can get the gist of things pretty quickly once Rust starts inner monologing. There’s a lot of compelling arguments, tons of bad endings to run into facefirst (almost gleefully) and a fairly decent hero/villain dynamic. And others may not be as pissed by the twist as I am, so that might even work out for you. I’ll keep going to find all the bad endings, as several do take some real work to uncover. But, once I’ve got everything set, I’m certain that my final logout from Archetype Arcadia will be permanent.
Character models are a bit generic but still have enough flavor and variance to be appealing. Monster design is grotesque and suits the intention well. Would have liked to see more closeups during the CG moments but otherwise good.
Early gameplay is very light on choices while later chapters are heavy with obvious “bad” decisions. More nuanced aspects are clever and suit the game’s message well. Twist was absolute bollocks.
Voicework: mostly solid, a couple of weird editing choices but nothing offensive.
Music: tonally all over the place. Very cookie cutter and sometimes the wrong cookie changes the mood of the entire game. Not awful but also not great.
Gameworld and backdrop are great for the story, but exposition and over explanation can take the air out of the tires. Shoehorned moments of “comic relief” knock the player off kilter. I hate the twist.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Archetype Arcadia is available now on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4/5, the App Store and the Google Play Store.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Archetype Arcadia was provided by the publisher.