North American box (front)
North American box (back)
Japan box (front)
Japan box (back)
Arcana is an RPG for by HAL Laboratory. It was released in 1992, both in Japan and North America, for the Super Nintendo.
At its core, Arcana is a traditional first-person dungeon-crawler. What's unique about it is that all characters and enemies are presented as cards. And its battle system follows the traditional turn-based JRPG style rather than the typical point-and-click style of Western dungeon-crawlers.
HAL Laboratory was the same developer behind the first Kirby's Dreamland games. Hence, the soundtrack was by Jun Ishikawa, the same guy behind the music for the Kirby games. Kirby also makes a cameo in Arcana's prelude sequence (look closely at the red picture in Prelude Story).
In the 1990s, it was normal for the North American release of a JRPG not have the best English translation. The changes in Arcana, though, were drastic. Writer “Boco” of GameFAQs had this to say about it:
Many things were removed and changed for the US version. Menus became less pretty, the story became less defined and detailed, the characters became cookie-cutters, and the spirits became resurrectable party-members instead of distant elementals. Items and spells were cut from the US version, and a great deal was changed - largely because the differences between English and Japanese versions made translation of many sections of the game impossible. However, the “translation” team was not proficient in either language, and the result was - while still a good game, not nearly as refined as the original. Monsters lost their mythological names, references to religion were cut, and grammatical errors appeared everywhere, along with cheesy dialogue and the unshakable feeling that someone along the way missed something.
According to the ancient legends, men of valor established 6 kingdoms in the land of Elemen. Disputes broke out constantly between these six kingdoms, but, if you look at the history of the land, you can see that they were treated as minor matters by the people of these kingdoms. But in time these seemingly minor despites spilled over and become a storm over the land.
Eventually, the conflict spread over the whole island, with each of the six kingdoms fighting for control over the island. This continued for many years. The cities were turned to ruins, and the countryside was laid to waste. Bizance was the capital and the largest city in Lexford. Galneon, one of the court magicians, launched a coup against King Wagnall.
King Wagnall was killed in the conflict and the evil Galneon ascended the throne. In the conflict, the King's two daughters disappeared. Their whereabouts are still unknown. Ten years have passed since this event...
For the most part, the battle system is a pretty straight-forward JRPG. There's HP and MP. Characters gain levels and learn new offensive/defensive magic. New weapons and armor can be equipped. Different characters join your battle party; and eventually leave you as the story progresses.
A battle in Arcana
The unique feature of the gameplay are the elemental spirits. You can gain up to four of them. They're a lot like Pokémon, haha. Really! During battle, you can switch between the elemental spirits in battle as you see fit. After battle, their HP/MP slowly restores with each step you take.
Characters and elemental spirits can be healed with healing spells or items. A defeated character results in a Game Over - so be careful! If a character's health is low, their stats will flash in red. Fortunately, a defeated elemental spirit can be resurrected in town. Boss battles hit you without warning (normally towards the end of a maze). Make sure you have plenty of healing items in your inventory!
The game can only be saved in the town. That's pretty rough considering how challenging the game is! However, you're most likely playing this game in an SNES emulator so you can use save states to save at any point.
Arcana is one of those gems that are often overlooked. For a time, I was one of those people because I was never that interested in first-person dungeon-crawlers. What eventually attracted me to Arcana was finding out the battles were traditional turn-based RPG. And the graphics/animation when moving through the maze was gorgeous. The game pulled me right in.
Once you get used to the gameplay, Arcana gives you a realistic feeling as if you're exploring a real dungeon maze. The soundtrack is excellent. It's by HAL afterall, who made the Kirby games (which also have good music). The story is scarce, but there's just enough dialogue and climatic events to keep it interesting.
I must admit that I didn't have the patience to play Arcana without help and some slight cheating. It's the nature of a dungeon-crawling game to be time-consuming as you hit a great deal of dead ends while tyring to find your way to the finish. There's also the challenge of surviving battles over a long period of time. You'll often need to return to town (if you can even survive the backtrack) to restore your HP/MP and purchase more healing items. I used the SNES emulator's fast forward to quickly grind my party to make battles easier. I relied on maps to get through mazes.
Would I recommend Arcana? I made this shrine for it afterall, of course I think it's a great game that I recommend. I would say that it's not for everyone. Dungeon-crawling is a niche interest that may not appeal to everyone.