Arcadian Atlas is a tactics RPG trying to reinvent the glory days of classic genre games like Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics.
Developer Twin Otter Studios puts their own twist on it with artistic character portraits, a bopping jazz soundtrack, and an original setting in the midst of a civil war. Well maybe that last one isn’t necessarily a twist but Square Enix doesn’t have a monopoly on civil wars.
With an ambitious goal of contributing to the TRPG renaissance and more than a few years in development, has Arcadian Atlas managed to meet expectations? Find out in our Arcadian Atlas review!
Developer: Twin Otter Studios
Publisher: Serenity Forge
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (Reviewed), Console (Coming Soon)
Release Date: July 27, 2023
Arcadian Atlas follows the story of two lovers, Vashti and Desmond, who find themselves on opposite sides of a civil war. Princess Lucretia has been declared illegitimate by Queen Venezia, however Lucretia claims that the Queen had the king poisoned and killed to secure her position on the throne.
Lucretia, beloved by the people, stages a bloody rebellion. While the higher powers of society in Arcadia back the queen, most of the peasantry supports Lucretia either openly or in secret.
Beneath this backdrop of civil war are more mystic forces. The second princess dabbles in powers forbidden in Arcadia. But with Venezia being cold and ruthless while Lucretia is blinded by inexperience and passion, the path the second princess sets upon could be a third answer to the kingdom’s troubles.
It’s this setup that Vashti and Desmond find themselves in. Two major powers fight for authority while a third uncovers arcane secrets and esoteric lore that could have profound implications on the realm. Where will they stand when it’s all said and done? How will Vashti and Desmond reconcile their love that’s been broken by war? These are the questions Arcadian Atlas uses to draw us into their story.
The story only gets better as time goes on and really captures the vibe of FFT. It’s hard not to compare the two games. A civil war, the game even starts with a scene from Chapter Two before jumping back to Chapter One as a prelude, it can’t get much more on the nose.
We can’t go into too much detail of the story to avoid spoilers, but by the end of the first chapter things really took off and I was excited to play more; despite the early missions being a bit boring.
Classes are relatively straightforward, Arcadian Atlas imported the skill slot system from Final Fantasy Tactics with passive skills that can be slotted in which range from “+14 HP” to “+1 JUMP”. Also similar to FFT, the skills have categories like Movement which ensures you can’t just equip three movement bonuses and kite everyone around the battlefield.
Speaking of the battlefield, Arcadian Atlas unfortunately controls best with a controller. I have nothing against controllers but with the PC version coming first I hoped for a more responsive mouse and keyboard experience.
Some tiles are blocked by terrain or can be blocked by the view of other characters, forcing you to click the small cluster of pixels that correctly indicates where you want to move or just use the keyboard. Not to mention there’s no camera rotation to compensate.
There’s some other quality of life features missing too, like a font change. I appreciate the pixel art for the maps and characters, but it’s less so for the flat and sometimes illegible font used in-game. This is compounded with the awkward keyboard controls, when I started playing I fumbled with the menu once or twice trying to figure out if I was supposed to hit “O” or “D”.
After a few hours of getting used to the controls, things got a lot better. I got accustomed to the quirks (the font), instinctively avoided the things I had issue with (terrain and mouse controls), and got into the swing of things, and I’m sure anyone else playing this game can do the same.
On top of the fundamental control issues things start to get better, the pixel art is fantastic and there’s a funny reference to FFT wherein people just raise their hands when using some abilities, or when they receive a heal or buff. It’s a cute little reminder what this game is, an homage to the great PS1 era TRPGs and it evokes enough nostalgia without leaning too hard into it.
The mechanical depth of Arcadian Atlas has more to do with strategy than grinding. You can certainly get powerful off of side quests, but instead of grinding for big jobs like Summoner or Dragoon you’ve got four base classes with two promotions each.
This makes for a total of 12 classes which are further distinguished by talent trees. For example, your Ranger can be a bowman or crossbow master, your cavaliers can master one or two-handed blades, meanwhile your Warmancers can specialize in Lightning, Ice, or Fire.
Promotions take these specializations even further and have their own large-scale abilities that completely revolutionize the mid-late game. Early fights are traditional TRPG clashes with straightforward damage and healing. There are a few status ailments which you learn and add an extra layer of depth, but it’s still mostly just about doing bigger numbers.
Later battles introduce traps and hazards, the Hunter promotion for Ranger for example can lay down some sneaky surprises. Meanwhile Warmancers can place hazardous zones like a Wall of Fire (this is achievable early though and is basically the game’s introduction to the mechanic of hazards).
Arcadian Atlas provides some thoughtful maps to better make use of this mechanics, and some units even have abilities to clear these hazards. More than just a head-to-head battle there’s a strategic element that normally isn’t implemented in TRPGs besides consideration of range and mobility.
Ultimately, Arcadian Atlas is an RPG with an exciting and dramatic story, strategic gameplay, and a fantastic soundtrack; though a lack of polish and quality of life features sometimes breaks the nostalgic illusion.
Arcadian Atlas is a worthy addition to the TRPG genre and while it doesn’t quite live up to Final Fantasy Tactics, it comes far closer than I expected from a modern game.