Capsule Review: Archlion Saga

A satisfying bite-sized RPG that needs just a bit more approachability to be a perfect gateway game.

A short and approachable RPG designed to be completed in two to four hours. The story is kept short, the mechanics are kept simple, and guide features keep the player from getting lost. The result is an enjoyable bite-sized RPG experience, though there is still room for improved approachability.

The aesthetic resembles SNES-era JRPGs, but several tweaks have been made to the UI. Your current story goal and progression through the game’s chapters are constantly displayed alongside a mini-map, and you can toggle an actual path on the ground leading you to your next objective (though for some reason this fails more often than it should, particularly if your current objective is the edge of the map to transition to the next area). The implementation isn’t quite perfect - the goal text is generally longer than its box can display, requiring it to slowly scroll. The English translation isn’t great, meaning the goal text, character dialog, and system text is a little less clear than it should be. And the UI was clearly designed for mobile, where it works well with touchscreen buttons - on Switch, it is slightly more awkward to navigate.

Despite its short length, the game manages to tell a complete story with coherent themes. There’s an overarching plot with stakes that are clear from the beginning and each chapter features a brief, self-contained story to deal with on the way to resolving the main plot. There isn’t much time for worldbuilding and unfortunately the chapters and locations end up feeling disconnected from each other, but they do showcase interesting characters and tie in thematically to the larger story of death and sacrifice.

The combat system is streamlined to be simple to understand and to keep battles short. While you gain multiple party members, your team is treated as a single entity with pooled heath and stats. Each turn, you can do a simple attack, defend, use an item, or use an ability. The enemy team, no matter how many monsters it includes, is similarly pooled and gets one action per turn as well. There’s no mana system; abilities instead have preconditions and cooldowns. For example, you might have a powerful attack that can only be used once every five turns, and a healing ability with no cooldown but that can only be used if your party is below half health. Combat is thus mostly about understanding your abilities and finding the right rhythm to use them in the right situations, and there’s just enough tactical complexity to keep things interesting for the game’s runtime. While the removal of mana does mean there isn’t any real need to manage resources across unpredictable numbers of encounters, for some reason you aren’t healed between battles. You have plenty of healing options available, so this doesn’t really add any tactical depth - just some tedious extra steps you need to repeat.

Managing equipment is, unfortunately, far more complicated than it should be. You collect different weapons and armor for each character to choose from with different benefits, but it’s extremely difficult to compare them meaningfully. For example, you might be choosing between one weapon that adds 10 Crit Rate and one that adds 10 Combo Rate, but there’s no explanation of how these stats work and battles are so short that you can’t reasonably experiment with them. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter much - as long as you use new equipment when it becomes available you’ll do okay, and there are several layers of safety net if you’re having trouble - healing items, quick level-grinding, and so on.

There’s also a “star” system - you collect stars as you play which can then be used in a variety of ways. You can spend one outside of combat for a full heal, during combat to land a critical hit, or after combat to double the gold and experience rewards. They are also required to open certain optional treasure chests and certain required doors, so you don’t want to overspend them. On mobile, the base game is free but there’s an in-app purchase that causes you to get a free star every ten minutes; on Switch this is included in the paid base game.

Overall, Archlion Saga is a solid and satisfying way to have a low-commitment RPG experience, particularly for those who are nostalgic for SNES-era JRPGs. The barrier to entry is low enough and there are enough safety nets in place that it can also serve well enough as an introduction to the genre, though an improved translation, a reworked UI on Switch, and a bit more mechanical streamlining would have made it a much easier recommendation.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the game after about two and a half hours. There’s a New Game Plus feature; I didn’t try it.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.