The Sky is Falling
Welcome to Ara Fell, a flying continent in the sky that’s slowly but surely losing pieces of land. Elves are to blame, though their intentions were good. Stopping the hovering continent from falling to pieces will require six elven artifacts. Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition, a turn-based JRPG by Stegosoft re-released with new content, starts off innocently enough: a pair of close friends, Lita and Adrian, explore ancient elven ruins for a ring. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, apparently, as you’re beset by bats, tough worms, and a mutant boss within the first few minutes of playing. This game doesn’t waste your time. Hold onto your seat because it’s going to be one bumpy ride.
It Respects Your Time
My initial impression of Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition was that it respected my time. It’s apparent before the game starts when you’re giving the opportunity to pick between four difficulty levels: Story, Normal, Hard, and Expert. Story mode and Normal are the same in regards to difficulty, but Story mode adds the option to kill everything during a battle. I never found myself using it too often, but it was useful if I wanted to get back to the story.
Long-winded dialogue has always been my biggest gripe with JRPGs. When I’m mashing buttons to skip dialogue, it’s a sign that you’ve completely lost my interest. To my surprise, Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition does not have that problem. The writers did an excellent job of conveying information through characters without getting sidetracked by tangents. Lita, the main character, often makes snarky remarks about RPG tropes. For instance, she mentions how nothing good happens from picking up items in ominous ruins. As if to prove a point, picking up the elven ring you were looking for opens a dark and secret passageway. How foreboding.
That same philosophy even extends to the storyline. It never speeds up or grinds to a halt or feels clunky. You pick up the most important information through dialogue and character interactions during the main quest. Additional context and lore can be found through various side quests, which have been expanded upon from Ara Fell’s original release back in 2016. I was more than happy to indulge in these as many were on the same general path as the main quest. Going out of my way to complete them led to gold, experience, and enchantments.
The Golden Age of Turn-Based RPGs
If you’ve ever picked up a turn-based RPG, then combat should feel familiar. It picks up where the golden age of turn-based RPGs left off, but the game brings back a few new tricks from the future. Combat is staged like early Final Fantasy titles, i.e., your party is on the right and enemies on the left.
At first glance, you might feel the need to bum-rush everything, but you’ll find out soon enough that tactics like that rarely work, even less so on harder difficulties. I encourage you to use your abilities as does the game. There’s no need to heal up after each fight; the game does that for you. Lining up your attacks can be tricky. Combat relies on turn order, which you can see along the top of the screen. That bit of clairvoyance is a source of tension. Knowing when a boss is going to strike for big damage will have you scrambling for cover. And it can be exploited a great deal by using abilities that alter the order.
Combat is further deepened by each party member’s unique class. Lita, for example, is the de facto archer with a small set of support abilities. Her Scout ability, for example, reveals enemy details like maximum and current health. Adrian works well as a tank due to his ability to taunt enemies, which is a must if you want to protect your more squishy party members by forcing the opposition to focus on Adrian.
Every character eventually gets a choice between two advanced classes. Lita, who starts off with a mix of support and single-target attacks, can focus more on one or the other. Her mage-like area-of-effect and holy support spells can be amazing. Alternatively, you can crank her single-target damage to 12 and she’ll receive a boost to her critical hits.
Grinding is Expected, but Rewarded
Combat falters a bit on easier difficulties though. I recommend playing on Hard, at the very least, for combat to really shine. It forces you to adhere to the turn order and use everything at your disposal. Playing at a higher difficulty comes with a cost: more grinding. Normal and Story mode are less impacted. In fact, you can ignore a great deal of it at those difficulty levels. But for Hard and Expert it’s a necessity. Defeated monsters can drop materials for crafting new equipment. And keeping your gear up to date is important across the board, especially on harder difficulties.
Ara Fell doesn’t stick to the traditional RPG tropes of finding or buying new equipment. Enhancing your weapons requires the materials you pick up after battle. Furthermore, compound your combat capabilities using an enchanting system, which was absent from the game’s original release. Enchanting can offer huge stat boosts and even bonus effects like siphoning health from enemies. Enchanting recipes are easily missed and many are hidden. So check every nook and cranny!
Aside from crafting materials, grinding levels awards party members with skill points. Every level hands you 10 points to spend on stats such as power, agility, defense, and wisdom. It can greatly complement advanced classes. Lita, for example, already gets a boost to critical hits, which you can bank on by allocating points into agility for even more critical chance and wisdom for increased critical damage.
Candy for the Eyes, Ears, and Soul
Opting for retro graphics can make or break a title, a decision that Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition certainly benefited from. What I find most striking about the game’s 16-bit graphics are the colors. Blues, greens, browns—all have an earthy tone to them while still being vibrant. There’s so much detail packed into the landscape. Butterflies flutter around, flowers dot the land, waterfalls escape to the land below. The world is alive, and the ambience reflects that.
Animations also gain top billing. In other retro-styled games, your character might pick up an item while the sprite remains static. In Ara Fell, Lita bends over to pick up something on the ground or to mine for ore. If you dive into the water, she’ll hold her nose and curl up to do a cannonball. Small details like that make it all the more alive.
What sells the world most of all is the music by Louise Heaney. You’d think modern instruments would clash with Ara Fell’s fantasy theme, but it does the exact opposite. At first it’s quiet, almost blending in with the rest of the world. But once you reach Aloria, Lita’s hometown, the music really kicks in. Every track has a whimsical but subtle nature to it that enhances your journey. Without the in-game music, it would be like eating salad without dressing. For all intents and purposes, this is music necessary for an adventure.
Ara Fell doesn’t break new ground with the JRPG formula, but it doesn’t have to. Its story and characters make it unique. The game sheds a few JRPG tropes that often make the genre difficult to approach and replaces them with Western RPG flare such as a more open-world experience. Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition is eye candy for the eyes, ears, and soul.
Is it Hardcore?
No doubt about it.
Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition delivers a satisfying combat system and an even more satisfying cast of characters. The land of Ara Fell is beautiful, alive with color, and a joy to adventure in. With music that you’ll hum for days and witty writing that sticks with you, it’s hard to put this game down.