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Unpolished in some areas, but with some good foundations beneath

  • Muninn
  • 07/14/2012 08:12 PM
Pre-review disclaimer: "Arbiters from Another World" is a prequel to Matsumori Days. While I went into Arbiters aware of this fact, I have not at this point played Matsumori Days. As such, this review may be of less relevance to people who are not aware of the connection, or to people who have played Matsumori Days first.

Arbiters from Another World is an RPGMaker VX game by Marrend.

Yamamoto Sataro, a student at the Yokoki School of Magic, is currently facing his third attempt at passing the graduation exam. While he passes the practical component of the exam by successfully summoning the Spirit of the Earth, his scores in the written exam were unsatisfactory, resulting in Sataro being expelled from the school. With his companions, Sataro now travels around the land, searching for additional spirits to summon and form contracts with, working towards uncovering the mystery of what it is that the spirits are trying to protect.

Story: Good Enough for and RPG
While I wouldn't really say that Arbiters from Another World had a story that was engaging, and the story almost certainly wouldn't keep my attention if it were in a more story-dependent medium such as a book, for an RPG, the story provided context for my actions and a sense of progression following my accomplishments, so this gets the comment "Good Enough". In particular, the advancement of the story was fairly well-paced: Rather than being told "Find the four spirits and contract with them", the discovery of most of the spirits also carried with it the revelation of more information regarding the final goal of my quest.

Presentation: Something or other
Nothing in the realm of presentation managed to place a strong impression on me one way or the other. I recognized a few of the music tracks in the game from other RPGMaker games, but this additional association was only a minor distraction at most.

One thing that I will comment on here, since there's not much of a better place to put it: After the final boss, the story actually continues for a short while to finish the final setup for Matsumori Days. I actually liked this design decision: I think that a lot of RPGs focus on having the final boss be "the End of the story", which means that the last advancement of the story happens right before the final boss. Seeing a case of the final boss being the climax (but not the end) was a nice change of pace.

Gameplay: Everywhere on the scale, at some point or another
When I first began playing Arbiters from Another World, I was given a party member and told to explore some ruins and talk to a spirit there. This spirit turned out to be a boss encounter, and as I had been focused on exploring the ruins, I had not yet fought any enemies (Arbiters uses touch encounters, and the on-map enemies just wander around aimlessly instead of chasing after you). Needless to say, the boss fight against the Earth Spirit was not balanced against a pair of 1st level characters. Unfortunately, there was no way to tell this without entering the fight, which leads to one of the flaws in Arbiters's gameplay: Since it is trivial to get through any map without triggering any encounters, the only required encounters are the bosses. If a player decides to avoid encounters (the ability to allow the player to do so being the main benefit of a touch-encounter system), the player also has no way to tell whether or not they are underpowered with respect to their current location. As such, I played through the entire game getting into fights, discovering that my level was too low, and grinding up to meet that level.

Speaking of grinding, there were sometimes rather large level jumps between bosses: The last of the four spirits, the Fire spirit, was something I managed to defeat after reaching level 20 (I'd been around 18 when I first found it). Almost immediately afterward, I ended up in a fight with the Mercenary boss who guards the Ancient Tower: Despite the extremely short amount of time between these two bosses, I was at level 28 before I was capable of beating the Mercenary, and level 30 before I was capable of beating both the Mercenary and immediately-following boss fight, Genji Shirai. The bosses inside the tower then required me to grind to the 40-45 range in order to defeat them.

I like the amount of choices Arbiters gave me for what to do during battle, although those are really false choices until later in the game. The attack command is essentially useless unless there is a large stat difference between the player characters and the enemies (either through buffs, debuffs, or level differences). The attack spells of the Main Character are identical except for the elemental properties, meaning that in any given battle they are either interchangeable, or one is obviously better than the others. The combat became more interesting later in the game, when Sataro begins to get buffs and debuffs and the other party members began to get status-inflicting spells.

Final Verdict: A Rather Nice Game
I may have been lost as to what power level I was supposed to be at for a large portion of Arbiters from Another World, but during the times when I was fighting bosses at the right level, I found combat in this game to be moderately engaging and interesting. While it may not be a must-play game for the RMN community, if there's anybody out there who's currently looking at this game and wondering whether or not they should check it out, I'd say "Go for it"


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Guardian of the Description Thread
I think my main problem with this game, and it's difficulty curve, is that I expect players to grind, and I expect them to utterly abuse Beacon after it's obtained. With Beacon set up to go to the right places, grinding isn't that much of an issue. I think sbester said it in his review best:

You’re never far from a recovery point or an INN either, so that’s great.

My issue with grinding had more to do with the interrupt in the flow of the story than the difficulty. (Most of the grinding I had to do was performed in the desert, one or two screens away from the free-healing point). Another problem was that it was extremely back-loaded: Up until the Fire Spirit, I only would have to grind one or two levels per boss fight, which I found reasonable considering that I'd been deliberately avoiding fights while traveling. Between the Fire Spirit and Mercenary I had to go up from lv20-lv30, and from the Mercenary to the bosses at the top of the tower I had to grind to Lv45.
I'd probably have less issue if it was more evenly spread, or if there were a few required mini-boss fights to help you gauge whether or not you should be stronger at this point of the game.

Out of curiosity, what was the character level you expected people to have when they fought the final boss? I ended the game around 46, which I initially though might have been a sign that I was getting the battle system wrong and overleveling to compensate (especially since I got what looked to be the final skills at Lv40). Later, when Rasuna joined and was already at Lv55, I wondered if I'd actually been too low still (Unless Rasuna was deliberately more powerful than the others, which is a possibility I considered).
Guardian of the Description Thread
I figured players would get about ten levels per dungeon. So, Ishino, the first dungeon, would conclude at level 10. The coast, being the second dungeon, was 20. The mountains was 30, making the desert 40, the tower 50, and the final area was 60.

Saying that, I think it might have been as early as the mountain with the wind spirit that I started to notice that I wasn't leveling fast enough. That wasn't the only reason I put in the monk training fight, though. I put her there as a mini-boss, of sorts, to gauge player skill. She "leveled up" at various points in the game, so she's probably a good an indicator as any as to how well the player will fare.

By-the-by, allow me to confirm your suspicion that Rasuna is supposed to have a higher level than everyone else.
The main point of interest is definitely the Tower Guard in regards to the level jump issue. It seems that both Muninn and I noticed the huge gap at that point, and that's where the flow is interrupted. I stand by what I said in my review that grinding isn't a major issue in this game, since it's very easy to fully heal your party, but I did find that second guard battle to be just too daunting. I would suggest either cutting both bosses' HP level by half for that point, or eliminating the second boss completely (or tossing him in later in the tower). As it stands, I was confused that perhaps I was not supposed to even enter the tower at that point because I was under-leveled and the immediate second fight made me think it wasn't going to let me go through no matter what.
Guardian of the Description Thread
Okay, in the interest of seeing how much actual jump is going on, I did a bit of research. The Fire Spirit is set for a level 39 party. The first round with Shirai is set for a level 40 party. The second round with Shirai is set for a level 45 party. I wouldn't necessarily call this a huge jump. Saying that, I don't think the difference in levels is what's getting you two. It's the fact that there's no break between his bouts. If there was a short pause between fights, allowing players to get the party back on it's feet, fighting Shirai would be a bit better.

The problem of putting in a pause is that I would, probably, be giving players access the menu. This gives the players the opportunity to use Beacon. I have no doubt that this would cause some very odd things. The only other alternative I can see is an All Recover, and that doesn't make sense with the context of what's happening.

I dunno. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not seeing Shirai simply letting the party go after they beat him the first time.
I don't actually mind the two boss fights back-to-back (And as you said, it wouldn't really make sense another way), it was just that there was a bit of a shock in the transition from "Yay! I finally beat the Mercenary" to "Another boss? I'm out of MP".

Something you might want to consider if you ever make edits to this game (or if the situation comes up in a subsequent game) is actually making the second boss less powerful than the first to account for the player being low on resources. (Or, if healing items are prevalent, raise the boss's stats after a few rounds in order to give the player a bit of breathing room to recover)

Does the Fire spirit's level account for that fact that two out of your three party members can it it with an element that its weak against? That's something that really sped up the battle for me: The Fire spirit only lasted a few rounds after I hit it with the single-target all-stats-down debuff, but that was because I had two party members hammering it with strong water spells. With the Mercenary, the fight lasted much longer even though I was 10 levels higher when finally beat it.
Guardian of the Description Thread
With this game, making the second battle against the merc easier than the first fight is not an option. In fact, I would think players of Matsumori Days would see the merc at the tower, and think to themselves something along the lines of, "Darigaaz, not him! Not again!" In summary, it's story-related that he gets stronger with each fight. It might not be considered "fair" for newcomers to the series, so I understand your points.

To be honest, I never took elemental affinities into account. For normal enemies, that's probably fine. For bosses? I'm uncertain how much that would skew my numbers. I know my theory of game-balance is supposed to take into account the amount of damage an "average" character would do. Knowing that two-thirds of the party have elementally-opposite abilities should, if I wanted to be truly consistent in my theory, be a part of that consideration. I'm pretty comfortable with not including element affinities, though. In the end, I don't think the amount of work that including it would makes things fairer. In fact, I would think it would make things worse!
Just to input on the double boss area, somehow I got there at level 35ish and, of course, was destroyed in the fight. So I went off and grinded against the monk in the mountains until level 40. While I was constantly fighting her, over and over, I looked for new strategies and ways to fight against her. I found a combination of skills that practically made the party invincible and the enemy unable to do anything, so when I went to fight the tower guard I used those the first round and the battle was over in 3 turns. Maybe because I didn't lose any health and very little mana, I found the second fight to be about a normal boss battle in difficulty. However, I could see that if someone needed to take a round to replenish their health and mana, they would be easily killed by him. Perhaps instead of weakening the second boss, if you are entirely against that, you could heal the party in between the battles, or give the player the option to do that. Otherwise, I can see where the frustration is coming from.
Guardian of the Description Thread
It's not that I don't understand where this frustration with the mercenary fight is coming from. However, what would be the context with giving players time to recuperate? The party certainly does not expect a round 2. Especially so soon after they thought they beat the guy. So, how do they have time to recuperate?

Without a viable context for recuperation, what's left? Frustrated players that either want to rage-quit, or want some kind of guide as to how to beat that boss? That's the impression I'm getting! I can see me writing a walkthrough for this game, so there is that, at least.
I see what you're saying. Perhaps if you gave some reason for a round of healing, like Mina instinctively lashing out with water, stunning him and giving you a round to heal? Other than something of that nature, you're right and it would be wrong to give a recuperation round when they didn't expect it in the first place. Or you could use Muninn's idea and have him grow gradually stronger over a few rounds.
ahaha. the ever present Story vs. Gameplay dilemma
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