by Thomas Mikkelsen
reviewed on PC
Arelite Core is an old-school JRPG that seeks to pay homage to the 16 bit classics of yesteryear. While many indie game developers opt for a retro aesthetic style to strengthen their bond with the games that inspired their product, most imbue their games with some gameplay mechanic or feature not available to players of that era. While Arelite Core is a charming little game, it offers little in the way of innovation, which in turn leads to the question: why should I get it rather than playing Final Fantasy V?
You are a blacksmith. In a nearby mine, miners have struck Arelite, a previous and powerful metal that has magical properties but can only be handled by a master blacksmith. As the one destined to assume that role upon the passing of your mentor, you are sent into the mine to investigate and confirm the presence of Arelite. You and your comic relief-trope-ish friend set out on a grand adventure, roaming the world meeting other blacksmiths, learning from them in the hopes of using their combined experience to hone your craft to a point at which you can bend Arelite to you will.
As per JRPG tradition, you can name each character that joins your party upon meeting them. Some rather amusing banter plays out between the first two characters who join your party, a ranged fighter armed with a crossbow and a magic wielding healer, but on the whole, the writing feels formulaic and uninspired. Visually, the game will undoubtedly please the eye of any aficionado of 16bit art, but the animations tend to be rather lacklustre. The game therefore looks good on screenshots, but then has a distinctly amateurish feel during gameplay.
Roaming the world map, you're likely to get into random fights. These are unpredictable, as enemies are not visually represented at this level. Down on the local map, however, enemies are represented by a black flame that patrols an area and comes at you if you get too close. Either way, you'll end up on the combat stage where the fun part takes place. Each character has four options when their turn comes: strike, parry, blitz, and item. The first two are self-explanatory, and the item action allows you to use an item from the team's collective backpack. Blitz, on the other hand, is where you find your characters’ special abilities. Between battles, you can tweak the available blitz powers and assign points to strike and parry that boost or alter the properties of your strikes. For instance, you could have your ranged fighter shower the enemy with a volley of arrows, dealing only half damage to each. Good for large groups, but terrible against one powerful opponent. On the whole, though, the combat is solid, albeit a bit simplistic and random. The damage your standard attack does ranges widely, leading to the feeling that the outcome is not only determined by tactical skill, but also a pinch of blind luck.
A familiar feeling
The game features crafting quite heavily, you being a blacksmith and all, and roaming around the map looking for ore to mine yields some amusement. The items available to craft, on the other hand, do not. The various weapons, armor, and items you craft increase your stats, but no visual change takes place on your character sprite as you equip them. As you level up, each of your stats increases by one, but the only real way to customise them is with weapon, armor, and item selection. As most are either better or worse than whatever you’re already wearing, there is little consideration required and the protagonist never feels like a creation of your own making.
Arelite Core is obviously born out of a great love of 16bit JRPGs and a lot of heart has gone into its creation. The first thing budding game designers are taught, however, is to imagine a game they’d love to play but doesn’t exist and think about reasons why that game doesn’t exist. This sets them up to design games that no one has played and to attack as yet unsolved challenges. I feel like I’ve played Arelite Core before. I feel like I’ve played myriad versions of Arelite Core before. Therefore, although I can appreciate the love and effort that went into creating it, I cannot recommend that you pick it up over the fantastic classics of the 16bit era already available on various platforms.
Charming aesthetics, amusing banter between characters.
Over simplistic, little variety, formulaic writing.