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Arcadia Fallen Review

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If you’re partial to a visual novel and own an Xbox, you will probably know that the system has been starved of them of late. It’s a dry spell that’s lasted a few months, with only the odd fringe game to keep us topped up. But, as they say about buses, you only have to wait so long and a few come at once. In recent weeks, we have had Animal Lover, Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel and Arcadia Fallen. If you’re a fan of pressing A to read the next chatbox, then you’re in luck. 

We shuffled Arcadia Fallen to the front of the visual novel review queue because it is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best of the bunch. It’s a wholesome bear-hug of a game, and we wanted to anticipate the choice that visual novel fans will have to make: of all of the games out recently, choose Arcadia Fallen. You won’t regret it. 

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It’s the story of the ‘Alchemist’, who you will get to customise and name yourselves. We created Bumflump, a male alchemist with an Elvis-like quiff, and he was ready to save the world. You start as a novice in the trade, apprenticed to Elizabeth, who owns a shop in the Anemone Valley: a rustic town in the middle of nowhere. 

It doesn’t take long for things to go to pot. You are attacked in a side-alley and left for dead, but a curious nature spirit nearby comes to your aid. She’s called Mime, and the only way for her to save you is to possess you: something which creates a permanent link between you and her. You are doomed to be together forever, so it’s lucky that she’s good company. 

There’s no time for how-do-you-dos as the attacker, along with more of the townsfolk, surround your alchemy shop with pitchforks and firebrands. So, you sloop in via a backdoor and try to help Elizabeth. It seems the townsfolk have been possessed by demons, ghosts of the dead, and are being rabble-roused by your attacker, Ronan. But with Mime and your new-found magical ability – as well as a necklace that Elizabeth had given you – you are able to stop the shop from being utterly razed. The alchemical workbench is destroyed, but everyone is alive. 

Clearly something is up in the Anemone Valley. Demons are abroad, and they seem to be connected to both a nearby forest, which has died and gone Tim Burton-esque in recent weeks, and a mine, owned by the local money-grabbing bigwig. You feel the warmth of heroism rise in your chest, so you set off on an adventure to rid the town of demons, sever your connection to Mime, and make a few bob to restore the alchemist’s shop. 

This is all done over a series of days, and with the use of a game map. More so than most visual novels, Arcadia Fallen gives you a deal of agency over what you’re doing. You can travel to a growing list of locations in the Anemone Valley to see what might be there. It’s never particularly sprawling, and Arcadia Fallen does tighten the reins occasionally, not letting you travel to locations because it doesn’t feel there’s enough of value. But having control over the flow of events is better than we’re used to, and it gives Arcadia Fallen the loose outline of an RPG. 

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In those locations, you will begin to gather a fellowship. A huge roll call of characters join you, from the officious demon hunter Victoria to the louche magician Michael. They are all romanceable – give or take a young boy called Kim – so you can make your advances on any of them (or none of them) if you fancy. But mostly you are forging strong platonic relationships over a series of days and in-game hours, getting to know them and building genuine affection for them.

We got some thick Critical Role vibes from the characters. That’s not only because they’re voice-acted well (but not exhaustively: some dialogue is purely text), but because the team is as unlikely and disparate as any D&D group. Characters have deep and relevant backstories, and they all have chemistry, both bad and good, with the other characters. While there isn’t any real combat in Arcadia Fallen, it felt like we were on an elaborate roleplaying campaign. 

The dialogue is spotless, so easy to read and relax into. There are no mistranslations, dry patches or errors: it’s just a comforting fantasy novel that happens to have some button prompts. Best of all are the dialogue options, which are implemented perfectly. Regularly, you get offered three dialogue choices, and they are helpfully annotated. There’s no accidental choosing of a negative option because it was written poorly: the dialogue is clear, and comes with helpful ‘Determined’, ‘Joking’, ‘Sarcastic’ tags, which make it abundantly clear what the consequences will be. Pivotal moments also pause the action and have a summarised intention behind them. It’s a visual novel that every visual novel-maker should play.

Reassuringly, and having picked some pretty far-out dialogue options, there isn’t really a bad dialogue choice. The other characters accommodate you, and the writers helpfully find the best intentions in everything you say. It’s slightly too manipulative, though, and roleplayers who like to be mischievous or downright evil will find themselves rail-roaded into something like a paragon. We’d also say that, while there are plenty of choices, we never got the sense that they were diverging much. The conversation tributaries flow back into the main river, and you feel like you’re being forced in one direction. It’s not the end of the world, but some might see through it.

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We should also note the alchemy minigames which crop up occasionally. These give you potions that are needed for core story moments – and the odd get-out-of-jail-free cards in the narrative too – and they make up the non-novel gameplay of Arcadia Valley. You are basically spinning the three disks of a Venn diagram to create recipes, and it’s all more fiddly than it needs to be. Highlighting the right ingredient or disk is awkward, and we didn’t quite have enough time or wherewithal to grasp some additional mechanics that were tossed in during the final moments.

While the story doesn’t go to completely unexpected places – you are disparate heroes who will come together and save the town (and world), after all – it does so with huge warmth and overflowing likeability. We’re not ashamed to say that we’d play a sequel if it was out tomorrow. The bonds you form with Kaidan, Ana and the others are so strong that you feel a desire to spend more time with them. If you have a visual novel-loving friend, get them to play it too: it might mean enough money changes hands that we get that sequel. 

Arcadia Fallen is a visual novel that captures the camaraderie and derring-do of a D&D campaign with friends. You feel like you are part of a fellowship, and you have just as much choice and input in what happens. And like the best D&D campaigns, you hope the band stays together for one or two adventures more.  

You can buy Arcadia Fallen from the Xbox Store

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