I’ve had this game on my backlog for a while now from some hedonistic RPG Maker spending spree. I got Helen’s Mysterious Castle from that and thought it was cool but found the ending to be really unsatisfying and I also got Artifact Adventure, which, I’ll be blunt, holds the dishonor of being one of the few games on here I just didn’t like. I didn’t spend any time on Ara Fell for months, perhaps due to my disappointments.
At least until recently! I was listening to a podcast hosted by one of my friends’, the Sockscast, and they briefly talked about Ara Fell, which finally ignited my interest in digging into this game to see if I had the same thoughts they had. So, without further ado:
Ara Fell is by Stegosoft Games, released in 2016, one of those indie RPGs trying to evoke old 16-bit JRPGs in a sincere fashion, rather than one of those indie RPGs by condescending western devs believing that they can “fix” a genre based on their limited experiences. Ara Fell actually has a long history to it, originally made years ago as an overly ambitious project, to briefly being revived in RPG Maker XP and eventually getting picked back up and reworked for a formal commercial release after RPG Maker 2003’s official localization.
The world of Ara Fell is a bunch of landmasses flying above the world, referred to as the Abyss. Elves were the caretakers of this world alongside the Sunstone, which powers Ara Fell. Then these vampires come in, threatening to wipe out the elves and take the Sunstone. In an interesting use of a curse that turns people to stone, the elves deliberately curse themselves into statues and hide the Sunstone, denying the vampires their food source while hoping that the vampires die out.
Fast forward years later and vampires are still a menace with war on the horizon, while the elves are regarded only as a legend. An archer girl, Lita, bored of her farm life, goes out to explore these elven ruins with her friend Adrian and she ends up putting on a ring that binds her to a grand quest that holds Ara Fell in the balance.
I honestly love the core concept of vampires terrorizing flying islands, it’s like a weird amalgamation of a bunch of other JRPG concepts. The story starts somewhat slow (especially if you choose to play the prologue), but I feel that it starts swinging into things at the end of chapter 2, after the introductions of the villains Nash and Baramon, settling into the good ol’ JRPG structure of “get X number of things with your friends.” The tone swings between serious and silly on your quest, gathering elven artifacts whilst bickering about JRPG traditions in an affectionate way. The story pacing is generally good with the exception of the whole arc in the Cave of Life, which is just straight up filler trying to justify having a lava dungeon for the sake of having a lava dungeon; it’s kinda weird to me because it didn’t have to be filler, as the villain in this case could have been set up as a vampire thrall like two other arc villains instead of just being Some Random Guy summoning demons.
Now, a problem I did have with the story is that some story threads don’t carry the right amount of gravity. Part of this is enforced by town NPCs being mostly static, unchanging in light of major events – for instance, a town gets besieged by vampires, only for most of the NPCs to return to how they were acting before they showed up, with not a lot of lasting effects. It’s very casual, but it’s not a good jokey kind of casual. The worst instances of this is toward the end. [Onenzba vf fgngrq gb unir xvyyrq unys gur inzcverf bssfperra naq ur pnfhnyyl znffnperf gur ryirf whfg zvahgrf nsgre gurl’er erivirq – nyfb bssfperra. Vg’f ernyyl rtertvbhf pbafvqrevat gung gurfr gjb enprf ner gur onpxobar bs Nen Sryy’f jbeyq naq gurer vfa’g ernyyl gvzr gb yvatre ba vg – rfcrpvnyyl fvapr gur svany obff svtug unccraf vzzrqvngryl nsgre Onenzba’f pnfhny npg bs trabpvqr]. Stuff like this sort of removes gravitas from the story and in the case of the above, [vg znxrf Onenzba pbzr bss nf n trarevp qbbzfqnl ivyynva, juvpu vf onq va pbagenfg gb gur zber zbenyyl tenl Anfu.]
The ending is in a bit of a weird place for me. Ara Fell‘s ending is rather open-ended – which is good! But then the developers added an epilogue in a later update, and while it still ends on an open note, it’s not as much of an open book and I can understand it if people prefer the ending without the epilogue. I still thought it was okay, except for [bar bs gur ryirf pnfhnyyl erirnyvat fur’f nyvir naq qrpvqrf gb ercbchyngr jvgu Qbera va n engure noehcg jnl,] which continues to reflect my problems above.
When it comes to characters, Lita and Doren are the only ones that get decent focus in the story. Doren is one of those characters that loves to speak in mysteries, although, you can probably guess what the deal is with him. Lita, as a normal girl that got wrapped up in all this, finds herself trying to come to terms with the weight put on her shoulders and accepting it – while also constantly getting mad and joking about the stuff the party has to face. Seri is interesting though doesn’t have any big revelations for herself, while Adrian is easily the weakest character in the cast. He’s a satellite love interest character for Lita, not really changing himself while most of his dialogue bounces off of Lita’s. It’s not much of a character focused game; it’s more about the journey than the ones making it.
I mentioned earlier that I liked the concept of the setting, so I’ll also say here that I love how it looks. All the maps in the game is very busy, filled with details that prevents them from feeling plain. Traveling the overworld of Ara Fell feels lively, with a whole bunch of background animals skittering around lush spriting. Even the various caves that only offers small treasures have work put into them when they could have easily been copy-paste jobs. As for dungeon designs, they’re not as busy as the overworld, but I like that because details don’t risk distracting you from the main path very much. While there’s a linear progression, the way they’re set up requires a bunch of backtracking and exploring, sometimes throwing puzzles into the mix to keep things interesting. This right here is an RPG Maker game that has a lot of care put into mapping. Even if I’m iffy about other aspects of the game, the creator’s heart for the game shows in the effort put into constructing this world.
You fight in an active-turn battle system, the RPG Maker 2003 standard. Lita and Adrian are attackers with some skill variety, while Doren is a straight healer and Seri is a mage. Characters generate MP each turn with the exception of Seri. Seri plays more unusually, always starting battles with refilled MP. As a result, she’s likely to end up being your main attacker in encounters, bursting enemy mobs down with spells. Integrating battles with the story, Lita is the only one with sunlight elemental skills, which is required to finish off the frequent vampire minibosses; it’s good integration, though you may find yourself in an unwinnable situation if she’s out cold and you lack any way to revive her.
The battle system isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s not bad either. In fact, a thing that I appreciate about the battles is that status ailments work, either being guaranteed or giving an honest percent chance of working. Always love it when status ailments work. Now, if you’re actually playing Ara Fell for the story, you’re gifted a skill trivializes battles, which is pretty handy.
This leads me into the topic of Ara Fell‘s conveniences to the player. The game has a bunch of mechanics that makes it more accessible, though I’m mixed on some of it. Some stuff is actually genuinely helpful, while others just feels condescending. You can check for the main quest and where to go in the inventory? Okay yeah, that’s useful, especially if you were off the game for a while. A map? Alright, seems neat. Mission pointers on that map even though everything on the map is already labeled? A..alright. …Huge purple crystals that stick out like a sore thumb that recommends what level you should be in an area instead of letting you feel out how strong you should be in a natural way or having NPCs tell you what’s up? Jeez.
Also there’s a crafting system that honestly doesn’t really need to be there at all. Like damn, it feels like it exists to be part of a trend. With this and the rampant tutorials, it kinda feels that the developers tried to force more modern design trends into this old JRPG throwback. In fact, that may be why I found the handholding so off-putting – it just doesn’t feel right with the sensibilities the game tries to target. Now, I’d be willing to take this back if this stuff was present in the original version of Ara Fell, but I kinda doubt it.
Now the music for the game is. Hrm. It’s not necessarily bad, but also, so much of the soundtrack feels like Standard Fantasy Movie Soundtrack. It’s full of these airy tunes that sound dramatic but also, you probably heard stuff like it so often that you kinda tune out. I like a few of the area tracks and the penultimate boss theme, but that’s about it.
What about the battle theme? Every good JRPG has to have a banging battle theme… but Ara Fell doesn’t have a normal battle theme. You get into a battle and the area music keeps playing through the fight, which kills the tension. Good battle music helps set the mood and get the blood pumping, but Ara Fell lacks that, makes fights feel unexciting. Having to hear area themes uninterrupted honestly contributed to my “eh” attitude toward the soundtrack. However, when proper battle music does play, it’s for the boss battles, so by contrast it makes those feel more important. Besides that though, it just doesn’t feel right.
Ara Fell is… okay/10. There’s a bunch of things in Ara Fell that just didn’t feel right to me, but otherwise, it’s a serviceable RPG. It’s not a must play, but if you get it, you’re in for an okay time. As an RPG Maker game on Steam that’s Actually an RPG though, it’s pretty good on that scale and if you’re into the RPG Maker scene, it’d be worth picking up. It’s default price is $9.99, which is a good price for the 13 hours I spent on it, even if I didn’t think it was the greatest. It’s not a fantastic throwback and I feel that it compromises on that vision a bit, but Ara Fell‘s a throwback built on sincerity that’s ultimately still somewhat enjoyable.