Review: Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark

there is a nice balance here of perma-death and punishment…

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Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a turn based game a bit like Advance Wars or Final Fantasy tactics. Strategic placement is key, as well as management of your inventory, item usage and party are important considerations but the story and character development are given a clear focus. 

A world council has been established to enforce peace and prevent any further war from happening after an ancient evil is defeated by seven heroes. However, all is not as it seems as an Arbiter of the Council, you discover a corruption that threatens everything. And so it begins. A game based around political infighting doesn’t sound like it should be that exciting really, but you will be surprised.

The combat is the main gameplay loop here, and games of this type thrive or flounder based on it. Sometimes perma-death is used by developers to main the battles feel more critical, but thankfully (for me) this isn’t the case with Fell Seal. Cleverly, there is a nice balance here of perma-death and punishment. Before each battle you need to select your characters and you can recruit more from local towns that you visit. If a character dies in the game they’ll become injured for the next battle. They heal after missing a full battle. This makes you have a roster of characters which you can call upon, which makes you mix it up and not become completely dependant on a singular lineup. I mainly enjoyed playing with a wizard, a mender (healer) and a mercenary. Until my merc died, and I subbed him in for a knight, which altered my play style. 

Each character can learn a class and master it pretty quickly opening up different classes for you to try without it feeling like a slog. Items work a little differently in battle than joe you might expect. You cannot change what you bring in, but it replenishes for each new battle. This adds a layer of tactics to if and when you use a healing potion (you only have two items per battle). The in-game job system is key here, as not only can you pick from a vast number of classes, but assigning one of a much larger list of job types can help create various hybrid builds. Further tactical elements like how you despatch your enemies to recover the most resources, and utilising height to your advantage on the battlefield is another cool element. 

Graphically the game looks hand-drawn and painted. However I found that the toolbar and UI pop ups were more engaging than how the characters sit on the map, as it did give me memories of various flash games. This sounds more damning than it really is, and is a preference rather than anything else. It felt to me at times that it’s more low-budget than anything, which is a shame as I suspect (given the scope of the game) it wasn’t. 

After a while though, the grind starts to set in. Combat, whilst the core of the game and brilliant at heart, starts to feel samey as similar enemy types continue to come your way as you grind for XP to level up. The soundtrack repeats over and over, and some games manage to make this feel fresh and like a treat every time, but Fell Seal does it. It gets annoying, and I found myself playing with a podcast or music on in the background.

I mentioned at the start that Fell Seal was similar to Final Fantasy tactics. And this really, is the biggest comparison – and compliment. It harnesses lots of what made that game excellent, and adds its own spin. There were a few elements which I found repetitive and a bit of a grind, but it’s still a good game and if you want some strategy on the go with a story, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark might be for you.

Reviewed on Switch

 
 

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