Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark Review: Remarkable at Every Turn
Confession: I've never played Final Fantasy Tactics. To come totally clean, I've never actually played any of Square Enix's important series. But the only one I feel like I'm missing out on is Tactics because a few years ago, I fell in love with the tactical RPG genre after dodging it for my whole gaming life.
By the time I got around to Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark, I had already realized my mistake in avoiding TRPGs thanks to a few other choice games in the genre, but I was aware that Fell Seal harkens back to FF Tactics closely, like a homage from your biggest fan.
Suffice it to say, I can't write this review for those who want to know how it stacks up against its inspiration. I can say, however, that Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark is an unforgettable and constantly rewarding game in its own right.
Like any respectable RPG, Fell Seal's story is well worth your attention, and right away, it's this element, as well as the gorgeous color palette, that captured me. Fell Seal is a story of political conspiracy, and of our hero, Kyrie, trying to stay virtuous in a world that is crumbling under the weight of corruption.
It wastes no time getting into the main plot, but this 30-hour campaign will frequently introduce new friends and foes, and it will send you down many paths on the way to the game's finale. Side quests appear regularly, and sometimes, these are satisfyingly little more than dialogue moments, optional rest stops on an arduous road. These chats with your ever-expanding party flesh out who they are and why they remain by your side.
Fell Seal introduces a lot of original lore that is surprisingly easy to follow. Without voice acting, the characters still feel alive and real and interesting, and that's something I know I tend to struggle with when I play games. It's an engrossing experience from title card to credits, giving me a world I have no interest in hurrying through. Even though you always know where to go due to the game's clean overworld map, I still feel like I went on a long and winding journey with these characters.
It's not perfect, though, and I'd say the game's only glaring blemish comes via some of the secondary or tertiary characters who often feel like cliches of the genre. Silly sidekicks and Big Bads with unclear motivations get in the way, but not often enough to sour the experience too much. Overwhelmingly, this is still a story worth celebrating.
What makes Fell Seal memorable goes beyond its writing, too. Its tactical RPG elements are astoundingly deep, with character customization options more involved than most AAA titles. Each character, be they the three main heroes who do most of the talking or any of your sellswords acquired on your travels, can be fully decked out to look how you want, fight how you want, and even carry the names you want.
Assigning and reassigning classes is simple and allows you to build the party you work best with. Focus on healers, distance fighters, tanks, thieves, counterattacking mercs, and so much more — or combine them all into a supergroup that is more well-rounded than a circle. Recruiting new party members and molding them into the warriors you need is endlessly rewarding. It really feels like Kyrie, with her indomitable spirit, is inspiring others on her journey.
Battlefields are extremely varied, both aesthetically and topographically, which gives even briefer, less impactful enemy encounters a fresh approach every single time. Enemy variants repeat regularly over the course of the story, but it's when different types are combined that the battles become really exciting.
Having to juggle all of your characters' abilities against monsters attacking in several ways at once is the kind of challenge a TRPG should provide, and for 30+ hours, Fell Seal gets it exactly right. I never shook the feeling that I was enjoying myself as much in combat as I was in dialogue sections. It's unceasingly captivating.
Terrain, reward stashes, and environmental hazards constantly demand players weigh their every movement. Grid-based combat is one part puzzle, and when you finally overcome a tough battle using brains as much as brawn, Fell Seal carries with it the same aha! feeling one might find in Portal.
One of the reasons I avoided tactical RPGs for so long was because of the many confusing menus and meters I was afraid to get to know. I'm still finding my footing under them, or at least I thought I was, but Fell Seal never left me feeling confused one bit. It guides you through the menus with smart UI and explains anything you don't quite understand with the press of a button. It feels accessible, and it's made more so by the fully customizable difficulty options.
You can choose from one of several default settings or alter the difficulty line by line to your precise preferences. I think I'm still sort of bad at these games sometimes, but Fell Seal allows me to find the right balance for myself, and no matter how new or experienced you are to tactical RPGs like this, you'll find your balance too, no doubt.
- Fully realized, original story universe with an intriguing political conspiracy at the center
- Combat rewards smart maneuvers and balances risk/reward elements well
- Party options go super deep, allowing for your band of heroes to be precisely who you want them to be in every way
- Made with accessibility in mind, evidenced by the many optional tutorials and difficulty settings
- Feels like a AAA game in all the most important ways, but it uses its permission to be weird and wonderful like the indie it is
- A few cliche characters and plot points hurt the story
Until just before I started playing it, Fell Seal was not really a game on my radar. I decided to give it a try as part of my quest to branch out to new genres, and now I can't stop thinking about it.
Despite a few poorer elements in the story, it's a universe I feel fortunate to have explored. The tactical turn-based combat runs deep, as do its awesome customization and accessibility features.
This game does nearly everything right. Turn after turn, mile after mile, Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark is a world fully realized and worth fighting for.
[Note: A copy of Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark was provided by 1C Entertainment for the purpose of this review.]