GAME REVIEW | "Arcadia Fallen" Delivers A Tale of Magic, Adventure, and Romance
Supporting a crowdfunded video game is always a gamble. For every Undertale and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, there are dozens of flops like Mighty Number 9 and Godus. Too many campaigns overpromise, underdeliver, or collapse before getting off the ground - even those made with the best intentions at heart. Making a video game is hard, and not everyone is cut out for it.
Thankfully, Arcadia Fallen defies expectations; despite being the debut project of an untested indie studio fully funded by Kickstarter, it delivers on all its promises with a polished package that’s set to satisfy both its backers and the general gaming public - even if its current pricing is a little steep compared to its contemporaries in the genre.
Galdra Studios, a three person development team operating out of Denmark, pitched Arcadia Fallen as a “visual novel roleplaying experience that combines gorgeous Japanese-inspired anime aesthetics with enchanting Scandinavian storytelling” during their Kickstarter campaign back in July of 2020. Anticipation for its release grew as it secured a cast of accomplished English voice actors, teased inclusive dating sim elements, and promised a branching-path narrative where your choices mattered. I’ve been following its development this past year, and downloaded it immediately upon release, eager to see if the team managed to pull off something great - and they did! In fact, my biggest gripe with the game is that I wish there was more of it.
Arcadia Fallen quite literally left me wanting for more. Just as its story began to pick up steam, it ended, leaving me a bit sad and frustrated - but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What, exactly, is the game about?
Players control Morgan, an alchemist's apprentice of vague young age and experience, in the sleepy town of Anemone Valley. After a particularly trying day of work, they stumble across a strange girl being attacked in a dark alley, and step in to help… only to get fatally stabbed for their troubles. Thankfully, the girl they saved is actually a friendly nature spirit, and brings them back from the dead - with a few unfortunate side effects. Now illegally bound to the spirit in a world that fears magic, Morgan needs to find a way to separate them, but uncovers more than they bargained for when their search for a solution uncovers a sprawling conspiracy right beneath their feet.
Their journey for answers leads them to form a ragtag group of interested parties all conveniently in town - the spirit, Mime, her handler and government soldier, Veronica, a traveling scholar, Ann, a vagabond “illegal” magic user, Michael, and a strange outlander from deep in the far-off mountains, Kaidan. Together, they investigate a sudden rash of demon attacks on the townspeople connected to Morgan’s assault, in a series of small, interconnected adventures I found reminiscent of low-level D&D modules. There are stakeouts, heists, ancient treasures to be found, and sealed-away evils to be destroyed.
Fans of BioWare RPGs such as Dragon Age will find many elements of Aradia Fallen’s direction familiar. The game invokes dating sim elements and personality-based dialog choices reminiscent of specifically Dragon Age 2; everyone in Morgan’s “party” is (at the very least) bisexual, and Morgan’s general personality is determined by your dialog decisions. If you lean hard enough into a certain type of response (angry, sarcastic, cheerful, nervous), that will influence how other characters view you, and depending on your responses to your companions during key moments of their personal journeys, influence their story paths as well. The player character’s default name can be changed, but regardless of what you choose, voiced lines will refer to them as “Alchemist” a la Mass Effect’s “Shepard” or Dragon Age’s “Warden/Hawke.”
Unlike those games, however, the player’s level of customization over Morgan is more nuanced. Their appearance (body type), voice, and pronouns can be customized to fit the player’s preference, and tweaked at any time afterward if you’re unhappy with your initial decisions. The ability to play as a non-binary/androgynous PC is a welcome option that I hope becomes more common in other visual novel and dating sim series in the future.
Speaking of voiced lines, Arcadia Fallen sports an impressive cast of voice actors that bring all named characters to life. Those familiar with voice talent of Fire Emblem: Three Houses will recognize the tones of Allegra Clark, Alejandro Saab, Lara Post, and Joe Zieja as they each bring personality and charm to Morgan’s group of misfits, while Persona 5 fans will appreciate Erica Lindbeck and Sean Chiplock’s portrayal of Morgan's feminine and masculine vocal options. Special mention, however, must go to Sarah-Nicole Robles (best known for her performance as Luz on Disney’s The Owl House) for her portrayal of Mime, the friendly spirit. She is adorable and I loved her every moment on screen, even if she’s (sadly) your only non-romanceable companion.
The excellent voice cast is just one element contributing to Arcadia Fallen’s overall stellar presentation. Visually, its angular and anime-adjacent character designs by Mette Jakobsen invoke shades of The World Ends With You, while managing to strike an original cord all their own. Each character is given a variety of portraits that change expression and position frequently depending on the narrative situation, lending conversations a feeling of animated liveliness despite containing only static images. Backgrounds are detailed and varied, and the warm, folksy OST composed by Jesper Green perfectly sets the tone in every scene. Galdra Studio’s attention to detail and commitment to delivering a complete, finished product can be felt in every chapter.
While predominantly a narrative experience (this is a visual novel), whenever Morgan performs feats of alchemy, the player gets to dip their toe in some basic puzzle solving. These puzzles are of the sliding-block variety, but instead of square tiles, players rotate intersecting circles divided into unique thirds to match provided patterns. While never particularly difficult, I enjoyed these breaks from all the reading, and wish they had been implemented more frequently. Mid-game the player needs to crack a safe using the same mechanics, and I felt very accomplished for solving it. I wanted to do something like it again, but that was the only instance of the mechanic being toyed with creatively outside of brewing potions and banishing demons.
Player choice has some impact on the overall narrative. The larger story beats will always remain the same; where the real difference happens is in how you influence your companions and various NPCs. You can be a jerk if you want, but being kind and steering them toward better decision making is far more rewarding. The game clearly telegraphs when such scale-tipping choices are happening, however, so there’s no need to fret over every little thing you say. For the most part, you’re free to choose whatever response you personally resonate with at any given time with little consequence.
Which leads me to my biggest (and only) hangup with Arcadia Fallen: it's far too short. I went into it knowing it had only seven chapters, but as I approached its endgame, I found myself desperately hoping that wasn’t the case. The first five chapters do an excellent job of introducing players to the setting and characters; its worldbuilding and exposition are engaging and never felt obtrusive, and the development of Morgan’s relationships (platonic and romantic) with their companions - and those characters’ relationships with one another - are hilarious and genuinely sweet.
But then the endgame happens and everything is rushed toward an undeserved conclusion with little fanfare. I can’t discuss it in detail without getting into major spoilers, but I literally said aloud “that’s it?” when credits rolled. There’s an instance where I thought you’d have to solve one last, climatic puzzle, but you just...don’t. My first and most thoughtful playthrough clocked in at a hair over nine hours. That’s pretty small potatoes in the visual novel genre.
The “final battle” climax is pretty anticlimactic, both in terms of visual presentation and emotional impact, no matter your decisions. Romantic subplots feel rushed toward declarations of intent a bit too intense for the three-ish dates you go on with any one of your companions, max. Couple that with the narrative never leaving the town of Anenome Valley, and I felt shorted as my time with Arcadia Fallen came to a close. There are so many other fantastical locations mentioned by NPCs I wanted to visit, and friends and families of my companions I wanted to go and meet, but you never do. The game did too good a job in getting me invested in its world, so I was upset it pulled the rug out from under me and rushed me out the door.
Which, I suppose, isn’t the worst problem to have. This was all likely a conscious decision on Galdra Studio’s part to avoid “feature creep” and stick to their goal of releasing the game this year, but regardless, all that leaves Arcadia Fallen feeling like the ACT I of a larger story. I don’t regret my time playing it - far from it - but I wish it had ended on a sweeter note. If a sequel doesn’t happen, I may just riot.
On a final note, there have been some rumblings about the game’s price: $25 USD. Personally, I didn’t mind paying full price; I’ve paid far more for worse games developed by less deserving studios. It's important to support smaller efforts in niche genres that take strides to be inclusive, and are made with as much passion as Arcadia Fallen clearly has.
Currently, Arcadia Fallen is available for PC through Steam, Itch, and Humble Bundle, with plans for a Nintendo Switch release in the works.
[EDIT: the Switch ver. has since released as of January 5th, 2022.]
- Excellent world building and creative setting/lore.
- Inclusive character customization/romance options.
- Well-directed English voice cast of industry pros.
- Polished and professional indie debut with little to no technical hiccups.
- Abrupt and somewhat frustrating ending.
- Shorter than your average visual novel experience.
Ultimately, I enjoyed my time Arcadia Fallen. For fans of narrative-driven RPGs and dating sims with an indie itch to scratch, you can't go wrong giving it a chance this holiday season. While its story may have come to a close too quickly for my tastes, I look forward to returning to it time and time again.
Reviewed on PC/iOS [Steam Release]