Welcome to Save State,
The first game we’ll talk about this week is a bit of an oddity- Battle Chef Brigade. It’s one part 2D platformer and one part match-3 game. The game takes place in a land called Victusia, where people vie to join the elite Battle Chef Brigade through a tournament to hand pick the best battle chefs in the country. A story of food and friendship make up the plot of Battle Chef Brigade, and the game is largely carried by heavily developed characters with various quirks and abilities. The story legitimately plays out like Food Network cooking competitions dotted with character development, intrigue, and treason. It’s interesting, to say the least, and all of it is brought to life by excellent art design choices and crisp artwork.
You venture through various areas, chop and mince up monsters, collect their parts, then cook those parts into delicious meals that characters in the game will judge. The more you cook to the judge’s taste, the more points you receive. The actual gameplay of Battle Chef Brigade is as eclectic as it sounds- at least at first glance. You’re tasked with preparing a dish, so you run into the woods, combo a variety of monsters to death, grab their edible bits, and make a delicious looking plate of food out of them. The controls while in the beat ‘em up platforming sections are tight, and the colors are vibrant so you always know what you’re looking at and what you need to be attacking, though there can be some animation jank, at times.
Baked into the game, as mentioned previously, is a match 3 style minigame where you cook the ingredients you received from defeating monsters. This particular system starts off pretty simple, but as you progress it simmers into a web of time management responsibilities and preparation. Eventually, you learn about different flavor profiles called taste gems that you can match and promote to higher tiers of decadent goodness, scoring even higher with the judges, hopefully clearing each competition. Judges also have particular flavor profiles that are revealed before the cook off begins, along with a key ingredient that must be used, so making your dish match their favorites can be important to win in later chapters, especially. Strangely, your cooking tools are selected before you’re shown the judges, so you may prep cooking tools with a bonus for water orbs, only to discover the judge prefers a more fiery dish, which is an odd design choice.
When not participating in a cooking event, players can wander around the town, upgrade tools, and learn new techniques such as adding fire or frost to your daggers to make the hunting stages of the game more efficient, or add stunning effects to make handling monsters easier. Items can be found that increase mana, which is your resource pool for special attacks, like Mina’s daggers, bag space can be expanded so that you can carry more items, or you could even upgrade your basic attacks to dispatch monsters more quickly. Seasonings can also be purchased in town that can give your dishes a particular flavor that may be more popular with a given judge- he who controls the spice controls the universe, after all.
The visuals of Battle Chef Brigade are brilliant, vibrant, and full of character. The hand-drawn characters are typically still images, switching poses during scenes and events, but the voice acting and exaggerated poses really sell the dialogue in such a great way that I find this approach very novel, and quite appealing. Similarly, the soundtrack has a very fantastical, earthy feel to it with a lot of bright and cheery tracks dotted throughout, with synth percussion and trumpets aplenty. For a game about fantasy battle chefs, Battle Chef Brigade simply oozes character.
Honestly, Battle Chef Brigade was a lot better than what I expected to play, going in. I saw Adult Swim as the publisher and the blended gameplay concept of 2D action platformer with Bejeweled-like cooking mechanics and expected the worst. I was very pleasantly surprised by how well Battle Chef Brigade merged the two concepts and produced a game unlike many other things I’ve played before. It’s unique, has great artwork and presentation, and the story is quirky and enjoyable. For only $20 (and often on sale for $10-12), this game was definitely an enlightening surprise that I could easily recommend to someone wanting a game that’s more unique or varied. It’s certainly not a life-changing game, but I could definitely recommend this to a fan of unique platformers.
So Battle Chef Brigade has been prepared sous vide, seared, and plated, so what else could we possibly have to talk about this week? Well, a particular blast in the past came to my attention, as I never finished Arc Rise Fantasia, and my wife has never let me live it down. As a connoisseur of JRPGs, she has forever held it over my head that she finished that game, but I let something minor like voice acting draw my attention away, never to return (which, in my defense, I actually began playing Ys Seven and then Etrian Odyssey III the following month). So, in order to reclaim my JRPG-loving title, I decided to finally sit down and play through all of Arc Rise Fantasia.
A lot of the plot of Arc Rise Fantasia is your typical JRPG fare with ancient races, dragons, and so on, but the character development and presentation of the story elements is really what sells Arc Rise Fantasia’s world. What develops by the end is that every character has a reason for being where they are, who they are, and not a single character was wasted, resulting in a strong story that I honestly can’t say anything bad about, and finer details can’t be elaborated on for fear of spoiling some twist that may present itself later on in the tale. If there’s any one negative to the presentation of Arc Rise Fantasia, it’s that the voice acting can be… we’ll say wonky, at times.
The voice acting in Arc Rise Fantasia ranges from decent, to poor voice direction, to absolute travesty. Many of the characters are perfectly fine, but didn’t have great voice direction so inflection may be on the wrong syllables, or the pitch and tone may be off on a line… and then there’s Niko. Niko is likely the reason why Arc Rise Fantasia caught a lot of flak for having awful voice acting, as Niko fulfills the role of a joke character and has some crazy line delivery to really play up that fact. Listening to him yell for help can be ridiculously funny, even when it’s not intended, though it is worth mentioning that one of my wife’s favorite things to do is sneak up behind me and shout a nice, loud, “Mr. L’AAAAAAARC” to get my attention. It’s been 11 years, and she does this to me as often as I’ll scream and yell lines from Blue Dragon’s boss theme, Eternity (which is roughly once a year. Which can be either too often or not often enough depending on perspective). No, we don’t have a lot going on, why do you ask?
What’s important to note is that while the dub of Arc Rise Fantasia isn’t exactly great (it’s better than, say, Chaos Wars, but the mediocre casting and direction is no doubt a turn off), the actual, written dialogue is rock solid. JRPGs need a certain amount of world building to get some players invested, and Arc Rise Fantasia wants you to buy into its world. Every NPC has dialogue, and much of its changes after major story events. Previously on this column I praised Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky for its superb world building and extensive dialogue from NPCs to get players invested in the story developments, and Arc Rise Fantasia isn’t quite on that level, but it quite handily outperforms many, many other JRPGs in this respect.
The combat of Arc Rise Fantasia is where things get interesting, as it’s a turn based system that gives you action points (AP) that you can spend however you want, attacking with everybody or only having one attack to conserve AP. A battle queue is on screen that shows the general turn order, and when large attacks are on the horizon, a character may say, “I have a bad feeling about this” so you have some indicator of what’s about to occur. To add on top of this, you can link magic spells by using them back-to-back, so starting off a link with a powerful caster can be a great method for quickly reducing a boss’s health. Speaking of, Arc Rise Fantasia actually has several challenging boss encounters, so you’ll regularly spend combat on the back foot, recovering from a big attack, or moving your characters so they’re more spread out so they don’t all simultaneously get decimated by a strong area-of-effect attack.
The music of Arc Rise Fantasia is phenomenal, with one of the composers being Yasunori Mitsuda, who also worked on Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Shadow Hearts, and Xenoblade Chronicles. The visuals can be hit or miss sometimes, but the character models have solid clarity in their rendering, so the overall visuals look on par, if not better, than Tales of Graces, which also got its start on Wii.
All in all, Arc Rise Fantasia is an absolutely excellent time, especially once you let the story get rolling. Judging this game by its cover and poor voice acting was an incredible mistake, and I’m glad I returned to finally finish it after many years, because while it’s not the best JRPG of all time, or anything, it’s a more competent package than I would have ever thought, and is now yet another game my wife and I can agree upon. She was right; it’s damn good, and while the voice acting may be uninspired, the gameplay, story, and world building more than make up for it, and several of the actors actually get better at their roles as the game progresses (and in some cases, it’s very noticeable). That being said, Arc Rise Fantasia is quite the solid game that I would recommend to any fan of JRPGs.
With that, we can ctrl+s this edition of Save State. While Monster Hunter mania may have taken over my very essence by the time this column goes live, I will no doubt have two lost and forlorn titles from my backlog beckon to me from beyond the abyss, so do be sure to tune back in after a couple of weeks- I’ll use fewer cooking puns. Promise.