If you were an early adapter of the Sega Genesis chances are you were familiar with Renovation. This little known publisher released some of the best games for the system in its early years such as Gaiares and El Viento. It wasn’t long after the SNES debuted that they also made plans to that system. Unfortunately they were bought by Sega and every title was cancelled despite being ready for release. One of these games was Arcus Spirits, a port of the X68000 and Sega Genesis game. The SNES game is a faithful adaptation and even though it was cancelled a complete beta of the game is available on the internet. If you like action games like Gauntlet with light RPG elements Arcus Spirits will scratch that itch.
Long ago the sorceress Castomira tried to destroy the land of Arcus and remake into a land of chaos and darkness. She would have succeeded were it not for the Princess Leaty, granddaughter of the King of Light. Their battle raged for days until finally Castomira was sent to the Dark World. To seal her away for eternity Leaty created a sword called the Power of Leaty and entrusted it to the King of Arcus but you know how these things go. A millennia passes and Castomira’s followers steal the Power of Leaty to bring back their dark queen. Now the future rests on the shoulders of four heroes to bring peace back to Arcus.
Action Rpgs such as this don’t usually feature multiplayer so coop is a welcome surprise and makes things easier. You have a choice between four characters: Jedda the swordsman, Erin the warrior-maiden, Diane the elf archer, and Bead the wizard. If you ask me those classes are a little too close to Gauntlet if you ask me. Despite appearances Arcus Odyssey has very little in common with Gauntlet. The four heroes differ in far more than just their stats as each comes with different standard attacks and magic.
Each character differs in terms of their attack range and strength. Jedda has the strongest attack power but the shortest range. Diane has long range arrows that also rebound off walls (sounds familiar…). My personal favorite is Erin. Her whip is about medium range however pressing attack twice will spin it around in a circle causing further damage. Magic adds more character still. Aside from the various magic items you’ll find such as scrolls of summoning you’ll also find magic crystals. Each character has five levels of magic, accessed by equipping varying numbers of crystals. The effects are many, from Jedda’s stoneskin to Bead’s elemental attacks. Not only is it fun to play around with each character but it also adds some replay value to the game.
Overall Arcus Odyssey is broken up into eight chapters. While I have called it an action RPG those elements are extremely light. You don’t gain experience but your life bar does increase for every ten thousand points scored. The elaborate introduction is about all of the story you will get as dialogue is very minimal in each stage. Most chapters have a simple goal and boil down to finding the exit and defeating the boss. There are simple puzzles that never move beyond finding the necessary key or item in order to progress. In that regard it has the pacing of an arcade game. It also has the difficulty of one as inventory space is limited and you are kicked back to the beginning of the level upon death. Infinite continues and passwords do make it bearable however.
As much as I like the game it is slightly disappointing that the SNES port was not enhanced. The localization was not the greatest and Renovation simply recycled it, no doubt to bring it out faster. The game could definitely have used maps for each chapter as it can be confusing navigating the repetitive tunnels. The controls also do not take advantage of the extra buttons, instead using the same 3-button setup on the Genesis. These are minor complaints overall but considering the game came two years after the other versions you kind of expect more.
In comparing the graphics between the two games the differences are very noticeable. Arcus Spirits is brighter overall and has slightly wider sprites. I sort of prefer the darker, grittier look of the Sega game. The level of detail is the same but this version has some heavy slowdown in select areas. This is most prominent on top of the pyramid, where magicians are reanimating groups of skeletons and flying enemies circle around, all the while you and your partner are flinging projectiles. The excellent soundtrack has made it over relatively unscathed despite the differences in sound hardware.
It’s too bad the Western release was cancelled as the SNES could have used a game like this. While I prefer the Sega version that isn’t a slight against Arcus Spirits; my preference mostly comes down to that was the version I played first. Regardless of which of the two you pick a great action RPG awaits. Although it was cancelled a completed beta of the US release is out there if you want to play the game in English.