Arcus Odyssey (Sega Genesis) Review

Click here to view the Arcus Odyssey (Sega Genesis) description page for screenshots, passwords, guides, and more information.

Review by tankMage (June 2017)

Score: B+

   Ah, Arcus Odyssey, a hidden gem for the Sega Genesis. Arcus takes ideas from other games as well as anime and implements them in a way that hadn’t quite been done before and hasn’t been done since as far as I know. This title has the co-op arcade style of gauntlet mixed in with light RPG elements and an upgrade system reminiscent of Legend of Zelda. While Arcus Odyssey is fun and unique, it’s also plagued by balance and translation issues that were avoidable. Despite this title’s problems, it’s a beautiful example of a mid-nineties ARPG that will please those willing to give it a chance.

Graphics

   Arcus Odyssey looks good and has the feel of a high fantasy anime that can be dark and brooding at times. There are plenty of nice visual touches in this game that come in the form of magical effects and new graphics for each character’s upgraded weapon. There’s also plenty of variety to each of the stages and monsters. A good deal of the game’s visual assets are recycled, however, but the devs were clever in how they reused sprites and it’s often difficult to pick out unless you’ve played the game a bit. The worst aspect of Arcus Odyssey’s graphics is its rather strange top down perspective, which is slightly tilted. While it gives the game a sense of depth, everything looks a bit warped and movement feels awkward at first.

Story

   Well, the plot is pretty basic and there’s not any character development in Arcus Odyssey. With that said, the game manages to build up a sense of tension as you progress through the acts, thanks to its strange settings and frequent encounters with Castomira’s followers. You also interact with a number of NPCs, some of which may be surprising to first time players and there are times when decisions you make have a minor impact later in the game, which makes replaying this title interesting. While there isn’t much to be said about this title’s story, which is the tried and true “an ancient evil awakens” plot, it manages to be endearing thanks to all the small touches and strange places you will explore.

Translation & Dialogue

   I made this a separate category for Arcus Odyssey, because its translation has such an impact on the story and even gameplay that it should be discussed at length. In a word, this game’s translation is bad. And I mean bad, not just slightly awkward like that of most titles from this era. Much of the dialogue you encounter makes sense for the most part, but the translation will fail you when it counts. By that I mean there are times when you need to answer a question, but it’s really difficult to understand what the NPC is asking you. This usually isn’t a problem, especially when the question is something simple such as “do you want me to join you”, but there are times when a character will question you and the game will reward or punish you depending upon your answer. There were several instances where I got a dialogue option (which is always a choice between “Yes” or “No”) and was punished, because I didn’t know what the character was asking me exactly and gave the wrong answer. In fact, I lost the final battle on my first attempt, because I chose the incorrect answer for an oddly phrased question.

   In Arcus Odyssey’s defense, you can figure out what the NPCs are asking you if you ponder their lines for a bit, but the answers themselves often come down to trial and error, which seemed unfair to me. The punishments and rewards are arbitrary as well. Why would someone lose half their life for being mad at someone else or get their life back for forgiving a friend? I can’t help but think something important was lost in translation and the localization team should have translated the game more clearly, which may have made the dialogue scenarios seem more reasonable.

User Interface

   I had some trouble with this game’s UI at first, mostly, because I couldn’t find a manual. Fortunately I found a guide that explained how to cast spells, which is primarily what I had trouble figuring out. Overall all, the controls for Arcus Odyssey are very smooth, but they take some getting used to. I will say that I didn’t like the blocking system, which requires the player to hold the attack button in order to block. Needless to say, this made defending myself awkward and I often took hits while trying to block. I’m really not sure why they didn’t map the inventory to the start button which would have allowed block to be mapped to A,B, or C.

You can also continue this game using a password that will start you at the beginning of the act with everything you had in your possession when the password was generated. What makes the password system stand out is its efficiency, since it’s only about ten characters and is fairly easy to use.

Music and Sound

   The soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard for the Genesis so far. The music isn’t all that catchy, but it never fails to add a sense of drama to the game and it’s very well composed. The sound effects are awesome as well and it shows that Wolf Team actually put some effort into an often overlooked aspect of gaming.

Gameplay

   Arcus Odyssey has some major flaws in its design, but Wolf Team managed to make up for them with solid gameplay elements whose virtues far outweigh the title’s foibles. Players will quickly notice that Arcus features four playable characters that have their own strengths and weaknesses. Wolf Team did an excellent job creating these characters by designing them with their own spells, weapons, and abilities. In fact, this game is ahead of its time in some ways, because each character has his or her own role in multiplayer thanks to their diverse skill sets. Erin and Bead are more geared towards dealing damage, while Diane and Jedda function more as healers or defenders in Jedda’s case. This not only makes a two player game interesting, but it it also requires players to use the character he or she chooses wisely, since each hero will perform differently depending on the scenario. Finally, the interesting character lineup helps offset the fact that the game is rather short, totaling only eight stages.

Yodi doesn’t know it yet, but he’s already dead (pun intended).

   Wolf Team succeeded in making a fun and compelling roster of heroes to play as, but they failed to balance the game in terms of challenge properly. The two primary elements  of how a character functions are the spells he/she can cast and the weapon he or she wields. In most cases one of these factors is far too powerful. Jedda’s second level magic can kill even bosses in just a few hits, Diane‘s weapon can destroy groups of enemies before they even appear on screen, Erin’s weapon destroys everything almost immediately, and Bead’s magic is so over the top I’m not even sure what to say about about it. Through most of the game players will only really take damage if they fail to pay attention or find themselves in situations that their character is not equipped to deal with effectively. Items are also overpowered and a bit too plentiful in single player mode. You can stock up on life saving tools like Dolls (which can revive you after death) and Lamps of Life simply by exploring a bit, so it’s easy to stay alive in this game. There’s also the Potion of Invincibility, which nearly breaks the game by allowing the player to become invulnerable at will. At least Wolf Team limited the amount of spell casts and items a player can hold. Absurdly powerful items tend to be rare as well, which preserves some modicum of balance.

   Arcus Odyssey at least becomes more difficult as the game progresses, which keeps the experience from becoming a bore. In fact, the game requires some getting used to at first and there’s a fairly big challenge spike in the last three acts. Despite the challenge spike, most experienced gamers will not find themselves attempting a stage more than a couple of times. While I enjoy tough games, I found that Arcus Odyssey’s more casual challenge level actually made the game more enjoyable in some ways. It also makes it more accessible to players who don’t enjoy a steep difficulty incline and want to more or less relax while blasting  baddies.

   The enemy and boss design is generally pretty good, but most monsters don’t give a “tell” of any sort before attacking, so you have to react quickly. This usually works in the game’s favor since you will probably get hit by stray bullets often. Given all of the resources available to the player, the somewhat unfair monster design isn’t much of an issue, however. The bosses don’t give an indication of when they will attack either, but they often follow a pattern. Some of the bosses are rather interesting to fight if you limit yourself to not using powerful abilities, but for the most part they are push overs thanks to the over powered abilities available to the player.

   The levels in Arcus are fairly interesting and fun to explore. There are plenty of boxes filled with goodies to be found, the monsters change from one area to the next, and there are often mini quests you will need to complete in order to progress, which keeps the game from being a series of dashes from one exit to the next. You’ll even interact with other characters a bit and who you encounter will change depending on the choices you make. I was even surprised by some of the events that transpired with the stages, but much of what you will see is standard fantasy/anime stuff.

I mentioned the magic and weapon system earlier, so it’s about time that I explain it.

Weapons: Each playable character has a weapon and every weapon has a long reach that varies from character to character. Most of them fire a projectile, with the exception of Erin’s whip that has a long reach. Everyone starts out fairly weak; Diane fires a single arrow from her bow, Jedda’s sword wave doesn’t go very far, Erin’s whip… well it destroys everything quickly even early on, and Bead just fires a single orb from his wand. Collecting red gems from defeated bosses will upgrade your weapon; most weapons will not only become stronger, but affect a larger area as well. Overall, it’s a cool system that makes each character unique, but as I said before, some weapons are broken and do way too much damage.

Spells: Each character has his or her own repertoire of spells. You’ll need to collect Magical Power Crystals to use magic and each crystal you activate will open up the next spell level. Only Bead can cast the highest level spell, which is level 5. You can only cast a spell so many times before you will have to use more crystals to recharge it. Level 1 spells are all support magic that defend or heal the caster in some way. The rest of the spells are offensive. In general, magic is way too powerful, especially for Jedda and Bead. Most bosses will crumble under a few spell casts, although some spells are weaker than others and some characters are very limited magically. Fortunately, there are only so many Magical Power Crystals in the game, so players will have to at least use some strategy with magic. While it makes sense that a character like Erin would only be able to cast low level spells, I thought it was a bit of a cop out on Wolf Team’s part, since it also gave them an excuse to design fewer spells. All in all, Arcus Odyssey is flawed in terms of balance and it has an impact on every aspect of gameplay, but it’s still fun to play thanks to its interesting characters, stages, and mechanics.

Final Thoughts

   This game was surprisingly good even though it has more than a few problems. It has the style of a nineties era anime, the feel of an arcade game, and mechanics that were a step ahead of its time. Regardless, this title was fun to play and each step deeper into its labyrinth made me want more. Even better, the game remained entertaining after playing it a third and fourth time. Ultimately, I’m shocked that this title seems to have fallen through the cracks and is largely unknown.

Recommendations

This a is great choice for anyone looking for a game that plays a bit like the early Hack and Slash titles, but with its own twist. Anyone who wants to play an action game with light RPG elements should give Arcus Odyssey a shot.

Leave a Comment