⚏A harmony of Light awaits you in a lost world of musical Conflict.⚏
Hi guys, this is Seele of… uhh… let’s just say BEMANI (Fans) Philippines. nekotea offered me to write a guest review of the upcoming mobile rhythm game Arcaea. Since I just so happened to be stuck in a wall at Sound Voltex lately, I figured a breath of fresh (otoge) air would be nice. She told me to write about it from a rhythm gaming perspective, so I will frequently dive into rhythm gaming terminology when discussing some things.
Arcaea is a mobile rhythm game by UK-based company lowiro, which also made T-Aiko!, a rhythm game that generates Taiko no Tatsujin-like charts from songs obtained from a very large song pool. Unlike T-Aiko! however, Arcaea has its own songs, submitted by composers, and in-house note designers to provide a very unique play experience in each song.
The game itself can be classified under vertical lane-type rhythm games, which usually have notes falling down from a horizon and into a judgment line, where the player must press the corresponding key at the correct timing to score. This family of rhythm games is one of the earliest in the scene, and is home to strong classics such as beatmania IIDX and Dance Dance Revolution, along with new favorites such as Sound Voltex and CHUNITHM. Even idol rhythm mobage like School Idol Festival and Cinderella Stage fall under this family (SIF is debatable because it’s actually a radial-type game but is not as radial as maimai). So naturally there would be comparisons as to what Arcaea delivers to the scene. It most certainly looks like a Voltex–CHUNITHM hybrid at first glance, but it’s actually a bit more than that. It does things that are definitely inspired by these two games yet adds features that would be hard to implement on devices that are not based off touchscreens.
The basic gameplay is simple enough to describe. You have four regular note lanes on the “ground”, which bring either single tap notes or long notes. Arc notes start above, and you need to hold and drag across the screen to maintain your combo. Finally, sky notes are single tap notes that occur on the same areas as arc notes. To pass a song, all you need to do is get your life gauge at at least 70% and maintain it there. It sounds easy, and it does seem easy for an experienced rhythm gamer. Any Voltex player above Skill Level 10 should be decent with fast and complex knob-note patterns, and CHUNITHM players with a rating of at least 12 is sure to know how to do fast switches and maintain good form for air notes. These skills are useful for Arcaea, but aren’t at all sufficient.
All vertical lane-type rhythm games I mentioned use judgment lines as the cue point for player input. Arcaea takes it one step further: it uses a judgment plane. The plane is limited by the dark purple judgment line and the light magenta arc line, but arc and sky notes can appear and travel anywhere along this plane, giving another level of difficulty to the game.
Voltex ain’t got nothing on this shit
Now that I’ve talked about the game basics, let’s talk about my first few experiences with the game itself (I will ramble here so bear with me). Here is the song select screen.
Don’t judge me I suck
The ambiance of the background changes depending on the song selected (whether it’s “light” or “dark”), which is a good touch considering the overall theme of the game being a clash between light and dark elements. The current song selection itself is short, although what I’ve heard so far is actually quite promising. I’m mostly lost on the musical selection of most rhythm games along the cut of Cytus and Deemo. Don’t get me wrong; I like artcore and light techno, but it’s a massive gust of fresh air when games like this get GOODTEK which, while not completely on the hardcore side, still has elements of stuff like pumpcore of all things. Dark side needs more of that. Light side would be great with either more vocal tracks or stuff like Shades of Light in a Transcendent Plane. All the songs so far are pretty nice, but GOODTEK and Shades of Light stand out in particular.
After checking out the song list, I tried to sightread a song. Being the true rhythm gaming lord that I am, I got jackshit.
The score rating system is pretty harsh, giving only As and above at the 9100000 score mark. After some timing offset adjustments (I currently use +200) and an hour of practice, better results.
Feeling confident, I went for higher-tier charts and was met with a familiar surprise.
A normal non-rhythm gamer would probably be dumbfounded at this picture. “What, how’d you get such a high score and FAIL?” For arcade rhythm gamers though, this isn’t just common; this is an everyday frustration we laugh about all the time. The particularly strict life gauge gain/drain of the game really helps in emulating the arcade experience of “high score fail” known to veteran rhythm gamers.
Finally, since I was bored.
Before I end, I’d like to write up all the other technical matters I found interesting while playing (aimed at experienced rhythm gamers, I can’t write about them seamlessly because it would take too much effort):
- The “pure”/great timing windows are somewhat stricter than most mobile rhythm games. Definitely stricter than Cinderella Stage, but not any stricter than SIF. Another reasonable comparison would be that it’s a tiny bit stricter than Voltex timing, but that’s probably just because of my small phone screen.
- Scroll speed is dependent on song BPM. While the game has speed settings, there are no c-locks nor in-song speed adjustment mechanisms so you have to get used to soflan/speed changes. Luckily there is no Soflan-chan here (yet).
- Beginning sightreaders will not succeed here. As I said the game has a very modified skill set so you will definitely stumble in the first few rounds.
- You also can’t cheese the arc notes, either by glitches or even just switching the arc notes between your fingers. Furthermore the input windows are actually quite strict (or maybe it’s just my phone being small again).
- I cannot recommend thumbs-only play, especially for complex crossing charts. I do recommend it for tablets though. Please use a stable surface when playing.
- I would like to applaud Toaster and nitro for the fun charts. The extent of their charting experience really is starting to show with their work in this game. I expect to see more of the fun stuff later on (and nitro’s k-shoot gimmicks in higher difficulties).
So there you have it. Arcaea looks to be a promising rhythm game, offering something new to the lane-type family and the mobile rhythm game scene alike. The added dimension of the judgment plane opens up a whole new world of possibilities for song note charts, giving more creative control to the note designer and a challenge to the player. I would recommend this game for curious new players and experienced otogamers alike.
Now if I can only buy a new iPad……
P.S. – I did not go into the online network capabilities of the game because there wasn’t much to discuss there as of the moment. It does include a friend list feature, and may be used for online scoreboards in the future, but I don’t really know at the moment.
P.P.S. – Many thanks to Guy-kun for allowing me to beta test the game, and to nekotea for asking me to review it. ありがとうございました。
Seele is paid by the Philippine government to teach physics to college students. Seele is NOT paid by the Philippine government to organize BEMANI fan events. He is usually found on Twitter.