Friday afternoon, just after school. It's the mid 90's. As soon as I get home, I make a phone call to the video store. They have one Super Nintendo available to rent. I don't ask about the game I want. I know they have it. They always have it. Mom gets home first. I beg her to take me to the video store. There's a condition usually, a chore that needs to be done first, but in the end, I get the ride I need. A half hour later, I'm in my bedroom, hooking up my rented SNES. The game I rented, the one they always have, is Arcana. And it's one of the most fascinating games I've ever played.
A Simple Not-So-Simple Design
The word "arcana" refers to tarot cards, so it's not surprising the game uses a card-based concept. Everything in the game, from heroes and villains to items, is a card to be played. The protagonist, Rooks, is a Card Master, and as such, he can cast magic in the form of cards, and summon one of four elemental spirits that become his only constant ally.
The game itself is set up as a basic and unimaginative dungeon crawler. Each chapter consists of a series of mazes that increase in difficulty, as well as a different set of characters to play with. The story is basic for a fantasy RPG, and the translation is certainly lacking, but there's something fascinating about the plot.
The World of Elemen
As a young writer who was already immersing myself in an element-based world, Arcana's world felt very close to my own. The Elements of Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire all keep each other in balance. Each element carries a strength and a weakness, bringing a very potent concept of strategy to the came. The first dungeon in the game contains earth-based enemies, a handy coincidence because Rooks' only spirit card is Sylph, a wind-based spirit, and earth has a weakness for wind. However, a healthy dose of fire-based enemies roam this dungeon which is not so handy, after all, fire is strong against wind. This forces Rooks to carry water cards because he hasn't yet obtained the water spirit. Because cards are limited, and usually only found in town, a player must learn to balance physical combat, spirit-wielding, and magic cards, using the latter only when absolutely necessary.
Playing with the different elements and figuring out a sound strategy became the most fun for me. Even today, I find the same enjoyment with the game. That moment when you finally get the earth spirit in the dungeon filled with water-based enemies is incredible, as is find your way through the Ice Mine for the first time. A word of advice on the Ice Mine: Don't use a map. Find your own way. It's deliciously frustrating.
Video Games, Comics, Movies, and Books. I'll talk about it all, and I'll tell you why it's so awesome!