It should be pretty clear by this point that the Renovation Collection 1 cartridge for the Evercade retro gaming platform is a bit of a banger. Not only are the games on it pretty consistently excellent — with one arguable exception, but we’ll come to that in due course — but it’s also an interesting history lesson, in that a significant proportion of the titles here were from the developers who would go on to create the Tales series for Namco.
Arcus Odyssey is another game from Wolfteam, as this particular development group was known, and it’s yet another example of the company doing something just a little bit different from the norm. Somewhere between shoot ’em up, action adventure and RPG, Arcus Odyssey is nothing if not memorable — and it’s a great game to enjoy with a friend, too.
Arcus Odyssey is actually the third Arcus game after 1988’s Arcus and 1989’s Arcus II: Silent Symphony for Japanese home computers; it’s the only game in the series to get a localisation back in the day, however, and after Arcus Odyssey hit English-speaking store shelves for Mega Drive and Super NES owners, Arcus III returned to being a Japanese home computer exclusive — this time the PC-98.
You don’t need to worry too much, though; like most lengthy fantasy series of this type, each Arcus game stands very much on its own terms, and indeed Arcus as a whole is quite distinctive in that each individual installment in the series was quite a mechanical reinvention from the previous title. The original Arcus was a first-person dungeon-crawler, Arcus II: Silent Symphony was a top-down RPG and Arcus III returned to first-person dungeon crawling.
Arcus Odyssey, meanwhile, embraced its console release by being a much more action-oriented sort of game for one or two players simultaneously — but it didn’t completely abandon the RPG trappings of its predecessors and successor. Rather, the result is quite an interesting game that, although very challenging when you first try your hand at it — and a little wilfully obtuse at times — is well worth a play.
At heart, Arcus Odyssey follows a similar formula to games like Data East’s Dark Seal series in that it unfolds from an isometric perspective and tasks you with fighting through a linear sequence of levels on the way to complete your quest. Said quest in this case is the retrieval of a magic sword that will prevent the resurrection of the evil sorceress Castomira — but there are plenty of other things you’ll need to deal with along the way.
After picking one (or two, if you’re playing with a friend) of the available four heroes to play as, you launch into Arcus Odyssey’s first level, which sees you initially approaching a ruined temple, and subsequently exploring the caves within. The game eases you in gently by making the initial stage completely linear — but once you’re inside that temple, the game reveals its true colours.
Arcus Odyssey is a game about exploring labyrinths. Most of its stages have a variety of routes to explore, plenty of optional treasures to find and more than a few opportunities to come a cropper at the hands of the dungeon’s denizens. To make matters a little trickier, most dungeons also have a series of events (usually speaking to a character or finding a key item) that you’ll need to progress through in order to clear the stage.
For example, in the first stage, you’ll need to speak to a man trapped in the caves to find out there’s a secret passageway behind a waterfall; in the second, you won’t be able to unlock the door to the next area until you find the key to a cage — and get yourself a temporary ally to support you in combat in the process — and learn where the exit key is hidden. In the third, you’ll be crawling all over a pyramid in search of magic swords and occasionally getting kidnapped by monsters… and so it goes.
While Arcus Odyssey is strictly linear at heart — you have to follow each and every one of these events in order to progress — the overall feel is much more RPG-like than, say, classic arcade title Gauntlet or even the aforementioned Dark Seal arcade games. Wolfteam was free to do this because they knew they were developing specifically for home systems rather than porting an existing arcade title; as such, they knew that their game could be lengthy, challenging and, at times, deliberately confusing in a way that your typical arcade title simply doesn’t have the freedom to be.
That confusion factor lifts considerably after a playthrough or two, however. You’ll learn that the layouts of the various mazes aren’t actually as complicated as they might initially appear, and be able to navigate your way through them without the aid of a map. You’ll figure out exactly what effect each level of magic spell the four playable characters are available to cast is. You’ll learn what the items are for, and which ones are worth holding on to. And, related to that, you’ll recognise that with an inventory cap of five items, it’s really not worth hoarding things!
You’ll also learn that despite the appearance of being an RPG, Arcus Odyssey is still more of a console-style action game at heart. There’s no “grinding” for experience levels, for example, and the respawning enemies are there to get in the way rather than provide you with loot. There is a degree of character advancement in that some bosses drop gems that increase your maximum health or overall power, but aside from that your priority should simply be keeping you (and your partner, if applicable) safe until the end of the level.
Like most of Wolfteam’s other games, Arcus Odyssey presents a fairly stiff challenge up front, and that may be enough to deter some from exploring the game further. But now that the game has hit Evercade, and consequently you can play it with easy access to the platform’s save and load facilities, making your way through the entirety of Arcus Odyssey is more within reach than ever before — though the option of playing it through old school with infinite continues and/or passwords is still available, of course.
Arcus Odyssey may not be one of the most well-known titles on the Renovation Collection 1 cart for Evercade, but it’s a retro Japanese title well worth giving a go for yourself. Whether you play solo or bring a friend along for the adventure, there’s a lot of fun to be had — and if you do manage to beat it, well, there’s three more characters to prove your worth with, too!
Evercade’s Renovation Collection 1 cartridge is available to order now. Screenshots from the Evercade version running on Evercade VS.
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