Arcana Famiglia Impressions
(This article deals specifically with the PSP game released on 2011.)
Right off the bat, I will say that the presentation in Arcana Famiglia is very unique. Its highlight is that, rather than presenting everything in static images with portraits talking, the images are often splashed across the screen like they would in a comic book or manga. They even have sfx! Pseudo-CG, informal scenes, are often included, too. These differ from the actual CG in the art quality, since pseudo-CG are often super-deformed and relatively simply drawn. That’s not to say they’re bad; quite the contrary. It makes the game feel very dynamic.
The game also has action scenes occasionally that require button pressing. You’re prompted to press X, triangle, or square before a gauge empties. Complete it, and the action is completed. If you don’t, then the action Felicita is supposed to perform in battle fails. To be honest, nothing bad really happens; the story continues as usual … unless you’re in the final battle of the game. Your success there will actually determine whether you get one of the endings, regardless of your affection level with the character in question.
The game moves on a day-to-day basis for a total of 60 days (two months). Each day, you can choose to spend your day with a different character. You can choose from a screen that depicts a map of Legalo and little icons for each of the characters.
Sometimes, these characters will be marked. Stars indicated an event scene. The time these events take place often overlap, so it’s impossible for you to see everything in one go. However, it’s also a waste of time to dedicate one playthrough for only one route since the events are spaced out over such a long period of time.
How you manage your time is up to you. Either way, the Arcana Duello approaches. If you reach the end of the game without completing any character’s routes, you’ll just go to the generic end. (Like most otome games, there is no “bad” end, per se.)
Events are split into two main parts – heart events and star events. Heart events are the only events that advance your route forward. You can complete a character’s route without viewing any Star events. Heart events are also available for 2-3 days, sometimes even 4, which is helpful when challenging as many routes as possible. However, if you miss one for a character, you can’t view the next Heart event for that character and you’ve aborted the route.
On the other hand, Star events are optional scenes that expand on the characters and don’t have any impact on advancing the story. They’re also only available on one specific day. There are different subgenres of Star events, designated by the color of the star, but they all work by the same principle. You don’t have to be on a character’s route to view his Star events.
After you’ve finished all the Heart events for someone, you can choose to “partner” with that character for the Arcana Duello. This character will provide Felicita with moral support, and eventually he’ll advance to the finals and face her off in the final duel. You’re given a choice on whom to choose before the day of the Duello, so it’s only possible to view one ending even if you did finish more than one character’s route.
Sometimes, Heart events have to be unlocked by increasing affection. Affection is increased by choosing different choices (this is a visual novel after all) or by using the Lovers Arcana to peek into their hearts. Doing so shows what they’re thinking at that moment of time, although it’s often incomplete because the characters are masking their thoughts. Each time you use your power, you increase their affection for you by one. In addition, as you use the Lovers more and more, the number of times you can use it in one day increases slowly.
The choices you make also heavily influence the content of an event. Sometimes, you can cut your event short by choosing the wrong choice. You can also miss CG.
Affection affects which ending you get. If you have over 600 at the end, you’ll get the Best ending. If not, you’ll get the Normal ending (which isn’t all that bad, and often much more humorous).
I love the system because you can dole out your time and manage it so you can view a few different routes at once. This introduces a time management aspect that provides a challenge that is completely optional.
I also love the amount of characterization the game fits in. Sometimes, at the start and end of the day, a character will randomly greet you with a random dialogue bit. It’s small actions like this that endear me to the game, since it’s a rather thoughtful action on the part of the creators. In addition, you can also randomly talk to characters even if they don’t have an event that day. This earns you nothing but text completion (which isn’t marked in the game anyways), but it’s satisfying to know you have the choice.
Another attention to detail that the game includes involves Felicita’s name. At the start of the game, you can rename Felicita and her owl familiar, Fukurota. If you do, the voices will all substituted the name for other words, like “you” or “her.” However, if you don’t, then they’ll actually say her name, unlike in most voiced games that give you this option, where they just omit the name altogether.
Using the Lover’s arcana provides insight into a character’s thoughts and also foreshadowing, and it’s interesting to see what anyone is focusing on at a particular point of time. For example, a character may be wondering about the situation at hand while thinking about what he has going on later in the day, and also about what’s for dinner.
Not to say the game is without faults. Because the Star events can be viewed at any time, sometimes they sometimes feel out of continuum with your playthrough if you’re on the character’s routes. This is because these events are viewable even if you aren’t on that character’s route.
Also, some of the character development seemed sudden, and sometimes I don’t think all the loose ends were tied up. The game assumes you’ve read the manual or the official site, so down the road there’s some information that’s just tossed out as fact and I had to pause and go, “Huh…??” Examples of this would include Felicita’s second Arcana and the fact that Nova and her are cousins.
It’s also true they could have incorporated the action gameplay more, but then, this is a visual novel, not a fighting game. I thought the game was rather dynamic on its own, just from the way they present the story.
Character-wise, I enjoyed playing all their routes. My favorites are Luca’s and Jolly’s routes because Luca is quite a character and Jolly is … a human incarnation of “misunderstanding.” Also, both of their final conflicts are amazing.
Finally, after you finish the game, you are treated to image songs sung by the characters. If you finished Liberta’s route, you get Liberta (Fukuyama Jun) singing. The songs sound much better on the CD than on the PSP, though…
Played every route in the game twice (to get all the endings) and now I can’t wait for the sequel! I’ll have to admit, though, this game pushes “age gap between relationships” to the limits…