STAFF REVIEW of Arcadian Atlas (Xbox One)

Wednesday, May 29, 2024.
by Adam Dileva

Arcadian Atlas Box art Beginning as a kickstarter campaign, Arcadian Atlas met its modest $90k goal, and now the console version of the release is here. Inspired by classic Tactical RPG’s (TRPG), Arcadian Atlas has some interesting mechanics, great sprite work, decent background melodies, and a story that was interesting enough to keep me playing one more battle to see what happens next. While it may not come close to the genre’s best, Final Fantasy Tactics, it’s certainly impressive for being created by such a small team. What you can expect is some light strategic gameplay across a 2D isometric map with a handful of classes.

Set in the land of Arcadia, a civil war is unfolding, causing much turmoil, death, and political sides being taken. With a Queen that is forcibly taking over the throne from her husband, her war now turns into the kingdoms. Two lovers and fighters, Desmond and Vashti, are brought together during this conflict, but as events unfold, their views vastly differ from one another when a princess aims to take back her rightful throne from the Queen who will do anything to keep her power.

Part love story, there’s also another plot about something dark and ancient awakening when a mysterious mage meets a young girl. The power they access has the potential to destroy everything in Arcadia once these magical cards are unveiled and used. What starts out as a nation tearing itself apart and dividing, turns into something much more serious and larger in the latter half. The main characters are interesting enough, and there’s just enough story that kept me interested until the end, wanting to see what happens next after each battle.

As is normal with the TRPG genre, victory will require a lot of turn based strategy and planning. Most battles will involve your team of 5 (though there are some missions that allow you to use more or less) against soldiers, animals, and monsters. You’ll need to level up your characters, outfit them with upgraded gear, take on side quests, recruit more units, and of course, strategize what’s the best way to success.

Between battles you’ll be able to move across and overworld map to set points. In towns and cities you’ll be able to enter a tavern to check out the latest gossip, recruit new units to your team, and buy/sell gear for upgrades if you have the money for it (which won’t ever really be a problem). Every time you enter these areas or a battle, you’re greeted with a “LOADING SCREEN” for a few moments. Yes, it’s literally called that as you see your character sprites animate and the bar quickly load. Even on an Xbox Series X these were quite often, though not terribly lengthy.

Before delving into the meat of Arcadian Atlas and its combat, something worth mentioning is the controls and battlefield. Menu controls are fine, even if some options and such are somewhat hidden and not intuitive (I keep forgetting where I need to spend my special medals earned for bonuses). Moving your cursor on the battlefield still tripped me up after a handful of hours. Moving the cursor in the exact tile and direction you want can be challenging, not just because of the isometric view, but you’re unable to rotate the battlefield at all, even though it appears to be 3D.

Not being able to rotate the map wasn’t too much of an issue most of the time, but when there’s a tree or object in the way, it’s sometimes hard to tell where a unit is behind it, or what tiles are currently being affected by damaging fire or other buffs/debuffs. If there was some way to even only show certain ‘heights’, it would have been a welcome addition. The result is sometimes you are simply guessing your move since your view is obstructed and there’s nothing you can do about it, which isn’t very strategic.

With twelve different classes, there’s plenty of variety to choose to suit your playstyle. Well, kind of. There are four base classes: Cavalier, Warmancer, Ranger, and Apothecary. Cavaliers are your knights, wielding a large two-handed sword, or one handed and a shield. While you’d assume they are tanks and can take a beating compared to the lighter armored classes, I never really found that to be the case. Wamancers are your mages, able to conjure fire, ice, or lighting attacks. Rangers are bow and arrow wielders that can shoot from afar. Lastly are the Apothecaries, able to attack enemies or heal allies with tossed potions.

The best part of Arcadian Atlas that I enjoyed was its leveling system. For each character that takes part in battle, they’ll earn a level when you succeed. No need to fill an experience bar, simply use the units you enjoy and they’ll level up each battle. The flip side to this means that the units you don’t use will stay low level, but this isn’t much of an issue either. Whenever you recruit a new unit, they’ll be equal to your highest character, and since you’ll generally use the same units most of the time, you can freely try new builds and classes for a nominal cost of hiring the unit.

Each of the four base classes can be promoted into one of two master classes once a certain amount of skill points are spent. Cavaliers can be upgraded to Inquisitors that are good at battling undead and use holy attacks, or Ronins that use trances and gain bonuses from losing control. Warmancers can be promoted to Sorcerers, able to cast powerful nuke spells, or Druids, using nature and traps to their advantage. Rangers can choose to be either a Hunter, a ranged class still but with an animal companion and traps, or a Reaver that stabs enemies then disappears, like a ninja. Lastly, Apothecaries can become Monks that can punch or use their energy to heal or harm, or choose a Shaman that can sacrifice friends to damage enemies.

When you promote a character to a new class, they still retain all of their abilities from the base class, so there are some interesting builds you could experiment with if you wanted to find what works best for you. That said, melee classes are basically worthless. Any ranged class is able to 2-3 shot an enemy, whereas it’ll take that many moves just to get close enough to attack with a melee class. This was disappointing given the two main characters start out as knights, though there is a way to change their classes later if you wish. Since you’re not forced to use the main characters in battle, you can simply choose to ignore them if you wish as well, which I found odd. There’s nothing special combat-wise about the main characters, as they get no extra or cool abilities, nor any special stats or gear. They simply look different than your cookie cutter recruitable units.

For being a game that’s all about tactics and strategy, Arcadian Atlas fails this at the start of every battle. You’re told how many units you can place on a pre-set number of tiles on section of the map, the problem being is that you can’t see where the enemy units are going to be until you start the battle. This means you have to simply guess where enemies may spawn and place your units accordingly. There’s no undoing this either, so it’s either an unfortunate oversight or poor design flaw. Again, guesswork in a strategy based game.

As mentioned above, not being able to rotate the map really can hinder you at times, especially when an object is blocking view or you have a few units all together in the same area. The reasoning for this is that apparently the map is actually 2D, but it appears 3D because of the isometric view; still a shame nonetheless.

In many tactics style games, turn order is an important factor to think about. Usually you can opt to not move as far, or defend, to gain a bonus and move a little further ahead on the turn rotation. Not here though. Defending because you can’t reach an enemy to attack won’t have your next turn come sooner at all, nor will if you opt to stay still for your turn. The turn order is set and there’s little you can do to change it aside from a few special abilities from certain classes.

Thankfully friendly units can’t get in the way and block attacks, but you can absolutely buff an enemy if they are on a tile your spell will hit, as well as hurt your own units if you do the same with a damaging spell. If your unit does end up losing all their health, they’ll have 3 turns before they are completely dead. Thankfully a few classes can heal or even revive units.

Height also means nothing on the battlefield. You can have a unit at the top of a steep cliff and they can simply jump down or move from it. Verticality doesn’t change the hit chances or block line of sight at all, which looks silly if you’re using a melee attack to hit an enemy on the roof from the ground. Simply choose all ranged classes, focus on one unit at a time, and every battle will be over quickly.

There’s an elemental system in place where one status effect makes a unit weak to another, but I didn’t really rely on this much aside from accidentally doing so. There’s seemingly no real flanking system in place either. Apparently there’s a bonus but I never found it to be substantial enough to be noticeable since almost every hit always lands anyways. All of the above make combat feel dull a majority of the time, even the few boss battles weren’t challenging.

Because you earn so much money from missions and sidequests, you’re able to constantly buy the best equipment for all your units. You can purchase a main weapon, secondary (if equipable, like a shield), helm, chest, and accessory. Every few missions the store will get new items, but you have to check after each battle as it doesn’t tell you. Each better upgrade simply increases the stats a slight amount. I was hoping there would be some unique gear or something specific for certain classes, but nothing that intricate unfortunately.

While not game breaking, I did have a bug that occurred more than a few times. For whatever reason sometimes a specific menu would get stuck, like checking my units’ stats. This overlay stayed on top of the other menus, so I was unable to use other menus beneath. This caused a complete close of the game and a restart. Normally a small bug like this wouldn’t bother me, especially from such a small team, but it happened at least a half dozen times, enough to warrant a mention.

For all the issues I take with the combat mechanics, I will say, the pixel artwork of Arcadian Atlas is done quite well and beautiful. Animations are varied, you can see small details and expressions from characters, and the world is bright and colorful. Each of the maps are varied and showcase different biomes as well. While the music is decent, the jazz-like soundtrack does feel a tad out of place at times, not always matching what you’d expect from a battle against a pack of enemies or a boss.

It's clear that Arcadian Atlas is a love letter to other greats in the TRPG genre, it has just as many things that I liked that I didn’t as well. Loved the leveling system, but combat overall was repetitive and tedious, lacking much of a challenge. Aesthetics are wonderful and animated quite well, yet the soundtrack is completely forgettable and doesn’t always match the tone of what’s on screen. I enjoyed Arcadian Atlas overall for what it is, an indie tactics style RPG, though probably more than I normally would as it’s been years since I’ve played a great one, but it’s got a ways to go to be considered alongside the greats of the genre.

**Arcadian Atlas was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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