If you've never played an RPG before, Enchanted Arms (also known as -eNCHANT arM- or [eM]) is a good way to acquaint yourself with every cliché the genre has to offer. The battle system, storyline, and characters all borrow heavily from games of the past while doing little to innovate. Still, in a world where the Xbox 360 knows no better, is it possible [eM] is still worth the price of entry?
Yes and no.
If I recall correctly
As the game begins, the player finds himself in a Yokohama Enchanter School as our hero, Atsuma, and his two friends, Mokoto and Toya, plan to sneak out and visit the local fair. Between Atsuma speaking with cotton in his mouth, Toya questioning whether he remembers information correctly before literally every sentence, and Mokoto's overly flamboyant fawning, it will take the average player about all of three minutes to regret having ear drums.
Things don't get much better once exploration begins. Early interviews with the game's designers hinted at towns so large and detailed that only those of us familiar with MMOs would have seen anything similar before, but somewhere along the line they decided to take the exact opposite route. In all of the school, only the rooms you absolutely must enter are rendered, and out on the town things get even worse. Item shops are limited to floating diamonds randomly scattered about, while private residences, battle arenas, and even the casino offer no interior and are instead limited to simple and otherwise hideous menus.
Between these two things you might think Enchanted Arms could only go uphill. Well, sadly, you'd be incorrect. In what can only be called the poorest possible choice for a first true mission, you're sent on a scavenger hunt throughout all of Yokohama to find random people holding tickets for a contest. As you're given no hint as to who they'd be, your only choice is to talk to literally every person until you've succeeded. Certainly this is a one time event, right? Wrong again, stupid. If you expect nothing else out of your further adventures, expect to have something come up that requires you to talk to everyone in town - in every town.
If you have the determination and strength of heart to make if through the first few hours of filler, you'll find that [eM] actually brings something to the table in terms of battles, but only if you're willing to put up with a few quirks.
The good is bad, while ugly
It actually strikes me as odd that [eM] has rarely been referred to as a strategy RPG when it fits so snuggly into the category. Battles take place on a 6x4 grid with enemies to the north and your party to the south. Characters move within their range and execute a variety of attacks with varying ranges and patterns each round. All moves require the use of EP, which along with HP recharges after every encounter; the exception being when a character runs out of VP (vitality), which drains slowly battle after battle. VP recovery points are scattered throughout dungeons and towns and offer ideal leveling locations.
Aside from experience towards higher levels, battles also reward you with SP (skill points) that can be spent on improving your characters parameters. Such customization could easily be confused with depth, but between ridiculously low stat caps and no defense option to speak of, it quickly becomes apparent that the only practical use for all and any SP is boosting your health.
Golems - machines and monsters that can be used in place of human party members in battle - offer the game's one glimpse of salvation. With thousands scattered throughout the world, there's near endless variety in tackling random encounters and boss battles. No doubt the intent of having so many different options was to force players to carefully pick their parties to take advantage of the elemental weaknesses of enemies while protecting themselves at the same time. In other games, pitting a fire character against a water character could mean defeat, but this is not the case in [eM]. In the end, elemental classes do little more than decide what color the ball next to a character's name is. Fire, Water, and Light are the ones with the highest HP and attack and are the only golems worth having in your party. Skilled casino players will find themselves with the most powerful golem in the first 10% of the game, meaning any further synthesizing or party alteration is pointless.
I would suspect that I'm not alone in believing random battles should be a thing of the past. With a system capable of rendering literally thousands of characters on screen at once, there's no excuse to have enemies appear out of thin air instead of wandering the world map; though, in a game with as little meat in terms of both character development and gameplay, it's not surprising that everything else falls short of expectations. Dungeons and towns are small and lack any significant detail while usually offering only one path. Often, however, the game will attempt to fake scale by giving you an out of the way two-mile runaround to get up a five foot cliff.
Character models are no better and animations fail to portray true human movement or behavior. Voice acting gets worse before it gets better and the score is one of the worst I've heard in years.
We can be happier tomorrow
In the end [eM] does everything wrong while getting nothing right. It takes the full power of the 360 and uses it to give you dialogue written by five-year-olds, a story you don't care about, battles that can be played automatically, and a vacant world that feels completely stagnant. Do yourself a favor and avoid this failure at all costs.