What do you get when you combine the snark and inter-character dialogue of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with a gorgeous fantasy world in the sky? Ara Fell. Ara Fell is an RPG developed by Stegasoft Games, a small indie studio with three members based out of Ohio. Originally an RPG Maker 2003 game, in the Enhanced Edition the team moved to their own engine based on Unity and brought the game to excellence.
Millenia ago, the land of Ara Fell was raised from the world below, known as the Abyss, by the Goddess in order to save the inhabitants. Most of the sentient people of this land were the elves, ancient and powerful. To these elves she gave the Sunstone, a stone that was imbued with her powers, and then she left them. Over time, a threat emerged in the form of vampires. With bites that could kill or turn their victims into vampires, they were an enemy the elves were ill prepared for.
In order to keep the Sunstone out of the hands of the vampires, the elves enacted a curse, turning themselves to stone statues in the hope of removing the vampires’ food source. Over time, the war between them and its conclusion was written down as myth and legend. Vampires are still a threat in the present day of humans, who huddle in their homes during the night to stay safe. It is this world with the looming specter of vampires that we find Lita LeCotta. With her friend Adrian, she visits some elven ruins and finds a ring that will forever change the world.
This is all I can go over without giving out any plot spoilers. Ara Fell’s story is one of the better ones I’ve encountered in an indie rpg, and is better than quite a few non-indie games I’ve played. Some things that happen are cliched and, indeed, the writers often lampshade this in the characters dialogue during such moments. But the clichés are very much on the end of proper use and not over reliance, enhancing the game and not feeling cheesy.
One facet of the story is the specific history of certain characters, showing how even the more noble intentions can lead to the wrong actions, and exploring what it means to be burdened with a heroic task. While it doesn’t explore the idea of a hero too deeply, it does give a very realistic view of how those handed this job would treat it.
There are four characters that can join your party, which I find to be preferable to other games where you get more than your team can hold. Each of these characters has a very defined personality and outlook on life. The main character undergoes the very most development, but the other three have their own moments, with her childhood friend Adrian coming in with the second most.
One of the best things about the game is how these characters interact with each other and their world. They have friendly banter with each other when the mood warrants it, they comfort each other when needed. Their reactions to each other come off at natural instead of forced. And when it comes to the world around them, their defined personalities shine even more. Lita’s snarky attitude and anger about height-based jokes, Adrian’s care for his childhood friend and his compassion, Seri’s ego and confidence, and Doren’s stoicness are all things that draw them into the world more deeply.
The Battle System
Each character has a designated role in a fight: Physical DPS, Tank, Healer/Buffer, and Magical DPS/Debuffer. When your characters level up, instead of pre-determined or randomly generated stat gains you get 10 points to split between four stats. Power determines how hard you hit with physical and magical attacks. Defense increases HP as well as physical and magical defense. Agility improves speed and your crit and dodge rate. Wisdom increases your EP, your crit damage, and how fast your EP recovers. And if you ever worry about having built someone wrong, you can respect for a fee.
You don’t buy new equipment at item shops, instead you harvest materials. Enemy drops and harvest points on the map provide the lion’s share of materials, though you can buy them from shops as well if you need to. These materials are used in the status screen to craft the next tier of equipment for each character. The system is easy to understand, and you can buy recipe books for potions to craft as well if you don’t feel like buying those.
While the original RPGM2K3 game used the engine’s built-in ATB system, the Enhanced Edition has a custom made turn-based combat system. Each character goes in order based on their speed, one action per turn. The speed factor makes strategizing simpler as there is no RNG on initiative. Perhaps my favorite thing about fights is there’s no reason to hold back as HP and EP are restored after each battle.
Lita is perfect for physical dps and speed, with her gear boosting both of these attributes greatly. She alone can Scout enemies, giving you their HP and an idea of how they will behave in battle. She gains access to a self buff, a low-level healing skill, and the most damaging single-target attacks in the game.
Adrian is the tank. He has heavy armor and his taunt skill makes him the target of all single-player attacks. He can also reflect attacks back at enemies, mark them for more damage, or attack all enemies at once for a little damage. He later gains an ability that taunts all foes while being able to make him immune to all damage for two turns.
Seri Kesu is the magical dps. She isn’t the fastest character, but that can work out in your favor. She specializes in elemental magic, with the four basics of Earth, Fire, Ice, and Lightning. Each element carries not only high damage and the ability to target one enemy or divide the damage amongst all of them; it also includes a debuff effect. Earth drops the target’s speed, Fire causes damage over time, Ice lowers the damage they deal, and lightning increases the damage they take.
Doren is a healer and a buffer. With access to regeneration magic, revival magic, the only multi-target heal in the game, and an AoE buff. He can later double his EP if the correct path is taken, making it almost impossible to run out.
Each character can upgrade their skills through the use of skill stones. At first they can only perform a single, basic upgrade without any options. There are class quests you can perform after you get all four characters that not only provide special passives, but unique skill upgrades. A new stone type can be used to pick one of two special upgrades for each skill. Class choice makes a drastic change in how you play the game, and while all choices are viable they will force you to take different tactics as you progress.
Ara Fell was originally and RPG Maker game, and this is quite obvious from the title screen, the control scheme, and many of the graphics. Many of the tilesets used look like straight rips from the RTP, and the attacks, especially Lita’s ultimate, could have been copied right from it. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, their use of these assets is well done.
The character sprites and artwork are excellent. Each sprite is unique and their animations are superb. Each character has a hand-drawn portrait that shows their changing expressions based on their mood. These touches are used to great effect to draw the emotion out of a scene. From Lita’s tears to depressing times to Adrian’s shock at the extents, people will go to for their cause. The use of Unity has had some good effects outside of the combat system, also. Lighting effects are sparse, but the particle effects are used subtly to bring life to the world. Snow falling from the skies, which is added into the setting as the main source of water for the world. Fish swimming smoothly through the water. These elements with extremely well done, hand-drawn backdrops bring the world to life.