A Mark of Excellence

HIGH Dramatic storyline, engaging battles.

LOW The last battle is a nightmare.

WTF Why, Yates? Why?


There are some notable gaps in my gaming resume that I’m occasionally embarrassed by.  For instance, I never really played Final Fantasy Tactics.  I rented it once and was disappointed that it wasn’t a standard JRPG.  I always felt I would enjoy the story, but I didn’t think I’d be good at combat more complicated than “Fight, Magic, Item, Run.” 

When I saw 6 Eyes’ Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark, I knew I had to make up for lost time, but I worried my lack of tactics-style experience would hinder the experience.  Except for a punishingly difficult final battle I wouldn’t wish on anyone, I needn’t have worried.  Fell Seal is a tremendous experience, with only a few flaws keeping it from near perfection.

When the Immortal Council needs boots on the ground to enforce the laws and keep the peace, they turn to the Arbiters.  Kyrie, the main protagonist, uses her wisdom, martial prowess and persistence to dispense justice and protect innocent lives.  After witnessing a murder, Kyrie and her companions attempt to bring the miscreant to justice, only to find that he is under the protection of one of the Council members.  Sensing a schism in the ruling body and the rise of evil forces, Kyrie agrees to go on a holy quest to potentially become one of the new Immortal Council. 

The story is intricate and well told, with superb dialogue and just enough narration to embroil the players in events while skillfully avoiding the trap of telling rather than showing.  Character growth feels organic as the plot unfolds, and rationales for character actions seem true to their personalities and circumstances.  Enemy characters are equally well composed and interesting, even if their aims are detestable. 

Like Final Fantasy Tactics that inspired it, Fell Seal is played on a series of isometric maps of varying terrains and elevations.  Characters are deployed in specific starting areas and controlled via menu-driven movement and combat options. 

Each character is permitted one action (spell, attack, or use of an item) and one move per turn, with movement determined by armor and equipped items.  Spells and attacks have set ranges highlighted in blue, letting the player know the exact area of effect, while a helpful guide displays the probability of success for each strike, loosed arrow, or cast spell. 

Despite the wealth of information provided, the icons depicting various status changes (poisoning, silence, etc.) aren’t the easiest to differentiate in the middle of a fight.  This makes it difficult to determine which counter-spell or healing potion to use, which can lead to wasted items and spells.  It would be nice to have text describing what ails my heroes in addition to the icons.

Figuring out troop positioning was another tricky mechanic to suss out in the early going.  By changing which way a character is facing after he or she completes a turn, it’s possible to reduce incoming damage taken. However, foes are adept at sneaking up from behind and absolutely pummeling otherwise carefully-placed troops.  Chess players and people with better spatial relationship skills will likely figure this out more quickly than I.

A wide variety of difficulty settings allowed me to customize the experience almost as much as I wanted.  For instance, I could completely prevent opponents from using items during a battle, which was especially nice as the AI is good at moving just out of range and downing a healing potion at the worst possible time.  I could also change the overall difficulty of battles, and reduce the number and level of enemies I encountered.  

Luckily, on easier difficulty settings, I usually prevailed.  However, characters can receive debilitating injuries if they fall in battle.  These injuries cause the hero to fight with greatly reduced effectiveness until they are able to heal by resting and skipping a battle.  Since a few characters will probably get smoked in each skirmish, Fell Seal can become somewhat grindy by forcing players to replay easier maps to level up reserve characters when the A-team needs to rest up and heal.  Fortunately, the developers included an option to turn off injuries completely, which I gladly took advantage of a few hours into the campaign.

There are also a ridiculous number of items available to purchase, and crafting materials that grant the ability to forge more exclusive gear are easily located, but some materials can only be accessed by certain character classes who can fly or walk on water.  I tried to locate and open as many of these as I could, but some proved too difficult for me to reach.  The completionist in me will go back for them someday.

Overall, Fell Seal was a great experience for a tactics newcomer like me, but I will say the final battle was an absolute nightmare, featuring damage sponge enemies ruining my day with one-hit kill attacks.  It’s possible that it was so rough due to how I built my characters — each one can be given a job and a sub-job which grant different abilities, weapons, and spells.  Without knowing what types of enemies I’d face in future combat, I was frequently ill-prepared for fights. 

Even with a somewhat steep learning curve and a frustrating final sequence, I enjoyed Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark.  Solid design and wonderful storytelling more than made up for the annoyance and grind.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by 6 Eyes Studio and published by 1C Entertainment.It is currently available on PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 35 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.  There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Violence and Blood.  The game features animated combat against human and humanoid foes as well as various monsters.  Some of the monsters are grotesque and may be frightening to smaller children.  There is a small amount of blood in the storyline as well as the execution of civilians by evil forces.  There is mild language, with da*n and da*ned appearing in the dialog.  Necromancy is a power of one of the main characters, and is both an on-screen ability as well as described during dialogue. 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options. 

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers:  All dialogue is in the form of written text, and any sound cues are accompanied by a visual component.  The game is fully accessible

Remappable Controls: This game does not offer a controller diagram, but certain functions are remappable. Players have the ability to use the control stick rather than the directional pad for movement and also have the ability to switch the movement axes.  Example: a player can alternate pushing up on the directional pad/control stick to move a cursor left/right or up/down (battles take place on a diagonal isometric field). Movement is on the left stick. Overworld map panning is on the right stick.  Selecting options is X.  Canceling an option is Circle.  Accessing the crafting menu is Square.  Accessing the camp menu is Triangle. 

Jeff Ortloff

Jeff Ortloff has been around since the birth of the console era.He’s played everything from Pong to Marvel’s Spider-Man with a near-inhuman lack of skill.He’s been writing about games since about 2007, and is thrilled to be part of the GameCritics.com team.

He juggles this passion for gaming with his most important job, being a husband and dad.Fortunately, his boys are growing up as gamers (with decidedly more skill, much to his annoyance) and he has a very understanding spouse.

He hangs out on Twitter sometimes as @JPSJeffOrt, Facebook FAR less frequently, and while he misses performing all the interviews from his former online life, he’s much more relaxed now!

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