As we draw now to the end of the season of the witch, let us look at the witchiest game I know, the witchiest game I own. Oh, there are other games that have witches and other games that have witch themes, but I know no videogame that is as focused on witches as characters, witches as victims of oppression, and witches as women claiming power in a world that tries to dismiss them, as this one. It was also a requested review, by a Very Important Witch – and so, let us see what we can see in this 2007 NDS title.
Abort, Retry, Retry, Retry, Fail
As a games critic, I feel I can separate my personal enjoyment from some experiences. At four points in my life I’ve tried to finish Larc, and every time something has set me back – a battery conked out, a dropped NDS, a rom emulator save failure… and every time, when I lost progress, I put the game down for a long time. It was exhausting, it was irritating. There were dozens of little irritations, things like the slow text crawls, or the way transition animations played out in full, slowing me down as I tried to rush the story.
There’s also the game itself. It’s an isometric tactical RPG where you move sprite characters around a very rudimentary 3d space, where characters have unique abilities, and attack templates, and special abilities that all expend one simple resource. Even missions where you finish things quickly take ten, fifteen minutes. And the voice acting, oh goodness me!
This is basically a Japanese tactical RPG. So simply does it embrace that idea that there’s almost nothing I can say to set it apart from the generic, standard tactical RPG conjured in the mind by that idea. It wants to be a bit more Final Fantasy Tactics than it wants to be like Fire Emblem or Tactics Ogre, but the game you buy when you pick it up is something that feels a bit like it could have been made on the SNES.
Not to mention that Larc is a game where story and gameplay exist in almost hermetically sealed chambers. There’s tactical map bits, where almost no dialogue or story is conveyed, and after combats, there are social conversations where you chat up a teammate, and then you get a story cutscene.
These three elements could be woven together.
It feels a bit mean to say it all up front like this, without softening the blow, but honestly, Larc, as a game, is a bit bad? Or, rather, it is undeveloped. There is a game here, but it’s a game that could have come out in 1997. It’s polished, it’s pretty, but the game, the thing all the narrative and the storytelling and characterisation is poured into is fairly rudimentary. For a videogame that came out in 2006, it’s honestly just surprising.
Ultimately, LArc feels like an old game, an old game that someone wished existed when they were younger. It is a game whose implementation of touch-screen control is a little shaky, whose systems are a bit rudimentary and basic. Combat feels like it’s somewhere around the level of early Pokemon games, which came out about ten years before Larc.
It feels strange to effectively sit here at the end of a game review in which I commented on a game as having almost no striking positives in its favour either as design or as play experiences. But I think in the end, I really like this game, and I think that I like this game because of its highly limited feel.
I like to imagine that Larc came from a fan, like it’s a fan project that took on a life of is own and had to be hacked away from other canon. Someone wrote down in the back of a cheap exercise book their fanfiction idea for a Final Fantasy Tactics style game, where they were so interested in their mechanics that would let you do smooches on the characters that at no point did they dedicate much time to advancing the game.
I think that’s the charm of Larc to me. This is a game I want to like more than I enjoy. It’s the only place to find these characters, with their charming, slightly goofy designs.
I think that’s why I like Larc so much despite its failings as a game. It’s a game with a heart, it’s a game someone involved loved, and it shows through in all the little cracks in the game. Indeed, the way missions feel like they’re filling time, like the way the character abilities feel wonkily balanced, like the way the plot falls into every generic fantasy anime trope. This is a project someone deeply loved, even if they weren’t super great at it.
Thing is, while I haven’t finished this game, I still like it. I still like things in it, and I still feel that for some people, Larc is a good game and they will enjoy it. Part of this is a review philosophy – I am not the universal yardstick for what makes a videogame good, and as a reviewer, I should be seeking ways to identify core forms of engagement and bringing those to peoples’ attention. Sometimes I like to think of this as every game is perfect for someone. In the case of Larc, I think it’s someone who doesn’t need a game to be revolutionary, who doesn’t want a game to deeply challenge their understanding of mechanics or play experience. It may be someone who wants to feel like they’re playing Final Fantasy Tactics all over again.
Some of what I like about Larc is the collection of themes and characters, really. I mean, it’s hardly revolutionary to find a videogame that works with themes of teamwork and friendship and family. Those aren’t new. Story beats like destined relationships, or the importance of magical love, or the significance of believing in your long-lost brother, or a villain turning out to be on the side of the angels, or finding a childhood friend had a secret – it’s all well-worn narrative machinery.
What then I think holds it together, for me, what makes Larc a game I like even if I don’t enjoy it is little things, like the church as a central evil. Oh, well, I suppose that’s spoilers, but this is the kind of spoiler you can see from miles away. It’s not like you’re going to be surprised when the game tells you that maybe, just maybe, witches aren’t the baddies. There are little lines, snippets of dialogue I like, like you can’t tell a witch just by looking, and where numerous points the story solution to a problem is to leave a woman alone and let her solve things on her own. It’s not perfect, particularly there’s the idea that a witch is completed by a relationship, but even then the story hooks demand that characters in those relationships show respect for one another.
In the same way this game feels like a fan work, it seems the best interpretation of it is to create, in your mind, your own fan work of it.
You can get it at almost any videogame store I’ve been to, usually pre-owned. It’s also available on Amazon and other online trading spaces. Unfortunately, it seems rarity is keeping the game’s price unfortunately high.
Buy it if:
- You like Final Fantasy Tactics and would like a bit more, if a bit different.
- You like tactical RPGs and wish they had more dating sim elements.
Avoid it if:
- You want good voice acting.
- You want something revolutionary or mechanically advanced.
- You want a game that stands on its abilities as a game, and not on its aesthetics.