The Forbidden Arts I, perhaps unfairly, compared in expectation in my mind to the delights of the clunky but charming Dragon Valor when I wrote my initial article about the game. You might think that’s an odd comparison, but if you’ve played the 1999 action RPG and look at the trailer and screenshots for The Forbidden Arts, you should see what I’m on about. Unfortunately, the latter doesn’t quite live up to that expectation, though does bring forward a few quirks of its own that some might enjoy – if you’re able to get through the rest of it, that is.

The game is set in a fantasy world of druids, magicians, werewolves and other fantastical creatures. Our hero and playable protagonist, Phoenix, after having visions seeks the help of a druid and discovers ‘latent pyromancy’ within himself. Essentially the story unfolds into a fight for the land against a necromancer and along the way you discover more of your powers and get to help the inhabitants of the land.

The gameplay consists of two main styles – the over world and the dungeons. The over world consists of a few small, explorable areas presented in third person 3D. You can run around these areas un-confronted by enemies and search for hidden (not very well hidden) gold and interact with the few characters that inhabit them. There are towers in each area which, when repaired with gold blocks, unlock challenges with various quirks (platforming, dark levels, rising lava – or honey in this case, it kills you either way). Completing the challenges rewards you with things like increased health.

Within these over worlds are the dungeons, which are the meat of the game. Side scrolling platforming dungeons filled with traps and enemies. You traverse these by timing jumps and springing off walls. At its simplest this is a case of jumping over gaps and trying to reach higher areas, but as the levels become more complex you have to contend with moving platforms, spiked ceilings and turrets that shoot fire. The variety of the dungeons and level design is a positive aspect of the game. Each area is its own biome, and the dungeons are designed around this. In some cases this is just an aesthetic difference, but in others it is more tangible. For example, dealing with pits of honey in the bee hive area, or slippery ground in the frozen area.

Each of the dungeons has plenty of hidden areas – where you usually find gold blocks – and searching for these requires exploration. It reminds me of metroidvania in a simple way – the map shows you different levels in the dungeons, and you’re required to go out of your way to get to these. Finding the hidden areas initially is an easy affair, but later on the routes that take you to these areas can be more difficult to get through than the straight route to the end of the dungeon.

In addition to his platforming abilities, Phoenix is also armed with dual blades. Combat is highly limited and essentially just involves you hammering attack and occasionally jumping to avoid an enemy charge. There’s no blocking (with the exception of a power, which I will get into in a bit), no dodging, no combos or special attacks and, frankly, no flair to the combat at all. It serves as a means to an end, with you just trying to get past the enemies that litter the dungeons. These enemies return if you die or repeat the area and there’s no loot or experience to gather, and so ultimately there’s little point to going out of your way to kill them.

Combat also becomes quite difficult. Phoenix has very little health and can die in just a few hits. This isn’t a problem to begin with – when I look over my notes from the beginning of the game I have underlined the word “easy”, but this changes dramatically, with some common enemies being quite frustrating to face off against. The main issue with this isn’t that they are designed in a challenging manner, but that the clunky nature of the combat and how limited it is makes dealing with complex attacks inherently difficult.

Phoenix does have, as mentioned earlier, some powers that unlock throughout the game, though. His ‘latent pyromancy’ allows for him to shoot balls of fire, produce a shield and even jump much higher than normal. These do help with platforming and combat, however your limited mana means you can’t always rely on them. You can replenish your mana from torches and camp fires around the dungeons, and if you are stuck on a particular area, you can utilise your powers to depletion and take a short walk back to ‘fill up’ again (though sources of fire are quite common through the levels).

Each dungeon ends with a boss encounter. These have unique attack patterns, and you must figure out how they work in order to defeat them. It could be a case of just jumping over attacks until they become vulnerable, or for one early boss which was more interesting than this, they created clones of themselves and you had to try and keep an eye on the real boss in order to score a hit. I can praise the boss designs as these are actually fairly varied and, for the most part, interesting to fight. But it all comes back to the clunky combat which inevitably ruins these encounters by making them frustrating.

The Forbidden Arts is a simple game, but this wasn’t the main issue in the end. When I compared it to Dragon Valor this is essentially what I meant – it looked simplistic, with light platforming, magic use and side-scrolling hack and slash combat with bits of 3D gameplay thrown in – but the delivery of the gameplay just isn’t good enough. It’s essential you play this with a controller, but even with one it feels floaty – easy to miss jumps – and fighting is deeply unsatisfying. The music, aesthetic and dungeon level design are some redeeming features, but overall the game was quite disappointing to me. I’d like to say that the story and characters adds a bit more charm, but to be blunt I found any voice acting to be cringe inducing, and the narrative just isn’t intriguing enough to have kept me wanting to play on. If you still want to try it out, the game isn’t expensive, and I’m sure some people could look past the issues I’ve mentioned and get some enjoyment out of it, but personally I wouldn’t recommend the game.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29