Originally made with RPG Maker 2003, the newly-updated Enhanced Edition of Ara Fell instead makes the switch to Unity. In doing so, it never loses sight of what made the game so special back when it was made with RPG Maker and still continues to be one of my favourite games – this time with more added content than before.
Ara Fell is very reminiscent of 2D JRPGs such as Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger or Earthbound – I love that, because it makes me feel like a child again. They’re some of my favourite roleplaying games ever, and to see more games embody what made those games so special and exciting is really sweet.
The story is full of a lot of fantasy elements, and you’d definitely not be surprised if you see Vampires, magical spell wielders and that the entire game takes place on a floating island continent. To put it simply, a girl gets magical powers and has to save the world. It’s not something that has never been done before, but it makes up for it with how much I was invested in the adventure throughout. There’s witty dialogue with sad and serious moments across the game and I always wanted to play more to continue the story.
For what it’s worth, the story is actually very interesting and the characters are written well with the pacing being good. It’s not a long game by any means but its lore and backstory that ties into the main narrative is what makes it so good. The setting in which the game takes place is fun to explore as well. Exploration is heavily encouraged, as you can find multiple side quests to complete and treasure to find inside the depths of caves.
A special and unique part of Ara Fell is the way that it utilises the default RPG Maker 2003 tilesets. I don’t mean in a way that makes it look like a half-polished game with a team of no artists, something that you’d expect with most stereotypical RPG Maker games. The tilesets are used creatively, blending it into the rest of the game’s atmosphere and levels without feeling cheap or half-baked.
The world design, despite taking place on floating islands in the sky, feels natural and authentic. It’s not like UNDERTALE where it’s stylised in a certain way, but its style is easily recognisable within the constraints of the engine. It even has the inclusion of birds and animals that roam around the different areas, the same for enemies too. Small details like that are what make the game feel alive and lived in, and I really like that.
Something that stood out to me about the battle system in this game is how the HUD is designed. It’s different to any 2D RPGs, easy to understand and features nicely drawn portraits of the characters that you can fight as. The Enhanced Edition adds enchanting to the already in-depth system which includes new classes and skills that weren’t in the original game. Characters have their own unique equipment that can be used with the new enchanting system to be made more useful in order change the tide of difficult fights.
Something that makes the gameplay interesting is the addition of crafting. You can go fishing or mining and use the items that you’ve acquired across your journey to upgrade equipment and weapons. It’s not often that I’ve seen crafting used as a mechanic in RPG Maker games; a nice change of pace to what’s normally expected in these games. The addition of jumping and crawling over objects in the game world is also something that makes Ara Fell stand out from other games in the genre.
Considering how long ago Ara Fell was initially made before being finished, fully released on Steam and then having an Enhanced Edition that adds even more to it – it really is ahead of its time. Even now it feels ahead of its time with the amount of content that there is alongside its clever use of mechanics and gameplay elements.
Ara Fell is probably the best 2D RPG game I’ve played in recent memory. It has a simple 16-bit artstyle, with a fun and engaging story. In some places it doesn’t push the boundaries of the genre, but in other places it introduces some really fun and inventive mechanics. It’s a perfect homage to the JRPG games of the 1990s whilst having its own unique identity and charm throughout the course of the story.