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Million Arthur VR Review: Square Enix's First VR RPG Falls Flat

Million Arthur VR Review: Square Enix's First VR RPG Falls Flat

If Million Arthur VR was the game it should have been, there’d be a sense of the circle completing itself right now. In the late 80’s Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) became some of the first to build full virtual worlds you could get lost in for hours, filled with characters you want to learn more about, intense battles that played out like a movie in your mind and a tangible sense of this being a living, breathing universe. Bringing all of that to VR — no less from Final Fantasy creator Square Enix — should signify the completion of a journey started 30 years ago.

Million Arthur VR has no such significance.

In fairness, this isn’t a straight up JRPG; it’s a turn-based card battler that began life on mobile and has transitioned to VR somewhat awkwardly. Simply put, the many of the hallmarks you’d expect of a Square Enix game just aren’t here.

The story, for example, is characteristically nonsensical but lacks the iconic characters or cinematic delivery to justify it. In fact the game’s cutscenes have been directly lifted from the smartphone game, appearing on a virtual screen in which characters deliver reams and reams of text; so much so you’ll be doing more reading than you will playing. For VR, it’s an unforgivable sin to be asked to spend as much as 40 minutes reading dialogue boxes on a 2D screen before transitioning into a 10-minute battle. What was the point of even bringing it to the Vive in the first place? Fortunately, though, cutscenes can be skipped, though all the text is in Japanese so even story sequences in the 3D world use subtitles, which just doesn’t work well in VR.

Battles themselves do fare a little better, even if they still lack purpose in VR. Again, they’re lifted from the mobile game and the 3D assets seem to have been cleaned up just a bit. Visually the game’s character models are striking, and the anime art style really pops inside your headset. That goes for the enemies too, the larger of which really tower over you with awe. Environmental design, meanwhile, is bland. While the game looks nice overall, it’s all thanks to the original mobile release; nothing here is really unique to the headset. It left me asking of all the games Square could have ported to VR, why this one?

Getting to grips with the card battling is simple enough; enemies have a particular element type that means they’ll be resistant to some types of attacks and weaker to others. You only control one member of your four-person party (chosen at the start of battle), but you can see the cards the others have selected, and then choose similar attack types to theirs to chain attacks. Big hitting-cards will be locked out at the start of battles but become available later on.

Only commanding one character can sometimes make the combat overly simplistic, or conversely quite frustrating if you’re depending on a particular character to heal you and they decide to attack instead. Usually, battles will boil down to first attacking an enemy’s weapons to disarm them and remove their ability to use stronger attacks. After that you’ll be free to chomp down on their health bar pretty steadily. It’s not an especially thrilling system, but it’s not bad, either.

Again, though, none of this really benefits from the inclusion of VR. All it really results in is a lot of standing around, waiting for your turn to raise your weapon up and swipe it down to imitate carrying out a magical attack. JRPGs were never a genre for the inpatient but their sluggishness is only emphasized when brought directly into VR. This isn’t a game that takes the platform and reshapes VR in its image; it’s just a direct translation that serves little purpose.

The game also suffers from heavy scripting, in which you’ll get two rounds into a boss fight, be interrupted by a cutscene, and then start over again with everyone on full health. This can happen multiple times within a fight and it’s especially frustrating when you can pull off the first sequence perfectly but then an unlucky hand means you get destroyed the next time. This isn’t a game that takes the platform and reshapes VR in its image; it’s just a direct translation that serves little purpose.

This being a card battler, collecting and customizing decks obviously plays a huge part in the progression. Million Arthur does include that most controversial of features: an in-app purchase (IAP) system. It’s a particularly salty inclusion given the game already costs $39.99, but I will say I managed to fight my way through a good chunk of the game without having to buy anything. You get booster packs after every level (yes, even the many cutscenes), so you’ll have a regular supply of cards.

IAPs infect the game in other ways, though, from the horrid exclamations that you just got a super rare card (which seemed to be pretty common to me) and the grading of your deck configurations, which starts off at an A rank and progresses into the triple S ranks. You get a sense that the game is overselling everything’s worth to you in order to incentivize buying yet more flashy, exciting cards that in reality don’t have much worth. It also doesn’t help that every card is represented by a leery drawing of a girl; par for the course in this genre but all the more uncomfortable in VR.

Million Arthur is a passable card battler that struggles to find purpose in VR. Though its combat system may be engaging on a basic level, the hefty amount of story told through virtual screens, lack of interactivity in its virtual worlds and the unwelcome sting of in-app purchases left me wondering why Square Enix didn’t choose a better-fitting game for its first VR JRPG port. A very niche audience might find something to love about Million Arthur, but it’s got very little to say about what VR can do for the JRPG. Stick to Dragon Front instead.

Million Arthur VR is now available on Steam for $39.99 on HTC Vive. You can check out these official review guidelines to find out more about our process.

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