Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is the first game to be released by 6 Eyes Studio, an indie studio consisting of 2 team members who previously worked on Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled. With some contracting work here and there, Fell Seal is the product of both love and dedicated work by this small indie. Designed as a love-letter to older titles, Fell Seal brings Tactical RPG gameplay back to the spotlight, nestling itself among the greats such as Fire Emblem. With adjustable difficulty you can have an experience more akin to Disgaea or as hard-core as older Fire Emblem releases.
Fell Seal starts us off with a bit of backstory, telling the tale of how 7 heroes defeated a great evil, called The Maw, several centuries past. Absorbing the power of The Maw, the 7 heroes gained limited immortality, living up until the beginning of our story as we take on the role of Arbiter Kyrie, a stalwart defender of peace in the Immortal’s name. Dealing with a murder, Kyrie gets off to a busy start, with that small police work sending her on a long trail of ambushes, schemes and dark magic.
Following on from the introductory tutorial phase, Kyrie will set off to explore the small continent they inhabit, alongside other Arbiters, hired adventurers and bandits turned do-gooders. As a new pilgrimage begins to anoint a new Immortal to take the place of one of the elders, as their time has come to an end, because immortality isn’t forever… apparently.
Sadly Fell Seal falls into the same trap as many other RPGs of repeating a past story, mainly the one where you must visit several temples to save the world from a big bad. The in-between segments are also full of clichés, idiotic characters and drawn-out conversations. While the levels are padded out with repeated content the story itself is also padded out just as much to lengthen it to the final time of 20-30 hours. There was probably 1 or 2 shocking twists, though they are breaching the pile of overused concepts and turns that other games take.
The main story of Fell Seal will last you around 20 hours, with up to an extra 10 depending on your difficulty setting and grinding to keep up with the evolving enemies. With a 2nd ending you can easily squeeze out a few more hours to unlock all there is to see, with a save file being created just before the final fight allowing you to easily get the 2nd ending. As well as the 2 endings there are a few side-stories to complete, 2 tournaments and collecting of items to 100% your file.
Looking incredibly similar to the Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics games, Fell Seal goes for a very vibrant, cartoonish, pixel art style. From an isometric view, we will see small arenas in which we will fight, often obscuring paths and treasure behind tall hills. Placed onto the arena, which is split into squares, we will have 5-7 of our units and up to 10 of the opponents spread around. After placement is complete it plays like a usual turn-based tactical RPG.
As you finish actions, as long as they have some sort of effect, you will gain a set amount of EXP based on the level difference between your unit and an opposing unit. If your units are considerably lower level they could gain 100EXP, enough for a level, in 1 action, or as little as 1EXP. Due to the action-experience mechanic, you’ll find that your entire team keeps a steady levelling pace, even the healers. Though multi-target attacks gain you no extra EXP, so a mage who is able to kill 4 enemies in 1 action gets the same EXP as if they had killed 1.
Taking a page from FF’s book, you know the one that teleports you to a new world, Fell Seal allows you to set the class of any unit while at the camp, even allowing them to have a sub job to have access to 2 sets of skills. As you fight with a class equipped you will gain AP, to unlock skills in that class, from attacks and spells to passive skills that can affect your character even when they do not have that class equipped. Combining classes is a great mechanic, allowing for some powerful builds, I ended up giving my entire team Dual-Wielding as it was by far one of the best skills.
To explore the map you will select from several nodes that are connected via straight lines, nodes comprising of cities, combat arenas and dungeons. For a majority of the game, you will be dealing with ambushes on the road, though most are tied to the story or give you some form of excitement besides enemies falling to your blade. Towards the end of the game, you will feel it become a bit padded with fight after fight, especially when some enemies get higher health values, so shorter game sessions are advised.
Winning combat scenarios will reward you with GP to spend at shops for new gear as well as new materials for crafting. Generally, crafted goods are better than what you can buy and you will most likely want to build all consumable items as they recharge between fights. The crafting system isn’t too in-depth but definitely rewards players who look for the materials on the battle maps, with some pieces of gear making combat vastly easier in early segments.
One of the most disappointing parts of Fell Seal is its soundtrack, containing only 1 or 2 tracks that are at all memorable. Whilst engaging in combat the music becomes background noise as you plan out your actions, the sound design kicking in at points of attack or explosion following in suit with a cartoony effect. Due to the lack of awe in both the music and sound design the game often feels a bit dull as you fight your 4th fight in a row as you make your way to a temple. The final boss music is also reused for a later fight, which was a big disappointment as while it was the best track I was expecting something even grander afterwards.
While the difficulty within Fell Seal was consistent, that consistency was a steep climb that never stopped. The game scales to your level pretty tightly, though thankfully it does hit a ceiling for a good portion of the game. Areas have a level range, like 2-7, which even extends to story portions, allowing you to over-level, but to over-level, you need to put in plenty of extra hours. Levels also put you into a sort of trap as your equipped class changes your stat progression, with AP giving you access to much better skills. If you’re swapping around classes trying to get better skills you could be losing out on several stat points in stats you use more often.
Like many other Tactical RPGs, Fell Seal is a very slow-paced game. Going through everyone’s turn, waiting for animations and wading through map after map to get to the next story segment can take a toll on your patience. You can speed up both walking and action animations but that doesn’t help much when in some parts you need to do 5 fights to get to the 1 fight you want to do. If you’re looking for something more action-packed, you kinda chose the wrong genre, you may be a bit disappointed with Fell Seal’s pace.
Overall, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark gets a 6/10, it can be very enjoyable for the first few hours alongside the class and equipment systems. However, after the initial hours, you will see too many problems with the design and repetitive choices made. The story isn’t too unique, nor does it break the mould often to give you something exciting, there is also a lack of player choice even though the characters constantly ask for your character’s guidance. The simplistic crafting, map traversal, city designs and general lack of content outside of combat really pulls back this release. With some more time placed into the soundtrack, refining of combat and crafting, and revamping of the length and padding could really make this game break out of the rut it finds itself in.
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark by 6 Eyes Studio
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Mac, Linux