« | Main | »

Arms’ Heart TGS hands-on impression

By Janelle | September 21, 2010 at 11:27 am

Developed by Hamster and shown at the Konami booth, Arms’ Heart was touted as a “Dark Steampunk RPG.” While the demo showed that Arms’ Heart is at least one of those things, it only offered a clear picture of the game’s battle system. I didn’t walk away from the demo feeling like I had a good grasp of the game. If I had, I might be less inclined to compare it to the Shadow Hearts series.

After a short cutscene with unusually tall character sprites, Arms’ Heart threw me into a first-person, turn-based battle with three thugs. The blond-haired protagonist could attack, use magic or items and so forth — RPG staples. But a tutorial guided me through a key point of the battle system, something called the Howling Gear. Every time I would select an attack, the Howling Gear would pop up on screen. After a short countdown, it would begin to spin, and it was my job to stop the gears in certain positions to increase the number of attacks or amount of damage of the given attack. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one getting flashbacks of Shadow Hearts‘ Judgement Ring when I picked up the demo. The gears even included special red Strike zones that increased the damage further if lined up correctly. Failing to align a gear would cause the following gears to grind to a halt.

Arms’ Heart proves that when it comes to game systems, execution is everything. A timed-hit battle system is something that I enjoyed in Shadow Hearts, but Arms’ Heart seems to have been developed with the steampunk aesthetic taking a higher priority than making a repetitive action, like performing attacks, player-friendly.

Most importantly, the Howling Gear is far too sluggish. Every time an attack was selected, the battle (and my enthusiasm) ground to a halt as the Howling Gear had to start turning and chugging and releasing steam, followed by a slow countdown before the actual gears would turn and the player could press buttons to stop them. Once the gears were stopped, the attack would be delayed for another moment while a table popped up to show the results of the attack. And then the attack would execute. One enemy down. Time to do that again and again.

The delays were made more frustrating by the fact that stopping the gears correctly was difficult. The booth didn’t have headphones hooked up to the demo PSPs for some reason, and sound effects might have made a huge difference in how easy it was to keep track of the gears spinning. Often I didn’t realize I had missed a gear until several seconds later, because there were no clear audio or visual cues to indicate success or failure. There was only the results table, but that was in the middle of the screen, far away from the gears themselves. The whole Howling Gear was animated with other moving parts that shook and emitted steam, making it more difficult to spot when the gears began turning.

The Arms’ Heart demo experience was not great, and I can’t help but feel that’s as much symptomatic of a poorly built game as a poorly built demo. Perhaps the other features of the game, like the character customization, the menus, or even the story have some merit, but the demo showed me only the flawed battle system. Unless the Howling Gear is given some very important tweaks, the full version of Arms’ Heart will be just as sluggish and clunky as the steam-powered technology it loves to show off.

Topics: Arms' Heart, Previews, Tokyo Game Show 2010