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What I Played This Week - The Arcana

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The Arcana is an indie game by Nix Hydra Games that was kickstarted in late 2016.

It is a stunning visual novel featuring magic, mystery, and romance wrapped together with a beautiful art style that makes every update a delight. As I’m writing this, the game currently features four chapters, varying in length, but more are being added with each passing month.

The first aspect to discuss is character creation. As The Arcana is a visual novel, alternatively called a dating sim, the protagonist isn’t the focal point of the story, rather their interactions with a lively cast of characters and the unveiling of the mystery behind its plot take centre stage. But the character creation is still a point of discussion as the game allows you to choose whichever gender (with pronouns of she, he or they) for your character that you desire, along with inputting whichever name you choose. 

When you start setting your sights on a particular character to romance within the game, this means that your protagonist can pursue heterosexual or homosexual relationships, making for a highly customisable gaming experience.

The characters that you interact with are a big selling point for the game, as they are some of the more unique and charming romance options that I’ve encountered in my time playing games. First, you meet your mentor, Asra, who is hinted at having had a relationship with the player character in the past (though these hints can remain mere rumours if you decide not to romance them). 

Then comes Countess Nadia, whose domineering personality adds an interesting element to the interactions between herself and your character (you can choose to be submissive or stand up for yourself, for example). 

Then comes Doctor Julian, a runaway surgeon who is suspected of murdering Nadia’s late husband; Muriel, a shadowy figure covered in scars; Portia, Nadia’s gossipy handmaiden; and finally, Count Lucio, whose death didn’t put an end to his influence over the story. These characters are richly detailed and make the experience of playing the game highly enjoyable.

I’ve briefly already mentioned my love of the art style of The Arcana, but I feel that it’s worth repeating. This game is just plain gorgeous, and you can tell how much care and attention has been paid to every aspect of the game. Each scene is superbly rendered, with exquisite colouring and background details, from the swooping silks of your bedchambers to the towering domes of the cityscape.

The vaguely Arabian setting makes its fantasy a lot more stylised than a lot of swords and sorcery RPGs, with the magic that your character possesses being shown through tarot cards and intuition. I don’t know how many ways there are to say this, but the game’s style is just so interesting in comparison to a lot of what I’ve seen, and it makes playing each chapter a fun, new experience.

I would thoroughly recommend The Arcana to anyone whose curiosity has been piqued by this review, and as it is currently free there couldn’t be a better time to try it out. Nix Hydra Games’ FAQ page does mention that future add-ons may come with a price tag, but if you want to see whether visual novels could be of interest then the game as it is would be worth trying out.

The Arcana is free to download for iOS and Android.

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