According to the blurb on its download page, Arc Wars presents the future of Earth as one of famine, ecological catastrophe, and perpetual war. Also, Arc Wars is a game about anime babes piloting mechs and stuff. After a title screen depicting a mech flying below the words “Arc War” (no “s”), the player receives their first assignment from a crude, cigarette-smoking Man In Black (apparently your superior): destroy a power plant.
The player controls a party of festively colored mechs whose pilots have terrible names like Jeneth, Bennifer, and… Magina?! The map tiles emphasize the underlying grid, giving Arc Wars a mechanical gamey look suitable to its mech theme, even as the gameplay eschews tactical mech combat entirely to highlight the unthinking brutality of this rather one-sided mechanized war. On the way to the power plant, the mechs punch their way through every soldier and tank in their path without so much as firing a shot or taking a hit (almost as if the enemy can’t defend themselves). The target is destroyed effortlessly, and the mechs make their way to the extraction point – occasionally stopping to swat down any pesky troops foolish enough to defend the area. This is accomplished by holding the Enter key for the duration of combat, a winning strategy for most of the game (excluding some bosses).
After successfully destroying the power plant, the mech pilots are again berated by the Man In Black. This time the mission is to destroy the enemy’s missiles. En route, the team encounters The Destroyer (a boss with ludicrously strong defenses) accompanied by a pair of Gunbots with seemingly infinite HP. The team does not win this battle. Jeneth survives the defeat but is imprisoned and left to rot by The Destroyer, who castigates her for the deaths she caused by demolishing the power plant. As Jeneth slowly dies the Man In Black addresses her again, this time condemning her to Hell.
Thought you were playing a JRPG about anime girls doing mech battles in a dystopian future setting? Psych! In reality, you are playing one of MorpheusKitami’s Complicated Gallery games about angels and demons and slurs and stuff. The player is even treated to a new title screen (and title) - a woman on a throne under the words “Skotos Dorchatus.” If I Googled correctly, both these words translate to “darkness.” As in Dante, Hell is comprised of levels representing deadly sins; but the fevered tone of Skotos shares more in common with a Chick tract. The object is to explore a mazelike level of Hell, grind, collect items, use said items to defeat a demonic boss, receive a lecture, progress to the next level, rinse, repeat, and ultimately escape Hell (I think? I didn’t make it that far).
In the Sloth portion of Hell, Jeneth can fight faceless fleshy beings called Alu, collect lots of restorative glands, and discover some feces-covered artifacts (wash off your sword to find out which one you got). The Alu serve a demon named Yaldael, who is time-consuming to battle (but is a little faster to defeat with a sword). Next is the vampire-filled Gluttony level which I played repeatedly before finding the revolver that ultimately made the boss battle winnable. I also didn’t realize that a Save feature had become available after Jeneth’s death, so I foolishly played the beginning of the game over and over assuming this to be an intentional part of the Skotos’ Hell metaphor. The Pride level is more interesting to explore than the two that preceded (and the random encounters pack a little more wallop here too, though leveling occurs so quickly it never matters) though it can still be a bit monotonous to navigate at times. The Envy level is truly disturbing; I can’t even begin to analyze it here. I’ll just say it was very creepy until all subtlety went out the window (“adult” “themes”). Greed is the most tedious level to traverse, forcing the player to commit to some long winding corridors full of random encounters. Some of the corridors seem to be color-coded, but the colors are varied deliberately to mislead the player - using the mini-map becomes essential. By the time I encountered Demeter and received a Game Over for winning the battle (ugh!), I learned to save frequently and hold the Escape key and flee every random encounter. I still wandered around this level for what seemed like an eternity, finding nothing of use and ultimately becoming stuck at the Demeter battle and unable to progress. This caused me to give up on the game for a while, but I did return occasionally to try and get past Demeter. Eventually I figured out how to lose to her, which removed her from my path; but then I was frozen to death by demons a few steps later and immediately got stuck again. I have no idea what I should’ve been doing here, but I thought about it for weeks before giving up.
At 7 hours into my third or fourth playthrough, Jeneth was at Level 81 and had 10 cobalt daggers, 27 vampire teeth, 38 glands, 39 angel hearts, 71 flesh.
Hell is a drag, and here it’s represented in gameplay. Hell has items scattered all around it, but their significance is ambiguous. Point-and-click navigation is available, but random encounters interfere with pathfinding in the labyrinths of Hell. Random encounters are guaranteed victories and can be fought without employing any strategy or taking a single point of damage, especially early on; but battles play out very slowly nonetheless. Most of the time is spent watching the Time bar, waiting for anyone at all to get a turn. Leveling up occurs erratically, often multiple levels are gained from one fight (which is quite merciful). Alternately, sometimes a boss will kill Jeneth very quickly if she lacks the equipment or special item required to prevail. In Hell, there’s a lot of waiting one’s turn to try and correct past mistakes.
It’s hard to even know where to begin with Arc Wars’ “adult situations and themes.” This game is about Hell. Most of the characters should be understood as evil, and they’re constantly reminding the player of this. There’s a lot of bloodlust; angry/violent sexualized language; and several characters who express bigoted inclinations (towards women, blacks, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, etc.). There’s a lot of heavy subject matter being invoked throughout the game, but Arc Wars is too tongue-in-cheek to lend itself to interpretation (unless its theological lessons are completely serious, in which case God help us). The result is that much of the edgy content seems to serve only itself – this Hell is an excuse invented to name-check topics that make people uneasy without exploring them in earnest. Arc Wars is pushing buttons for the sake of pushing buttons (how many casual references to rape are required to convey the difficult idea that Hell Is Bad?); working its way down a checklist of prejudices, slurs, phobias, sensitivities, and taboos - repeatedly resorting to left-field crassness for shock or humor (the topic of masturbation seems to show up in more NPC conversations than not). Some really disturbing things are done and said in the Envy level, actually one of the creepier areas of the game until it jumps the shock shark. It all ends up feeling more like a tirade against trigger warnings and political correctness than a game with a coherent theme about morality or hell (then again, I didn’t finish the game).
To my knowledge, this is MorpheusKitami’s longest and - in some repsects - most substantial game. As with previous works by MK, Arc Wars/Skotos is confounding at first but gradually reveals its substance via trial and error over the course of multiple attempts (until I got stuck, at least); however unlike previous games, this one remains frustrating even after the revelation (it took me many hours to get stuck). The game succeeds in setting a tone of surreality that is harsh, deranged, unstable, and sometimes legitimately scary or funny (it really does gamify Hell); but it also revels in obscurity and tedium, undermines its own themes, indulges unearned excesses, and generally isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It is truly the unholy bastard of Phos: Solias and Blackeagle - a comprehensive encapsulation of the MorpheusKitami approach to games. It’s an interesting freakfest unlike anything else I’ve played, but I found the unceasing conceptual sadism exhausting. Play Dr. Moonlight’s Happyworld first.
...spake The Lord Thy God.