I’m not convinced that this game truly represents 1999. And given that I remember the year reasonably well – mostly because I was alive – the whole concept of the game doesn’t fit that very well at all. Let’s think about it for a second. The Euro is established, Family Guy debuts on TV, the Dreamcast came out in the US, and Tomb Raider: the Last Revelation is also released… apparently set in the same time period as this game.
I think there’s something not quite right about this…
Actually, to be perfectly rational – something that probably comes 43% naturally to me – it’s not actually set in 1999. The title is deceiving you and for that it must be punished. It’s mainly called that in the same way that Fifa games are always called Fifa 09 or 12 or 16 or whatever year it is or will be. But to be even more confusing – because gaming logic – this is the only game in the series so giving it the ridiculous subtitle really… really doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.
So instead, we shall rename it Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1725. Because why not?
Now, trying to explain the concept of Dark Arms to the uninitiated is kind of like trying to explain what the point of a wasp is to a child who has just been stung by one: fairly inconsequential.
Realistically, what you’re thrown into is a somewhat demonic/monster-ridden realm after filling in a contract to obtain some sort of ultimate weapon and there’s a girl involved… and there’s deception and backstabbing and jiggery pokery dickery backstabbery fuckery uppery afoot throughout the whole thing and WHO FUCKING KNOWS WHAT’S GOING ON BECAUSE ONE MINUTE EVERYTHING’S ALRIGHT AND THE NEXT MINUTE THE WHOLE WORLD’S GONE TO SHIT.
To be truly honest, the plot is thin, convoluted and badly translated so it’s difficult to really know what’s going on and what you’re doing anything for… and that is actually the game’s major flaw that stops it from being the good game it actually is. That and the fact the game lasts all of about an afternoon if you’re willing to put in some effort. But that’s besides the point.
Actually it’s totally the point, but let’s come back to it. I need to be nice to this game first before I rip it into pieces.
So this unscrupulously helpful ‘gentleman’ is your guide through the majority of the game and he tells you everything you need to know. He calls himself the Master and he is your helpful tutorial and introduction to the game. He has a moderately imposing and evil presence, purely on his looks – which is actually quite judgemental of me but… well… come on, look at the fucker – and his dialogue is a mixture of “oh yeah, by the way, things can kill you” and “don’t test you, you bastard, I made you.” Creepy as you like, but unfortunately his dialogue isn’t particularly good due to poor translation.
And the fact that the story is utter bobbins. Which cripples the game-
“YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO BE NICE TO THIS GAME FIRST!”
Let’s avoid the crap story for now.
So the idea of the game revolves around finding and creating weapons and destroying or catching everything in your way to do it. The main crux of the game focuses around your ability with the ‘catcher’ weapon that you’re given that absorbs and carries beasts’ souls inside of it when you defeat them. You can use a range of other weaponry to weaken them first before trying to catch them, as the catcher bullets aren’t exactly powerful and the more you use it, the lower the power meter gets and eventually, you can’t use it until it refills so it prevents you getting a bit too trigger happy. On the other side, every weapon you can create – yes, I’m getting to that, hold your horses – also has the same power meter so the same applies to them.
Now you could just go through each of the levels blowing everything to bits like you’re Al Pacino in Scarface but then you won’t harvest any of the souls from any of the creatures you defeat. You’ll just outright kill them. However, if you leave the screen, they will respawn so you tend to use this as a way of working out the most efficient way of trying to defeat each of the enemies. If shooting them with your main weapon kills them outright, you’re going to need to use the catcher to get their filthy, monstrous souls. If you have to shoot them about nine times before you can catch them, you’d better hope it’s worth it because goodness alone knows some of the enemies are really NOT worth catching.
Part of the process of levelling up your weapon is to feed it the souls of your enemies in order to evolve it. Some weapons can evolve into more than one type – and they each have their pros and cons so you’ll be doing a lot of jiggery pokery checkery uppery dancery hickery dickery dockery – don’t ask me why I said that, I don’t know. I just don’t.
In order to create weapons, you collect Oum seeds which can be turned into all different types of weapons, provided you have the weapon seeds too. You’ve got your standard gun seed as well as a a claw-style weapon and a crawler/tentacle weapon that you can set off. Each provides a different feel and can be evolved into a selection of different weapons – for the most part. There is also a dummy weapon, which sends a carbon copy of you out into the stage to act as a decoy or even attack other monsters. This doesn’t come until MUCH later and it can seem a bit useless at times but when used in the right way, it actually works nicely as a way of just barnstorming through waves of random enemies.
The crawler weapon is my own personal favourite, just because you essentially let it rip on the ground and it goes off in a straight line. Evolve it enough and you can turn it into a little amorphous blob that you can set like a bomb. I’m never too keen on this because it doesn’t QUITE work like it should do but it IS incredibly powerful, in much the same way as the attack dummy weapon cuts through swathes of enemies, this one blows them all the fuck up if they just happen to get in the way.
And it’s fun to watch too.
Levelling up weapons comes from evolving them as well as from feeding them. And as you feed your gun – one of the most bizarre sentences I think I’ve ever written – you can give it certain attributes such as fire, water and lightning. Depending on what you feed it last, you can give it this attribute until you attempt to feed it again with something else. As such, this adds a lot more variety to the game and the way it plays because fire is harsher on water enemies and vice versa, while lightning just… doesn’t really figure into this one. Which might be the missed opportunity it seems to be. Although maybe there is more of a rock paper scissors vibe to it than I’m making it out to be but for the most part, water and fire hurt each other and lightning is just there for the ride. MEH.
Weapons aside, the basic core gameplay is quite simple. It’s mostly a case of listening to the Master, doing what he tells you, wandering around a lot, finding some keys and then listening to the townspeople, who are surprisingly enough ALIVE in this scenario. Outside the world has sorta gone to ruins and yet here YOU are, townsperson. Still alive and kicking. Because clearly you are surviving. How are you getting your food? Where is your wife? What’s the plot of the game, while you’re at it? Can you find that bit for me please?
And yes. Here we are. The plot. The convoluted, thin-as-you-like, what-the-fuck-is-happening plot is quite simply a load of absolute shite.
And that is BEING NICE.
It is an absolute shame that such a nifty little title, which is basically like a pre-cursor to what Dark Souls ends up being, makes little to no sense because the story is told so abominably poorly and with so little fanfare that it’s utterly unfair to the game to have it be pulled down so badly by it. It actually cheapens the experience because as you traverse towns and caves and whatnot, you are left with this nagging feeling in the back of your mind that says:
“What’s the point to this again?”
And there really is no other way of finding out what the point of it is…
The problem with that is that there IS a plot to be seen here and a plot that seems like it could be REALLY good but it feels tacked on… and in a game that is TRYING to follow a story and NEEDS a story to work, that is pretty much unacceptable. There’s no feeling to what’s being told to you and you, the player, really have no idea as to what you’re doing there or whatever. The whole silent protagonist thing does NOT under any circumstances work in this situation because your character IS the story. The fact that they don’t seem to have any idea as to what’s going on or whatever – much like you AHAHAHAHAHAHA – is detrimental. Everything is told through conjecture and gossip almost. It’s like “this person is lying to you but I might be too… my first is in yellow but not in canoe, what am I?” ridiculousness. So we’ve got no idea. You’ve got no idea. The whole story just doesn’t work anywhere near as well as it should do.
Which is a real shame because Dark Arms 2016 is actually pretty fun. It’s repetitive and grindy, in much the same way as a lot of these RPG-style titles are, but it has got some charm behind it too. The graphics a neat, moody and evocative of the style of game it is and even better, there are day and night graphics as well. And going somewhere in the day will yield different results and finds than you would get if you go somewhere at night, which opens up the game a little bit more. Sometimes, in order to get to the next part of the game, you have to go during either the night or the day but a lot of that can get boring very quickly when it feels like a case of trial and error because of the ATROCIOUS STORYTELLING.
FUCK YOUR AWFUL STORYING, YOU BASTARD GAME. WHERE AM I GOING? WHO AM I KILLING? WHICH ONE OF YOU CAN I EVEN TRUST? WHY AM I IN HELL ANYWAY?
And as such, Dark Arms 199X falls short on so many BIG levels that it cannot be a Let’s Talk About. Instead, it HAS to be a Let’s…Sorta…Talk About purely for those reasons.The stroy just doesn’t do ANYTHING to keep you engaged and you feel as though for the sake of completion, you’re DRAGGING yourself through it and let’s be honest, those types of games are never fun to play.
Now I’m off to find the talk about people behind their back and then tell other people to their face that they shouldn’t trust anyone.
Well if this game teaches you anything, it’s never to trust anyone and probably never to speak.
And don’t get yourself bound to a contract of hell or anything.
Come on guys.
Don’t be an idiot.
You’ve seen what happens.
Don’t be THAT guy.