Preview | Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark

From a team of developers with at least three decades in the industry between them, we see the first glimpses of their long-planned roleplaying game. Intended to amalgamate modern design and classic mechanics, just how enticing is this brief look at Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark?

Rather than creating your own character, Fell Seal sees you take control of Kyrie (the main protagonist) and her fellow Arbiters — mortal agents of an immortal peace-keeping council. Alongside allies that follow in the wake of the story, you are also able to recruit and customise your own characters, from their appearance to their classes and sub-classes.

Their story begins in what must be a somewhat innocuous manner for members of law enforcement, as they witness a murder and step in to apprehend the criminal. But as they escort him to prison, they come across tales that the inner ranks of the Arbiters are rife with corruption. It is along this vein that the title promises to follow upon full release next year.

Because nothing good ever happens in alleyways.
Because nothing good ever happens in alleyways.

The illustration does a very good job of setting the scene, managing to be clear, detailed and atmospheric all at once, with a fitting musical score to suit. The ‘fine art’ character portraits seem a little out of place with the more cartoonish nature of the rest of the art, but it’s only a little bit odd and is probably something one gets used to given time. Main characters seem to have portraits chosen from the generic selection at the moment, but the fact that Kyrie’s concept art looks completely different to her portrait in the demo suggests that these may be overhauled for the release version (a developer comment on their gameplay trailer supports this theory).

Before combat and whilst travelling, you have several options to prepare. Each town (presumably) that you visit in your travels contains a guild and shop. The guild is where you recruit new members, who will either begin as mercenaries or wizards and have basic starting equipment. The shop allows you to buy new equipment for them and has a ‘fitting room’ where you can compare items to their current equipment before purchasing. At the moment the shop in the first town only stocks basic equipment, so there isn’t much point buying anything — it’s safe to assume more items will be forthcoming in the release version, especially considering the sheer number teased in the trailer.

The guild is also where you can customise your recruited characters’ appearances, with a range of outfits, hats, faces, hairs and colours. Again, these options are limited in the demo but the trailer showcases an impressive variety to look forward to. You can choose one of several portraits to represent them.

The guild must need a warehouse for their wardrobe.
The guild must need a warehouse for their wardrobe.

Further preparation takes place at the start of combat, where you can modify the equipment and skills of your characters. Each character can have a class and sub-class from up to twenty options and can choose a set of skills from a list for each class. Menders, for example, can choose the Holy Magic skillset, which lets them heal other characters. More abilities in the form of a skill tree can be unlocked as characters level up. This all promises a great deal of customisation of each individual unit.

The interface feels a little bit clunky at the moment, with some areas of the menus feeling unresponsive or difficult to click on, especially in the shopping screen, but is at least easy to read. It would be nice to see some visual indication of what type of armour each class can wear within the shopping interface, but items seem to be restricted in the fitting room, so this isn’t a big issue.

Combat begins with a deployment phase, in which you can place characters on the field (split into squares) and change equipment and skills, with an upper limit to how many allies you can place on the field. The keybindings for navigating the menus seem a little odd at the moment, but they can all be selected with the mouse if that feels more natural.

This is Virgil, who has mending as a sub-class. Turns out he could save others, but not himself.
This is Virgil, who has mending as a sub-class. Turns out he could save others, but not himself.

When combat begins proper, items used in previous battles are refilled, a turn order appears at the top of the screen and each character, on their turn, will be able to take a movement and action. These turns can be done in any order, with the distance a character can move in one turn being based on their speed score and the terrain. It’s unclear whether flanking bonuses exist (it may instead be based on the direction the character is facing), but movement can be used for tactical reasons such as blocking doors from reinforcements.

In the action turn, any other action can be taken, from using an item to casting a spell. Even with the limited classes available in the demo, there is a nice range of abilities to choose from, with the high-damage, area-of-effect spells of the elementalist skillset complementing the healing abilities of menders. It is a little disappointing that Forceful Strike (an attack which pushes an opponent back) can’t be used to knock over obstacles like the flaming barrel in the opening level, but the fact that its effects vary depending on the terrain (damaging the person behind or sending the target into a river) is commendable.

Attacks cannot be aimed diagonally, which some may find disappointing, but the application of this rule is consistent, at least. When non-essential enemies are knocked out, they disappear from view, but your allies and essential enemies only take a knee, allowing you to revive them with a spell or item. If it’s the main enemy who is knocked out, there’s a chance the battle ends there and the story continues. That said, story dialogue continues throughout combat, successfully integrating the two portions of gameplay.

It pays to remember that you can’t attack diagonally, or you’ll move into the wrong position and waste the action you intended.
It pays to remember that you can’t attack diagonally, or you’ll move into the wrong position and waste the action you intended.

While there may not be much in the demo, Fell Seal looks like a solid title with the foundation of an interesting story and great tactical gameplay. Keep an eye out for its release next year and the public demo on the twenty-third, as its breadth of advertised content looks set to make it a superb game. Further information can be found on the studio’s website.

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