Arcax Review | RPGFan
When I first read about the turn-based VR RPG Araxes, I was skeptical. I love turn-based RPGs and VR, but they seem like two things that shouldn’t go together at first blush. I like VR games for how immersive they can be, and action games go hand in hand with that. I want to move my body, not choose actions from menus! Why use such an action-oriented medium for a traditionally slow fighting style?
Luckily, Araxes manages to create a combat system that satisfies my taste for turn-based combat while also taking advantage of the VR medium. On your turn, you’ll physically move to hack and slash, fire weapons, and hurl Hax (basically Arcaxers spells) on monsters. Unlike in most turn-based games, enemies move around, so you have to aim to hit them. When your turn ends, you must physically move out of the way to avoid enemy attacks.
This simple combat system, supported by a variety of Hax, manages to stay interesting throughout the game. Smart enemy design also ensures that you never fall into the boring pattern of using the same attacks all the time. Flying enemies force you to stop using melee attacks, while fast, grounded enemies are much easier to hit with your sword than with a Hax. Enemies also all come with their own unique attack patterns, so you’ll need to be quick on your feet to avoid taking damage.
Avoiding damage is important, as the game revolves around climbing a massive dungeon. Each floor is randomly generated and healing tools are limited. You can get some potions and there is a healing Hax that can only be used in battle. As a result, dungeons play like a war of attrition. Random battles are unlikely to kill you, but many of them in a row can destroy your health over time, leaving you weak before a boss fight.
Boss fights are the hardest fights in the game. Bosses usually have several unique attacks, all of which last several seconds and can be difficult to avoid. Towards the end of the fight, the boss often uses several attacks at once, and you have to quickly shift and contort your body to avoid them all.
My strategy throughout the game was to stock up on health potions and try to get to each boss with as much health as possible so I could afford a few mistakes while learning their attack patterns. Some bosses can be very difficult to defeat, but you can always spend some time grinding if you have trouble with an attack pattern, although this is never necessary if you become an expert at dodging attacks.
All this struggle is in the name of climbing the Stack, a giant tower full of monsters called Toxins. Araxes takes place in a virtual world called Simen, which is occupied entirely by AI. The AI inhabitants of Simen behave like typical humans, but are defenseless against the toxins. Poisons are the only creatures in the sim that can use Hax – that is, until you arrive. As the only AI that can use Hax, it’s your job to defeat the Toxins and discover what’s on top of the stack.
This simple plot hook drives most of the game. Throughout the ascent of the stack you will encounter helpful NPCs and antagonistic ones. The NPCs give you your first taste of Arcaxer’s writing. Everyone is crazy, often making jokes and making sarcastic comments. While I didn’t find the story gripping, most of the NPCs were funny enough that I wanted to keep playing just to see what they might say next. My favorite character was an early game NPC named Sydney. Sydney is a scientist who helps you set up your Hax and introduces you to The Hub, the city you’ll spend time in between trips to the Stack.
The hub gives you all the essentials that gamers have come to expect from RPGs. You can buy items, talk to NPCs, or train to increase your stats. You can even ride a hoverboard. The training mini-games include simple tasks like punching a punching bag to increase your strength. If you really wanted to, you could grind these minigames for a long time and power through the stack. I found the mini-games boring after a few plays, and it wasn’t necessary to spend a lot of time on them to succeed in the game’s dungeons.
The hub is also where players are properly introduced to Arcaxers comedy. Sometimes, Araxes is like playing a fever dream. One moment you’re walking through town, talking to voiceless NPCs, and the next you’re walking into a store where a grocer shouts in full voice, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
Arcaxers crazy sense of humor continues in Stacken. Pictures of the doge meme are plastered all over the walls, and you can go from fighting typical enemies like imps to unusual opponents like rubber clowns that bounce around when you hit them. My favorite joke in the game is a Hax whose only function is to turn the target blue. You only get four Hax slots, so there’s a special mix of frustration and humor when you realize you’ve traded a useful Hax for something that just palette swaps an enemy.
The wacky enemies can make the dungeons feel like they lack an aesthetic or a theme, but the simulation setting makes random enemies and internet memes feel less out of place than they otherwise would. The game also often breaks the fourth wall to remind you that you are in a simulation.
Although the enemy variety is a strong point of the game, exploring the dungeons can be tedious. Each floor is randomly generated, but there are no particularly interesting layouts. To begin with, each floor of the stack contains many empty rooms, a few easy-to-avoid traps, and an enemy or two. Later, new traps, environments and puzzles are added, but exploration never felt like a strong point Araxes.
In particular, while exploring dungeons, you can play in first-person or third-person with an isometric camera. I expected to play in first person, as in most VR games, but Arcaxers assets just don’t look good up close. Instead I used the isometric camera. Although it feels a little strange to play a VR game with an isometric camera, it works well here.
Arcaxers dungeons are easier to navigate in third person, and assets look better when the camera isn’t close enough to see the details. Still, I appreciate that you can switch perspectives at the touch of a button. I often switched to first person whenever a new character was introduced so I could get a closer look at their appearance. Most character designs are colorful and have some elements that make them stand out. I especially like the main character, who has a giant USB stick attached to his back.
Beyond Arcaxers story, you can explore the stack endlessly by resetting it to randomize the floors. It’s nice that there’s some incentive to play more, but I wish there were more game modes that focused on combat. Combat is by far the best part of the game, and replaying floors without new jokes or plot to break up the exploration can be a chore. Something like a boss rush mode or a mode where you just avoid attacks would have been great. If it picked up over time, it might even work as some light cardio!
At all, Araxes able to do a lot with a little. Although the floors in the Stack can get a little bland, and there aren’t a ton of places and characters, Araxes spices things up with its genuinely fun script and addictive combat. The story provides just enough drive to start your adventure, then gets out of the way and lets the goofy characters and combat carry the rest of the game. Perhaps most importantly, despite being a third-person game with turn-based combat, Araxes succeeds in using the VR medium to add immersion and support its unique gameplay.