The last thing I need right now is another game. I know this, but I also know full well that I’ll always, always make time for dating sims. I was pulled into this one by a couple of people from one of my D&D groups and was pleasantly surprised to discover that while I’m certainly easily swayed into trying dating sims by people simply saying that they’re good, this game is good. Very good. Follow me below the cut for a tale of murder, magic, intrigue, and most importantly, the Arcana.
Brought to life by the folks at Nix Hydra Games Inc. after a successful Kickstarter campaign back in November, The Arcana throws the player into a world of beauty and magic that’s just a little bit unsettling at all times. You play as the Apprentice (who you give a name eventually), an apprentice to the distant seeming Asra. The story starts with Asra leaving on yet another one of his journeys that he doesn’t tell you anything about. You’re used to this, but on the night of his departure you’re sought out by someone you would never expect: the countess Nadia. Though she harbors no love for “magicians,” she seeks out your council on a plan she wishes to enact, going far enough to invite you to stay at the castle as she puts the final pieces in place. When you arrive the next day, you’re quickly thrown into a plot of revenge and a twisting mystery of murder and potential corruption. Throw in a good old fashioned castle haunting on the side and a blooming romance with one of the eligible interests, and it’s a wonder that the Apprentice can get anything done!
As opposed to Mystic Messenger, another mobile dating sim that I adored, The Arcana allows players to go through the story at their own pace. There are no limited time story events, and you don’t have to play the whole way through at once if you don’t want to. What Nix Hydra seems to be playing with instead is various methods of interactive gameplay in the visual novel medium. For now, as far as the story goes there is one quick time event where you have a set amount of time to come to a decision. While I’m not usually a fan of quick time events, I think this one works extremely well because it adds to the sense of urgency and fear in the scene while also giving the player enough time to read through the options and quickly pick one–I felt prodded to action, but not to one that I made out of personal desperation for fear of running out of time. As long as Nix Hydra continues to use these sparingly, I look forward to jumping to action.
Outside of the narrative, the game also offers a wheel of goodies the player can spin to earn gold or various items called “trinkets” that unlock a special scene when collected. Each spin takes 20 gold, of which you start with 150. While this may seem like an ill-fitting cash grab given that you can’t earn gold just by playing, I never once felt that not having gold impacted my experience. Gold is used to unlock special story options in-game, but according Nix Hydra, these options are just for flavor and don’t give players extra secret love points or anything like that. Not to mention that players get a free spin of the wheel every 24 hours–more than fair considering you don’t even have to pay to play the game.
Still, no one plays visual novels/dating sims for the gameplay mechanics (unless said mechanics are really unique); they play for the story, and the story is fantastic. Not only is The Arcana’s world explored with a slow trickle of worldbuilding that pulls you in for the long haul, but it’s also wonderfully diverse (or as diverse as having six characters with character portraits can be). Only one of the three currently available love interests is white, none of them are straight, and much like Hustle Cat, you, the player, get to choose your own pronouns.
Currently The Arcana is up to its fifth chapter–if they’re following the arcana theme, then that would be the fifth chapter out of twenty two–with a hopeful tweet that the next installment will come sometime within the week (or it may already be out by the time this post goes up)! For me, reaching the current stopping point only took me a couple hours, so don’t worry about this being a major timesink, either. If this sounds up your alley, check it out on your android or iOS device! Or if you’re like me with a phone that can’t do apps, check it out on an emulator near you! And make sure to keep up to date on what Nix Hydra has planned on their Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram!