Every Friday I want to throw the spotlight on a game. It can be any game, and I’ll write about it, what I like about it, what I don’t like, that sort of thing. I want to do it on Fridays as a wind-down from working all week. So here goes!
This week’s focus is The Arcana.
The Arcana is a visual novel dating sim available on Android and iOS, developed by Nix Hydra. It follows the Apprentice (AKA yourself) as you play through six different routes depending on the suitor you choose. As of writing this, three of those routes are finished, and the others are updated periodically.
I started playing this game around October 2018, during a time when I was playing a lot of dating sims for story inspiration (think Ikemen Sengoku, Blood in Roses, and the like). But this is the only one that I’ve carried on playing.
The Arcana is different from a lot of dating sims for a multitude of reasons:
- Unlike a lot of dating sims, the story blends together seamlessly, so you can find out different details you will definitely have missed if you only played one route.
- There is no neutral ending – there is an Upright and Reversed ending.
- There is a clear-cut antagonist, whereas most of the dating sims sets an antagonist depending on who you romance. Most of the romance-able characters have a common allegiance.
- Coins can be earned every day by watching four advertisements for 15 coins apiece.
- The layout isn’t cluttered at all.
- There is no character designer for your Apprentice (sadly), however you do get a mini-game to compensate.
- There are side-stories that you can read for free, or by collecting trinkets.
- There is no task to halt progression, such as a challenge.
The aesthetic in this game is superb. From the menu going on, there is nothing cluttered about the layout of this game, as opposed to a lot of dating sims that have a lot of things happening at once. The colours of the game, though, are very rich and bright in all the right places, and are muted just when they needed to be. It was like everything was glorified, and rightly so. If the world that you live in is magical, why shouldn’t the colours?
Overall there are 22 central characters that are important to the story, your Apprentice included. However, the routes focus on six unique characters – Asra the magician who you study under, Julian the fugitive doctor, Nadia the countess of Vesuvia, Portia the maid to Nadia, Muriel the hermit and Asra’s childhood friend, and Lucio the count of Vesuvia and Nadia’s ex-husband (who is also dead). Yes, you can literally romance a dead guy.
Even the Major Arcana are characterised, from The Magician to The Devil. They add some lore to the story and as the name of the game suggests, are pretty central to the plot.
Some of the important 22 characters are not entirely major characters, as some are minor characters you glimpse at briefly.
As for your Apprentice, you can set their gender to female, male or non-binary. Their appearance is never disclosed so it’s a self-insert story.
The main point of contention against other dating sims is for this one, you can change which characters you want to romance at any point without losing progress. For example, you can have Asra’s route, or Asra’s and Nadia’s route, or all six at the same time. Each of the routes provides a different telling of the story, but expands in different ways.
Currently, Asra’s, Nadia’s and Julian’s routes are completely told, and we are currently getting regular updates for Muriel’s, Portia’s and Lucio’s routes, with Muriel’s being the next one to come.
Each ‘book’ is named after each of the Major Arcana. Books 1-5 are a collective, where you meet the characters and are introduced to the setting. However, after that, you diverge onto a route (or routes) of your choosing. Certain choices you make will impact whether you get the Upright End or Reversed End. As of right now, I have both endings for Asra, and working towards Julian’s Reversed End. While I haven’t been able to play Nadia’s route yet, I’ll take my chances with what I end up with before I play again for the opposite. Same goes for Muriel, Portia and Lucio.
The soundtrack is comprised of various royalty-free music by various artists such as Kevin Holden and Kevin MacLeod. The songs compliment the atmosphere that you would expect in Vesuvia and beyond. And I will say this now, the soundtrack gets even more ominous when you reached a Reversed End. I’ve left an insert to the soundtrack at the bottom of the post for you all to enjoy!
Essentially, you don’t need to pay a single penny to play. With the abundance of ways to earn coins, all you would need to do is to save up for each book. On that note, you don’t need to spend money to progress the story, and the paid choices often feature some artwork which will be saved to your collection to enjoy later. At this stage, though, buying choices does not make your playthrough less or more likely to get an Upright or Reversed End. However, buying the books also makes the chapters free to read without using a key.
There are ways you can earn coins in-game – 1) Watching the four advertisements for 15 coins each, every day. 2) Getting lucky on the daily spin of the Wheel of Fortune. 3) Finishing a set of postcards or a bonus on Heart Hunter. 4) Selling trinkets once you have unlocked all three side-stories (50 coins for 10 trinkets).
There is something so atmospheric about the game that keeps me hooked to this day. It’s definitely the most…mature dating sim I’ve seen, if that’s a good way of putting it, I suppose. I can’t wait to see what’s next for the game, honestly.