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Review: Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark will scratch that tactical RPG itch quite well

Can this compete with the titans that are Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem?

fell seal arbiters mark gameplay
Image: Jacob Vander Ende / KnowTechie

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I’m a big Final Fantasy Tactics fan. I love Fire Emblem. When I heard about Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark, I knew I had to see if could measure up to the genre titans. Here’s how it went.

Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark starts off simply enough. You’re immersed in a fantasy world where a Great War was won long ago by a group of heroes that earned immortality for their trouble. You follow Kyrie, an Arbiter who acts like a deputy for the Immortals, doling out justice across the land. It feels like any fantasy game, really.

The first encounter is against a noble, Alphonse, who murders a commoner right in front of you

fell seal arbiters mark gameplay

Image: Jacob Vander Ende / KnowTechie

The story spirals out from there: One of the Immortals is about to retire and pass on their power to a new candidate, Alphonse is somehow involved with corruption on the council, and there is rot within the orders of Arbiters. As far as I got, I didn’t see anything earth-shattering, but it was engaging enough to be worth continuing. I’m invested in knowing what happens next.

Mechanically, anyone who’s played a tactical RPG knows exactly what to expect from Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark. Everything is turn-based, with one unit acting at a time, and all movement and combat happens on a grid. Units have facings, so an attack from the front is not the same as an attack from the side or back, and there are a million and one classes, ability trees, and ways to customize your forces.

All of this felt pretty vanilla at first, to me, at first – Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark seemed to just be another tactical RPG

fell seal arbiters mark gameplay

Image: Jacob Vander Ende / KnowTechie

I never really warmed up to the art style – which I don’t have strong feelings about one way or another – and the characters are whatever. I kept thinking, “This game is maybe a 6 or 7, I dunno.”

That changed, however, the more I played. “Just one more battle before I review this one,” I told myself, over and over again. Then I’d level up a class that a new silhouette of an unknown class would pop up and I’d start making new plans for character training.

Do I want this character to be a Scoundrel who then learns some magic abilities or should I specialize just far enough to unlock the ranged classes? That class uses guns, so do I need one of those? Maybe my mage should learn healing and support magic, but I don’t know, that offensive class looks super powerful. Oh, I definitely need a magic-knight hybrid, but wait this path could be tankier and more defensive and and and – you get the idea.

See, the ability system is extremely similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, one of my favorite games of all time

fell seal arbiters mark gameplay

Image: Jacob Vander Ende / KnowTechie

Whatever class you have assigned for a character gives that character the active skills and passive skills from that class (e.g. the Wizard gets Elementalism for damage-dealing spells, Smart Casting so those spells only hit enemies even when allies are in the blast radius, and Boon which grants a guaranteed critical hit after dealing a finishing blow).

Beyond that, you can assign one more active category from another class, two passives from any classes, and a counterattack from any class. As a result, you’ll find yourself looking into every class thinking, “If I could that ability and pair it with that ability, that might be super strong. Hmm, I wonder how long I can level this class before I can do such and such.” It’s an excellent feedback loop and I haven’t seen anything this fully fleshed-out in a long, long time.

At this point, I can wholeheartedly recommend Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark to anyone who loves tactical RPGs

fell seal arbiters mark gameplay

Image: Jacob Vander Ende / KnowTechie

It lacks the budget of the AAA giants, but what it does offer, it accomplishes very well. The hooks it gets into you are insidiously good and if you’re like me you’ll find yourself spending just as much time in battle as you spend between battles planning your next foray into adventure.

There’s a lot to chew on here and it’s all well-balanced and engaging, which is way more of a make-or-break point in strategy games for me than art style, story quality, or any other presentation characteristics.

fell seal arbiters mark gameplay

Image: Jacob Vander Ende / KnowTechie

I think my only straightforward complaint is that on the Nintendo Switch version, where this was reviewed, you can’t navigate the battlefield with the analog stick: you’re stuck using the d-pad, which is awkward for its own hardware reasons, and made doubly challenging by being shifted 45-degrees to map onto the isometric field.

Overall, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is a rock-solid tactical RPG. The story and art aren’t life-changing, but the guts of this game are extremely well done and it’s easily worth your time if you’re a genre fan.

Jake reviewed Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark on Nintendo Switch with a review code from the developers. It is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Mac, and Linux. 

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Jake is a writer and game designer in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He loves action, exploration, building, filling bars, and turning numbers into bigger numbers. Someday he'll release a video game.

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