The Arcana: A Mystic Romance is a mobile game in the popular “otome” style, in which the player chooses to romance one of several options as they progress through a story. In The Arcana, the player is the Apprentice, a faceless, genderless character which makes it easier to project yourself onto them. Depending on who you choose to romance, you see the story through a different perspective each time — the main plot being that three years ago a plague nearly wiped out the city of Vesuvia, and now it may be coming back. Unfortunately, both the Apprentice and all the love interests are missing years of memories from that time, so they have no idea how the plague was stopped in the first place and who (or what) may be behind it.

The art for The Arcana can only be described as lush, and is what first attracted me to the game. Each character sprite has several clothes and faces displaying emotions which are switched out across static backgrounds, all while the enchanting, royalty-free music of Kevin Macleod plays in the background. The art has inspired numerous fan works, and the music has several ambiance videos in devotion to it which have sprung up on YouTube. Dana Rune was kind enough to share the art brush she used for the digital art to create The Arcana, so with a bit of digging you can create homages in the same style. It’s even inspired me to begin to try my hand at art!

There are six romance options to choose from, each one going through twelve books (in keeping with the major arcana) with three chapters in each book. All of the romance options are bisexual, so players don’t need to fear being locked out of their favorite choice or forced into a situation that gives them dysmorphia. The romance options include Asra (the mysterious magician teaching the Apprentice in-between frequently disappearing); Nadia (the countess of Vesuvia who has been in a magical coma for three years and experiences visions); Julian (a flamboyant, masochist doctor who can take a patient’s wounds into himself and not die from them); Muriel (a hulking isolationist who was once the most feared gladiator in Vesuvia); Portia (the spritely head maid of Countess Nadia and secret sister of Julian); and Lucio (the former Count of Vesuvia who was killed in his bed on his birthday … but plans to make a comeback!). The game is marketed as PG-13, but all of the characters have some saucy scenes without becoming outright explicit … though these are usually hidden behind a paid option. While you don’t need to spend coins to complete the game, it is recommended if you want to get intimate with your chosen partner.

Luckily, I found my favorite character immediately (I have a thing for sassy redheads). Right away, I fell in love with Julian and his over-the-top antics disguising a desperate need to be loved and to keep those around him safe by shouldering all the burdens. As I played through his story (teased out as you only receive 3 keys per day to unlock chapters unless you pay more), I discovered that depending upon the choice you made you could either get an “upright” ending or a ”reversed” ending. I highly recommend playing through your favorite character just going based on your gut feeling, then playing it again with a strategy guide to see the other side of the story. Luckily, once you unlock a paid scene, it stays unlocked … but if you want to permanently be able to read the books at your own pace, you have to spend additional money for keys. Buying the keys are, in my opinion, unnecessary … especially given recent developments.

Originally created by Nix Hydra and funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the company almost immediately ran into some issues with trying to fulfill backer rewards in a timely manner. In some instances, it was reported that it took up to two years to receive the promised rewards. The game itself has proven to be incredibly expensive, with each book having three chapters that each contain a special paid scene which can only be bought with roughly 200 coins. With the lowest coin purchase being 150 coins for $1.99 (plus tax), playing through the entirety of every character would cost a player about $573.12 (plus tax). While there is a way to acquire coins by logging in daily and spinning a “wheel of fortune”, this only gains a person between about 10 and 40 coins each day (assuming you don’t land on a trinket instead of a coin payout). These mechanics were only introduced after much fan dissatisfaction with the payment model, and even then did little to quell the disappointment. After all, as many pointed out, a fully developed game through PlayStation might cost them $60, with possibly another $40 in downloadable content. To fully play The Arcana and all its extended stories, however, you could expect to pay close to $1000.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nix Hydra began to experience financial troubles and began laying off employees. They made the decision to auction off The Arcana, and it was bought by Dorian Games. Dorian, for its part, decided to keep the original app up and running, which meant players could continue to play the mini game Heart Hunter and receive tarot readings from the characters every few days. They even brought on some of the former Nix Hydra staff members, although this didn’t last long. With the departure of Alex, a community manager, in early November, the last Nix Hydra member has left the Dorian team. The artist known for creating the distinct look of The Arcana, Dana Rune, had left earlier, sometime in 2021, after fan outrage that she was involved in a fanzine for Fire Emblem. Though the characters Corrin, Ryoma, and Xander are not related, some fans felt that the way in which they were raised created a sibling bond between them. Because of this, when Rune depicted them in romantic scenarios, they accused her of promoting incest and a culture of abuse.

Though The Arcana has not had a new release in over a year, Dorian Games has recently made the controversial announcement that all six characters will have new content released on November 16th, 2022 … but not on the original Arcana app. Instead, Dorian plans to follow its business model by releasing the current and new content on its own app, and making all the game’s assets available to its users in order for them to create additional fan content with them. In order to accomplish this, it has brought on an artist that previously worked for Nix Hydra, but on a different game (which Dorian has also acquired the rights to). It has already begun loading The Arcana onto its app, but sadly, there does not currently seem to be a way or a plan to include the mini game Heart Hunter or the tarot option. For this reason, I would suggest downloading both Dorian and the original Arcana app, in order to enjoy new content and the game as it was originally intended (and for the very, very cute mini dialogues in Heart Hunter).

For those unfamiliar with Dorian Games, it is a company that positions itself, not as a creator of content, but as a platform for its users to create their own novel-like games. Recently, this has included making assets from the hit new series Interview with the Vampire available to its users, who may build and host the game on the app using Dorian’s coding. Creators are entitled to half of all profits they make from their games (you can buy Hearts to spend on paid content in games), minus any percentage cuts artists may ask for to have their art used in the game. In order to cash out, creators must earn at least $100 from their game. According to an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit by Alex upon his departure, Dorian Games intends to also release more Arcana merchandise, including a plush toy of Faust (Asra’s snake familiar) and the much-beloved tarot deck that features The Arcana art, based on the deck in the game which Asra created.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have one last bit of bonus content to unlock in Heart Hunters …and I only need to collect 88 more trinkets through a once-daily spin to do so. I’m afraid I may be addicted to this game.

[Reviewed by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]

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