A great airship flies above the world, devastated by the Great Flood. Aboard the Arc Symphony, Satoshi Davis of the King’s Guard embarks on an adventure that turns his life upside down. Arc Symphony is a legendary PS1 JRPG by Aether Interactive, standing among the likes of Final Fantasy and Chrono Cross.
But that is not the game you get to play. Instead, you’re playing through the experiences of the game’s early online fandom.
Arc Symphony, by Aether Interactive, is a Twine game revolving around a Usenet group for fans of the in-universe Arc Symphony. You play as a returning poster after a period of inactivity to hang out again with your fellow fans (or Archeads, apparently).
You click on topics, read through the messages and add your own replies. You only get two options for replies: a courteous one and a Something Awful comment, with another reply based on what you’ve sent. More posts crop up as you read on, digging you deeper into this world.
If you played Hypnospace Outlaw early this year and liked its setting and framing, you’ll probably like Arc Symphony in that it’s also a capsule of the early internet – particularly an early form of game forums, in this case. Posters debate on characters and ask questions about the game. There’s fanfiction surrounding the game and hype building up for a sequel. Characters discuss the meanings of their handles all while having each post end in a signature. You get a sense of familiarity between the characters, reflecting the experience of being a newcomer to a community that’s already grown close. It’s all very familiar to me despite being an earlier form of my experiences, though there’s certainly less slurs thrown around.
Arc Symphony also addresses a general, more intimate trait of the internet in how it can provide anonymity to people trying to explore their identities. I didn’t go through this myself during my days of browsing through forums – and god, I’m glad I didn’t because looking back, the people I knew back then would have burned me alive. But I know and seen many people that have explored themselves on the internet and settled into new identities that fit them, so it’s a very worthwhile topic for this game to tackle.
At the very end, the credits roll, and at the bottom is a link. And clicking on the link made me lose my goddamn mind.
As one last gift, you can explore a fan site that the moderators put together. It brought me back to my days in middle school of looking up old RPGs and finding these sites. Folks? Have you ever been on those RPGClassics sites for stuff like Paper Mario? This has the exact same energy to me. There’s even dead links to LiveJournal pages in here. All it really needs is a fake, super condensed walkthrough for Arc Symphony and it’s truly complete.
Arc Symphony is a very short time that successfully captures early online game fandom. It’s a nostalgia trip for, not a game, but the experiences of being in a community surrounding a game. Even though I was not around for Usenet, the experiences on display are universal for anyone that’s grown up on the internet.