Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits


Review by Greg Wilcox

Sony/Cattle Call


Graphics: 8

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8

Featuring a deep storyline filled with plot twists galore, excellent fantasy environments, and a great combat system, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits is yet another solid RPG for fans of the genre. Sony’s latest entry in what’s been a great few years of quality RPGs for its systems will draw you in right away and keep you guessing all the way through. While you don’t need to have played the previous games in the series to enjoy this one, there are so many references to characters and events in those games that you’ll want to track down Working Designs’ great box set just to dive into the back story. Let’s just say hundreds of years have passed, and the world is a very different place.

The two main characters, Kharg and Darc, are connected by fate in a race to collect five Spirit Stones. Each has his motivation for wanting them, but as you play through the game, you’ll see that they’re both flawed in their reasoning. There’s a load of inner conflict to go with the outer here, and the game touches on subjects like racism, rampant militarism and even environmental issues. No doubt, the fine folks at Cattle call want you to take a look at your own world as well as the one they’ve created. If you spend time exploring and leveling up, there are about 30-35 hours of gameplay here, but if you’re looking for everything and want to access a few hidden (and highly useful) characters, add about 10 or more hours of leveling up and fighting in some tough arena battles.

Speaking of battles, the combat system here is fantastic, and doesn’t rely on dexterity gimmicks, making the game accessible gamers of any skill level. Where previous Arc games were more strategic affairs, here, you and the enemy have a bit more freedom of movement, based on the speed of the party members. Unlike most RPGs, the whole party doesn’t automatically receive experience points after a fight; each party member has to earn his or her keep by fighting or healing, and you level up during fights. So you can’t ignore using a character like Camilla just because she’s slow and you don’t like the way she looks. Magic and Special Skills usage is controlled by using Spirit Stones bought in shops or found by defeating enemies, and you’ll also need to earn Spell Points to learn new skills.  I can see some gamers complaining, but it does make you less likely to toss off high level spells or skills wastefully. Another great touch is that there are no battles that will catch you unprepared. Before a fight you’re given the chance to equip, learn new skills if you have enough SP, and heal. You can also swap out party members with others most of the time, or you can send one or more of your team into battle against tougher foes on the field to level them up quicker.

When you play a lot of RPGs, one thing that you definitely come to appreciate is the attention to detail that each developer puts into creating their virtual worlds. TOS scores high with some lush and imaginative locations to run about in and some really wild Deimos designs. Forests and plains have waving grass and some great looking water effects and you can practically feel the wind blowing through the trees. Darc’s surrogate “mother”, Geedo, lives in a wild-looking shack with a stormy sky outside, and the first Deimos town you’ll see is a converted railway station. There are many other great sets and each one, whether human or Deimos is loaded with character, like the desert town with an endless stream of dead lining up for water.  As for those characters, the human designs are OK, but when you see Bebedora and Camila for the first time, use the Pyron’s attack or uncover the hidden characters, you’ll appreciate the time and effort it took to make TOS. I ended up with 14 characters as party members throughout the game; the back of the case says that there are “over 14”, so I’ll be replaying to see who I missed. There is a nice bonus for saving after the credits and loading a new game from that file, so I’m on my second play now.

The dungeons here are nice mixtures of exploration and very minor puzzle elements. There’s nothing here that will twist your brain, mostly pull a switch and see what happens.  A few of you will probably only get lost in the last area, but it’s not too impossible to navigate. Be prepared to fight and heal a whole lot if you’ve a poor sense of direction. The in-game movies run off the game engine, and there’s some excellent use of depth of field throughout. The game camera is nearly flawless as you make your way throughout the assorted towns and villages.  I had recently finished two other RPGs with clumsily implemented user-rotated cameras, so TOS spoiled me with its locked down goodness. There are one or two areas in the game where things are tucked away, but you’re not supposed to find these items unless you’re really thorough.  

There was also a certain nostalgic charm to be found here, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until near the middle of the game. Maybe I read too many comics in the past, but some the game’s visual style, character names, and cinemas reminded me of some of Jack Kirby’s work. I can see a dash of New Gods here, some Kamandi, and a bit of earlier Silver Age stuff with Stan Lee’s scripting. The game is played in chapters alternating between Kharg and Darc, each chapter ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, and there’s a big team up near the end where party members are mixed with those that they hate, and then a reunion for the final battle. Sure, that sounds like a lot of other RPGs, but the character art and 3D models with their squared off fingers made me dig up some old comics and smile a bit.

TOS has a nice selection of tunes, and while it’s hard to pin down which area had the best music, the soundtrack does a nice job of capturing the mood of wherever you happen to be.  As usual, there’s voice acting here that ranges from great to excruciating, depending on your tolerance level. While you can’t skip the cinemas, the battle scenes thankfully give you the option to switch the voices off. You’ll want to listen to them at least once or twice when you get a new party member, but if it’s a long fight be prepared for a lot of repeated phrases. Strangely enough, while the battle scenes have some wonderful animation for all the characters and enemies, some animation in the movies and in game movements look a bit weird. The oddball semaphore that characters do during conversations is a bit jarring, but I’ll have to defend it a bit by guessing that maybe in that particular future, people communicate in this fashion. Note to Cattle Call, though: next time, have your artists act out the scenes, it’ll help in the animation. Still, these are small complaints, as the overall experience I had with the game was great.

Overall, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits is the perfect summer RPG, and one that’ll leave you hoping there’s room for more games in the series. There are a lot of aspects touched on that could be the basis for games that take place both before and after events here, such as Nafia’s past or Kharg’s future. With any luck, we’ll get to see more of these characters, and soon.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:15 PM