Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits

Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 7/11/2003 for PS2  

Let’s be honest, this summer has been pretty weak so far. Little of note has been released and anything that even remotely resembles blockbuster status turned out to be Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and Enter the Matrix. And we all know how well those two turned out.

Many were looking to Square-Enix’s UNLIMITED Saga as the RPG to pick up this summer. It took no more than five minutes of playing time to realize that that notion had left town long before the game was conceived. RPG gamers were left hungering for more, looking for something that would satiate their desires. As the saying goes, someone’s loss is always someone else’s game and thus, Square-Enix’s loss is Sony’s gain.

Twilight of the Spirits tells the story of a land wrought with conflict and battle. The source of the conflict stems from both the legendary hatred between the Humans and the Deimos and the fact that they’re unwilling to co-exist with each other. Tempers flare when there is a shortage of Spirit Stones, the items required to power objects and utilize magic abilities, and the two sides come to a head. After a short while, a third party is introduced and it forces the Humans and the Deimos to become defenders of their territory instead of the aggressors. From that point on it becomes a matter of survival and although both sides don’t have a clear perception of their true enemy until well into the storyline, there’s plenty of strife and conflict to convey a sense of emotion and empathy.

What makes this game unique is that players will be able to experience the conflict from both vantage points. Twilight is broken up into chapters in which the player alternates control between two brothers who have no knowledge of the other’s existence. As fate would have it, both were begat from a Human mother and a Deimos Father, a love that was far too taboo for anyone in the land to ingest. As the couple tried to escape they became separated and were forced to raise their children without the aid of the other. Fast forward about 18 years and it becomes a tale of two worlds; on one end there is Kharg, the son of royalty and a beloved figure of his homeland. On the other end of the spectrum resides Darc who was scraped off the side of the road by a froglike creature who bore him into a life of slavery. Playing both sides gives you both a unique look at the struggle and a unique look at the varying ways of life. Kharg’s life is filled with upbeat music, great friends and conventional lands while Darc’s world is filled with betrayal, darkness and an overwhelming sense of sadness.

We loved the pacing and the manner in which the storyline unfolded. Just as our interest peaked the storyline would shift to the other side, leaving us anxious to learn about the fate of our protagonists. It may move a little too slow for today’s ADD-infused crowd but to us it reads like a good book. There are enough twists and turns to keep most RPG fans happy and while some facets of the storyline may frustrate you, it’s constructed with just enough care to be compelling and entertaining.
That’s not to say that I’m a huge fan of the character development. Unlike most epic RPGs, the characters in Arc the Lad don’t grow or evolve. Without a shadow of a doubt, this game has some of the stupidest protagonists to ever set foot in a vide game. They just love to be trick, betrayed, double-crossed and turned on. Time and time again they’ll make the wrong choice in the most obvious situations and the problem is, they never learn from their past mistakes. It’s annoying as hell and to be honest, it just serves as an artificial deterrent to help make the game just that much longer. Every time a pivotal moment comes up in the game you’ll cringe because you can almost be guaranteed that your character will make the wrong choice. Seriously, it’s like the RPG equivalent of walking outside of the house in a scary movie, it’s just that frustrating.

To make up for the inane characters Cattle Call developed one of the better combat systems that we’ve seen in an RPG. It’s a great mish-mash of Star Ocean Second Story, Legend of Legaia and Final Fantasy Tactics all rolled up in to one. As opposed to going with the traditional Final Fantasy method of fighting, combat takes place on a large field that’s more akin to Tactics and Front Line. There are spells and special abilities here, but instead of using an infinitely replenishable source such as magic points they require the use of Spirit Stones. These cannot be recovered within the midst of a battle so players must choose wisely when an ability should be used. It should be noted that the combat in the game is a bit too easy and anyone with a bit of RPG knowledge should have no trouble blazing their way through the battles.

Ever since the release of the Getaway Sony has shown us some incredible things with its motion capture talents. In Arc the Lad each character looks different, acts differently and behaves differently. This makes interaction between various characters feel different from one another and adds another layer of depth to the game. Even the NPCs run differently from one another; some running with their hands in full swing while others running with a more conservative hands-to-the-side stance. It’s a joy to see that Sony took its time with the motion capture to ensure that everyone didn’t look like carbon copies of one another.

Make no mistake about it, the characters are the highlight of this visual package. There are some neat environments here and there but they have an unusually empty feel to them. Areas such as the larger towns are quite small and lack most of the main components of a town. Don’t expect to see intricate or detailed towns on par with Final Fantasy X or Dark Cloud 2. Just expect to see the bare necessities such as a few homes and the requisite item and magic shops. To spruce things up a bit there are a few neat lighting and particle effects but nothing that will blow away your senses.

Over the years musical scores have come to define the RPG genre. It’s paramount that the pivotal moments in the adventure have the appropriate soundtrack to accompany it. In a tradition that hearkens back to the 16-bit days, it’s the vehicle that helps us feel compassion, sorrow, rage and sadness as the events unfold before us. We’re huge fans of RPG soundtracks and that’s why we’re glad to report that Twilight’s musical score does an admirable job of conveying the emotions and feelings that are supposed to be running through our bodies. Not quite up to par with the masterful work of the Square-Enix RPGs, but good enough to get the job done.

Where the audio doesn’t fare so well is in the effects department. Combat voices (which can be turned off, thankfully) are repetitive and highly annoying. You’ll understand what we mean when you’ve heard “You, Huh?” for the 10th time in a single battle. To make matters worse the combatants tend to say the most inane and irrelevant things. Occasionally they’re funny but they’re bothersome about 90 percent of the time.

There’s limited speech in the game which is relegated to the small handful of in-game rendered cutscenes. Even those are pretty short and are mostly reserved for the introduction of a key character or party member. Because the gamer is forced to read line after line of text it becomes difficult to feel the proper emotions in the right circumstances. By the time they’ve read the line that corresponds to the on-screen action it’s time to move on. We’re not saying that a person can’t be moved by text, but it’s just much more convincing and altogether satisfying when they can hear it the way it was envisioned in the minds of the writers.

Aside from a few minor gripes Twilight of the Spirits is a rather solid effort from Sony. It rarely falters and even when it does, it recovers quite nicely. Sure it has “Twilight” in its title but trust us, it’s nowhere near the twilight of its career. If you already own Final Fantasy X and Xenosaga and are looking to pick up an RPG to tide you over until the release of Final Fantasy X-2, you should look no further than Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits. Do yourself a favor and check it out, it just might surprise you.
Looking for an RPG that will wash out the bitter taste that UNLIMITED Saga left in your mouth? Then you should look no further than Sony's Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits.

Rating: 7.9 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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