The Arc the Lad series has garnered a respectable following since the first game was released in Japan in 1995. The series, to date, has spanned four installments as well as its own anime series. As the first strategy role-playing game for the PlayStation, it took Arc the Lad almost seven years to finally land on our shores courtesy of Working Designs. The Arc the Lad Collection, comprised of Arc the Lad I-III, was probably the largest collector’s edition ever released in the history of the Redding, CA-based publisher. This year, Arc the Lad will see a debut on the PlayStation 2 courtesy of Sony themselves. Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits takes some of the time-tested qualities of the series and fuses them with more modern technology.
Twilight of the Spirits takes place thousands of years after the events of the original Arc the Lad. In this time, the is land divided between the humans and the Deimos – a race of demi-human beasts. The hostility between mankind and the Deimos came to an end when Nafia, warrior-queen of Nidellia set out to face the Deimos and managed to bring an unsteady truce between the two races. The story begins in the village of Yewbell where the former crown-prince Kharg, son of Nafia, is tested by his blade master. After besting Lloyd, his teacher and Commander of the Defense Force, Kharg is sent to investigate a stranger wondering around the local ruins. Before leaving on his assignment he encounters an apparition – a sprite who claims to be the Spirit of the Wind. The experience evokes memories from youth of stories his mother used to tell him; about how a great hero and a holy mother used the powers of the spirits to seal away a divine evil in an ark. The legend also speaks of the disappearance of the spirits from the world and the emergence of the Deimos. There were no such things as Spirits anymore, or were they?
Kharg would complete his assignment to come home to news that Yewbell’s Spirit Stone (an ore used for energy) mine was under attack from Deimos forces. After hearing the news, he races to aid the defense force, but is stopped by his mother. Queen Nafia tells him he cannot go to fight the Deimos out of anger, and that anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, suffering to… you get the point. But, what hero-to-be stays home and listens to his Mom? Kharg manages to find a way out of Yewbell via the ruins of the old castle and sets off to the mine and his destiny. Along the journey he will encounter many mysteries about his heritage, the relationship between the Deimos and humans as well as the mysterious Deimos known as Darc – his brother! Together these brothers must look past their prejudices and unite both races in order to confront an impending evil as ancient as the legends in Kharg’s storybooks.
Visually, Twilight of the Spirits is commendable. While not frothing with graphic cotton-candy, the game boasts a fully 3D polygonal engine with motion-captured character models and a remarkably solid frame-rate. From what we’ve managed to play so far, the game carries a classic feel of the old 16-bit console fantasy RPGs, but with infinitely more ambience. Flags wave about on craggy stone parapets and cobblestone roads lead to crumbling ruins overrun with ivy. In-game combat features a robust array of special effects for spells and techniques as well as some impressive use of lighting effects. Twilight of the Spirits doesn’t appear to boast the extreme stylistic visuals of some of the slicker RPGs this year, but exudes an almost quaint, storybook feel that’s easy on the eyes.
Acoustically, Twilight of the Spirits shines brilliantly. The game brings back the classic Arc the Lad theme, but also overflows with a bevy of catchy tunes and what appears to be a fully orchestrated soundtrack. The real-time cinemas in the game feature voice acting as well as an assortment of combat chatter during battle – most of it quite good. While certainly not stellar, these vocal performances appear to improve as the game progresses, not unlike many dubbed anime series’. Hopefully the voice actors will be more acclimated to their roles later on in the game as many of the main characters have refreshingly interesting personalities. If there was one aural aspect of the game I didn’t enjoy was the overuse of chatter in combat – hopefully there will be more variety in the cat-calls and taunts when the game is released.
The Arc the Lad games have always been turn-based strategy RPGs along the lines of Shining Force and Final Fantasy Tactics. Though, Twilight of the Spirits does things a bit differently. Gone are the days of the combat grid, where the player and his enemies move their units like chess pieces from square to square. This time, Kharg and co. have free-range movement within a specific circumference. While this doesn’t seem like a significant change from the tile-to-tile method of SRPGs past, it gives the gameplay a much needed boost to speed and accuracy. Likewise, weapon ranges are also displayed as an analog radius around each character which allows for unprecedented precision when planning attacks. Thankfully the game fully supports the Dual Shock 2 in all of its vibrating analog goodness. Combat mechanics include the capacity to execute a windfall of special techniques as well as a “rage” status which coincides with the ability to execute tag-team attacks and combos. Twilight of the Spirits also boasts the most minimalist GUI seen to-date, which not only makes combat easy on the eyes, but gives the player the ability to fully enjoy the visual tapestry.
With just under a month until release, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits is shaping up to be a delightfully addictive adventure. Touted as having over 60 hours of gameplay, this Arc the Lad has set lofty goals. With solid visuals, robust game design and an amazing musical score, I believe that fans of the genre will thoroughly enjoy Twilight of the Spirits. While the tale of Kharg and Darc might seem a bit clichéd, the competent voice-acting and commendable scripting are good signs. I couldn’t think of a better way to waste away these hot summer days than with those wayward siblings and their drama.
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