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Arc the Lad: End of Darkness
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Cattle Call
Genre: Action RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 06/14/05
Japan 11/03/04



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Mike Wilson
First Look Preview
06/14/05
Mike Wilson

Arc the Lad: Twilight of Spirits was a little-known RPG that had a small cult following. Visually, it was nothing to brag about, but it had a surprisingly deep story and a fresh battle system. It had all the makings of a good RPG, but lackluster advertising stopped it from rising to the level of RPGs such as Dark Cloud 2 or Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter. The newest outing in the cult classic series, Arc the Lad: End of Darkness (also known as Arc the Lad: Generations) has undergone such a radical transformation that even the most hardcore Arc fanboys wouldnít be able to recognize it.

Arc the Lad: End of Darkness takes place in the same world as Twilight of Spirits, but the two games are only alike in name. The game follows a young man named Ed, his munchkin sidekick named Hemo, and a young girl named Kirika. Other than their names, little information about these characters has been revealed, but a very large cast will support them. No one knows for sure how the new storyline will tie into Twilight of Spirits, but it is obviously a new arc (pun fully intended) in the series' ongoing plot because many characters from previous Arc games will be playable; Arc, Alec, Elec, and Kharg, to name a few.

Arc the Lad: End of Darkness has completely ditched its predecessorsí SRPG battle systems and replaced them with an action-oriented one reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts. That's right, this is an action-RPG, and itís pretty fast paced. The battle system focuses mainly on slashing and dodging enemies, but it still stays true to the genre by allowing characters to cast spells, which can be assigned to a button for quick use, like in Champions of Norrath. Keep your distance when casting spells, though, because enemies can interrupt you in the process. If that sounds hard, don't worry - you will have three CPU-controlled allies to help you when the going gets rough.

The gameplay in Arc the Lad: End of Darkness revolves around a rank-based, mission system. Ed will embark on missions to carry out a variety of tasks, such as fetching items, protecting innocent people, or simply defeating all of the enemies in an area. Completing a mission nets Ed money and points toward his record, which he can then use at the battle coliseum to raise his rank. As Edís rank rises, he will be able to tackle more difficult missions that yield better rewards. Some missions require Ed to be at a certain rank before he can start them; these missions progress the gameís storyline and are longer than the typical missions.

During missions, Ed also has the power to suck the evil from his enemies and convert it into stat points that can be divided between his teammates to raise their ranks. If you want a strong party, be sure to do this often, or your allies will be at an extreme disadvantage.

Another new innovation that will play a big role in Arc the Lad: End of Darkness is the Skill Card. In addition to equipping weapons, characters can equip Skill Cards, which grant them unique spells and attacks as well as a stat boost. Each card carries a unique spell that you won't find anywhere else, and can be combined with another card to create an even more powerful skill. Skill cards are extremely useful, and can be found during missions, by talking to townspeople, or by playing a lottery mini game. However, despite their uses, they do have some downsides; you can only equip three cards at a time, and if you fail a mission or receive a game over, you will lose any cards that you had equipped.

Players will also be able to take their quest online in Arc the Lad: End of Darkness. The Online mode is accessed directly from the game's main menu, and consists of two modes; Competitive Mode, which lets you battle against your friends, and Cooperative Mode, which allows you to undergo missions together. In this mode, you will be able to use any characters and Skill Cards that you acquire in the game, and you will find online-exclusive Skill Cards that you will be able to use in the single player mode. Each Cooperative mission consists of several stages, and if your character dies, he will be revived at the beginning of the next stage. To say the least, online play is a pretty nice feature that compliments the game well, and surprisingly, it's fast, lagless, and best of all, free.

Graphically, Twilight of the Spirits was ripped apart for its low polygon count. This problem seems to have been fixed with Arc the Lad: End of Darkness. The locations are beautifully rendered (especially the towns), the character models look better, and the battle animations are smoother than before. On the other side of the spectrum, however, the gameís audio has been downsized---there is no longer any voice acting. This probably will upset most people, but as long as thereís a compelling story, it wonít make much of a difference how itís told. The rest of the Arc the Lad games didn't have voice acting and they still told incredible stories, so maybe the lack of voice acting in this game is a return to the series' storytelling roots.

Arc the Lad: End of Darkness will no doubt satisfy fans of the action-RPG genre, and its online play (with a little advertising) has the potential to make an impact in the MMORPG community. The gameplay and the story will appeal to both series fans and newcomers alike, and the action-oriented gameplay may just be what you're looking for if Ys: The Ark of Napishtim and Champions: Return to Arms left you wanting more. You can expect to see the game on shelves this May.



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© 2004-2005 SCEI, Cattle Call, Namco.
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