Humanity. Throughout this species’ history, it has left a trail of destruction and horror in one form or another in its path, justifying it as progress. Easily susceptible to the whims of hatred and animosity, such atrocious acts as murder, rape, racism, even war have all been committed over trifling desires fueled by greed and narrow-mindedness. However, like most phenomena, this violent trend works in phases, ending with cease-fire and restoration. Lessons are supposedly learned and the remnant cruelty is smoothed over with a blanket of peace and tranquility. Sadly enough, this will only last for a few short years until the vicious cycle makes another revolution and the world enters an age of turmoil yet again.
Such is the tale of Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits. In a land scorched by ancient wars, adorned with dilapidated ruins of cities lost, conflict has once more sparked between two powerful species: the Humans and the Deimos. Each side possesses a great abhorrence for the other; their inhabitants having justified prejudice for some, and merely retaining a loathing passed down from generation to generation for others. As fate would have it, both cultures are dependent on the same energy source: a natural resource known as Spirit Stones. These magically imbued stones are the source of the Deimos’ strength and ability to manipulate the elements and industrial power and fuel to the humans. Due to this, the two opposing sides often come to blows over territorial ownership of lands abundant with the stones.
As if things couldn’t get any more complicated, another fire waits to be sparked. The game’s very protagonists are divided by these same warring factions. On one side there is Kharg, the son of an ex-queen revered by their entire kingdom, although that’s not much. Some twenty years before the game’s start, Yewbell was reduced to a singular small town that thrives off its citizen’s hard work and loyalty. Although it’s not totally revealed, Kharg’s mother, Lady Nafia, had an integral role involving the survival and reconstruction of Yewbell. Because of this, many of the towns people still view her as their leady, despite that she disbanded the monarchy and introduced a government where all shared equal rights and a say in the town’s happenings. Due to Nafia’s popularity, Kharg too shared the spotlight, still said to be a prince by most and daunted over by others. The Defense Corps, Yewbell’s military force, has vowed to protect Lady Nafia and Kharg at any and all costs. It’s for this reason that the commander of the Defense Corps, Lloyd, drills Kharg with very demanding sword and battle exercises, more than his own daughter. A childhood friend of Kharg’s, Paulette is equally as cunning and knowledgeable on battle techniques, undoubtedly due to who her father is. Her relationship with Kharg has caused her to drop the formalities of addressing him as Lord, although this leads to minor scolding from the decorously behaved Commander Lloyd.
Darc, on the other hand, has known only pain and suffering in the seventeen years of his life. Physically split as both human and Deimos, Darc never was able to gain true acceptance within the Deimos culture, but instead found himself the tortured slave of a vile Deimos by the name of Geedo. Forced to do biddings in her presence, shunned and sometimes assaulted in the Deimos’, Darc has somehow managed to retain a very humanistic attitude regarding life in spite of these hardships. Unlike the majority of his kind, he does not feel compelled to lash out against his master and slay her in a rage, or thrash every tormentor he meets. This, of course, is a curse, as his heart serves only to blind him to the survival of the fittest lifestyle of the Deimos. Every time he lends his trust out to one of his own kind they manage to betray him without so much as an inkling of regret or remorse. Of course, it’s these time and time again happenings coupled with the witnessing of humanity’s apathy and malice that lead Darc to develop great disdain towards the Deimos that he now seeks to unite under his control in order to ravage the entirety of the entire Human race. Rising from a slave to a warrior and from warrior to leader, Darc rakes his claws into the sands of destiny and marks his will as He Who Shall Be King of the Deimos.
In order to properly narrate the storyline of the Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits, it has been divided into a series of chapters that alternate between Kharg and Darc’s quests. In addition to the bitterness the races have for each other, there is a third, more immediate threat: the Dilzweld Empire. Having withdrawn from the World Alliance many years in the past, the Empire has since expanded its territory and built up a military of unparalleled proportions, run by a venomous dictator, Emperor Darkham. Reviving and redesigning ancient technology to suit their needs, Dilzweld has begun to invade nation after nation in search for the Great Spirit Stones, relics said to possess the essence of the spirits themselves. When all five Great Spirit Stones are gathered together, an ultimate power can be summoned by the stones’ possessor. When Darc and Kharg learn of the Great Spirit Stones and their capabilities, both set out to gather the artifacts in order to achieve their own goals. For Darc it is the annihilation of the humans, and with an ironic twist it is Kharg’s wish to use the power to wipe out the Deimos. In both instances the desire is to secure prosperity for their own race. Each of the three factions possesses one of the Great Spirit Stones in some fashion, as Kharg and Darc each possess one half of the Wind Stone and the Dilzweld Empire controls the Earth Stone. However, shortly into Kharg’s adventure he comes across a girl named Lilia, who is being pursued by the Dilzweld Empire. With her she has brought the Light Stone, giving the Humans a slight advantage over their two adversaries in the race for the Great Spirit stones. Like most blessings, this is also a curse, as their encounters with Dilzweld escalate due to their pursuit of Lilia. As Kharg and his entourage depart to escort Lilia to Cathena, where the World Alliance congregates, Darc and his subordinates set off to obtain the Water Stone. The mechanics of fate begin to turn once more, and so this epic chase begins.
Speaking of mechanics, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits’ series-established turn-based strategy battle system is a welcome breath of fresh air. While simple in design and execution, just like its predecessors, it marks the first instance of such a battle system being employed in a totally 3-D game. While games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Hoshigami have utilized fully 3-D environments in their battle systems, both games still relied on sprites for the characters’ representation. In Twilight of the Spirits, however, the models scene on map and dungeon fields is the same one found in battle. Fully 3-D, equally as detailed, equally as maneuverable. Unlike most SRPGs, Twilight of the Spirits isn’t restricted to movement along set tiles. Instead, circular plane assigns movement, allowing the player to move a character anywhere within its limits. This, along with the attack radius, creates numerous strategic possibilities. Players who are patient enough can set characters up so that they strike two or more enemies with the swipe of a blade or the shot of an arrow. As before, magic is gained through experience gathered through battling. Players can spend these points on the skills and abilities or magic they choose. Certain powers, of course, only become available at higher levels. Most battles are story-driven. There are areas where random battles can be initiated, though, when a player backtracks over the point on the map.
No story is complete without a score of proper melodies to accompany the various occurrences. With Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits, players will discover that the score is yet again an instance of untraditionally traditional. The latest trend in RPGs has been to duplicate the epic sounds of movie scores, such as with Xenosaga and Star Ocean III Volume 1. Twilight of the Spirits borrows from its predecessor’s diversity, a mix of different types of music styles. This is partly due to the fact that the soundtrack is the work of not one, but five composers: Koji Sakurai, Takayuki Hattori, Yuko Fukushima, Michiru Oshima, Eri Kawai. From the melodic guitar-driven battle theme to the soft beat of the more comical scenes, Arc the Lad’s soundtrack is something not quite deserving of high praise but rather a great deal of appreciation as each composer lends his or her own unique style to create a rare kind of experience. The only shortcoming is the quantity of tracks. The soundtrack barely escapes one CD’s worth of music and because of this often reuses songs two or three times to accompany very dramatic moments. While the song in question may not necessarily be poor, the need for events to have a song uniquely assigned to them must be taken into account. Nevertheless, like so many other facets of Twilight of the Spirits, the music feels right at home, fitting like a glove onto the Arc the Lad title. Unlike when most games make the huge leap from their sprite-based roots to the 3-D universe, Arc the Lad manages to retain consistency with its series once again with decidedly Arc-esque musical composition.
One feature that is a double-edged sword, however, is the game’s voice acting. Like most PS2 RPGs, Arc the Lad’s cinematic sequences have also been voiced over to add even more flavor to the already dynamic characters. It also manages to sport a rather star-studded cast of voice actors, including names familiar from other games such as Xenosaga, Metal Gear Solid, and Soul Reaver. Unfortunately, most of effort seemed to have been put into the aforementioned titles as opposed to Arc the Lad. Some characters feature fitting, well-performed voice acting. Others, however, sound like a last-minute throw in, ultimately stealing away certain character’s charm. To be fair, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits’ voice acting can be rated as standard, as no lines are delivered so poorly that it adversely affects the game. On the flip side, characters such as Darc only foster more advantageous facets for the game.
So what then is left to support the art of storytelling in a game? Why suitable graphics, of course. Regrettably, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits’ graphics are hardly something to boast about, falling short of pushing or even displaying the full potential of the PlayStation 2. In spite of this, the anime-esque graphics of Twilight of the Spirits generate a “right at home” sort of appropriateness; they are sort of a refreshing reminder that games should remain in a world of make-believe and imagination, not a duplication of the reality players turn to games to escape from. As anyone can tell, however, the models are still undeniably “sharp”, rendered with a hefty amount of detail in their clothing and design. Darc is particularly noteworthy in how his character model sports a great level of detail, such as the dragon scales across his left arm and pectoral muscle, the horns growing from his forehead, and the whip scars across his chest. The game is fabulously animated, gestures being thrown for every mood in every scene, eyes shifting as characters approach from one side or another, brows narrowing in anger. The characters clothing sways in the breeze, flutters side to side as they walk, and conforms to their body’s twisting muscles.
In a time where RPGs are expected to shock players with the intricacies and depth of its plot, stunning graphics and unparalleled musical score, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits shows us that sometimes the best medicine isn’t the most expensive. Equipped with a solid plot constructed with the series foundation and layered with an array of surprising twists, this latest Arc the Lad assuredly deserves its share of the spotlight amongst the other accomplished PS2 RPGs. Despite its graphical and aural shortcomings, everything encompassing Twilight of the Spirits seems to fit together perfectly, like pieces to a puzzle.