Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits Review
Last year, Working Designs released the once Japanese only Playstation RPG series Arc The Lad as a massive compilation here in the U.S. consisting of Arc The Lads I through III and the Arc Arena expansion for Arc The Lad 2. It received a warm welcome from the many who had wished the series to be released over here and Working Designs phalanx of zealous fans. With the success of the collection, Sony went ahead and brought the latest installment of the series, Arc The Lad: Twilight of the Spirits, here themselves.
Twilight of the Spirits (denoted as TotS in this review) marks the first installment of the series to go completely 3D. Being well into the life of the Playstation 2, TotS comes off as a solid entrant graphically into the RPG library of the PS2. While not quite to the same levels of Final Fantasy X or Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (due to be released next year), it keeps just a notch behind them. Animation for the game is very solid and moves with a nice fluidity to it that very few games in general have. The environments for the game are generally small in scope considering the nature of the gameplay but, nonetheless the game's backgrounds are nicely detailed and very pleasing to look at it. Character models range widely throughout the game. At times, you'll have an excellently modeled character like that of the heroes Kharg and Darc yet, you'll face somewhat graphically archaic looking enemies. It's a bit inconsistent but doesn't detract from the overall look of the game.
One of the strongest points of the Arc series has been music. TotS is almost no different. The score for the game is very well done with a great mix of music ranging from some standard rock themes to some classically inspired ones. However, the game doesn't give off the same aural feeling as the previous games. That itself can throw off the game for fans of the series. The other downside to the music is that the pieces are often overused leading to it becoming bland rather quickly. That aside the music still is very good. Going along with the current trend of voice acting in RPGs, TotS also includes this. Thankfully, the voice acting for the game is fairly decent. There's a battle voices on/off switch as an option and there's only a few voices that are really grating.
The Arc series uses a mix of strategy and standard RPG for the basic gameplay of its games. The base engine is of a strategy RPG like Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre however much of the progression and gameplay is similar to an RPG with dungeons and random encounters for the player. The mix itself is a solid combination however is easy to screw up. Twilight of the Spirits battle engine is built solid without many flaws to it. On the other hand, the engine doesn't have much to it either. Character progression is simply level based with the option to buy skills in different orders depending on preference. There's tension meter attacks which is basically two team members hitting the enemy for high damage as long as they're facing the enemy. That's pretty much all there is to Twilight's gameplay. Painstakingly simple is the keyword. There's nothing to fiddle with like in strategy games but it isn't nearly as fast as playing a standard RPG. On top of the simple battle system, Twilight is by far the easiest of the four Arc games which doesn't help very much. Most people will breeze through the game without much trouble at all. This is nice for people who want to experience the story but it will disappoint gameplay enthusiasts.
The biggest draw of Twilight of the Spirits, in this reviewer's opinion, is the story. Basic in design and ideas the story is played out in two very different perspectives. From the eyes of Kharg and Darc, two people of very different backgrounds. The two storylines support each other immensely as they bring a look into this world. It's superbly directed and deals with many issues that we have in our own world. Delightful in its overall scope, the game falls flat on character development for its cast. Had the game been a bit longer to deal with each of the cast more directly, this would've easily been one of my favorite RPG stories of all time. Thankfully, the translation is excellent so the game's story isn't marred by the transition from Japanese.
Aside from the battle system, the biggest flaw with Twilight of the Spirits is that it just doesn't bring a lot of pizzazz for people to get into. Presentation is rather bland for the game as events don't have very much snap or tension built behind it. Special attack effects don't exude any sort awe-inspiring aura nor is that great to look at. It feels like the game has almost no climax because of the lack of force behind it.
Given the flaws, Twilight of the Spirits is still a decent game. It's definitely not a game for gameplay fanatics. It is, however, a game for people who enjoy an easy play with a story that carries a lot of subtleties and excellent direction.
8/12/2003 Anton Cao