Malik  (4/19/04)

Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits (PS2)


This review originally was presented on lazy.GEEKS (7/9/03)


Way back near the release of the PSX in Japan, they got a (I've been told) great strategy RPG called Arc the Lad.  I first learned of it when the PSX came out here in the states and was determined to get it when it came such luck.  The game never came out until Working Designs decided to release it with Arc 2 and 3 in a collection a few months ago.  Which I would have bought, but they were asking for $70-$80 when it came out, which is fine for 3 games, but they should not range from 5-10 years old and on the last generation of platforms for that type of money.  Well, I soon lost track of Arc the Lad since this price just dissuaded me from making any type of investment in the series. 

Then, a few months ago I started to hear of Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits for the PS2 (henceforth to be called Arc 4).  It was to be one of the first strategy RPGs on a console to do away with the grid movement system (on old strategy games, like the Shining Force series, each 5 foot square of battle area was typically a square on a grid and you could move so many grids per round per character).  This means you can move your people any amount from an inch to their full movement.  In other words, you'd get total control of movement.  This intrigued me. 

Next, I saw that the game would have some pretty darned nice graphics, a good storyline, and would be a first party game.  The first two are pretty self explanatory for why I might want the game, but for those wondering, first party games are usually $10 less at release than third party software.  A good game with a good price, I was sold. 

One last thing to keep in mind as you read this review; I have not quite finished the game, and have only played about 15 hours into it, so anything I say now may be a little short-sighted. However, I feel that once you play something for 10 hours you can say you have some authority on the game.  So here we go. 


When you first start playing the game, you are introduced to Kharg.  He's a would be prince of a small kingdom that is part of a world alliance (they are like a minor member of the U.N.).  By would be prince, I mean his mother (the former queen) decided to abolish the monarchy for a more equal government, and thus you are just a snotty punk who everyone looks up to as a role model for the children of the village. Anyways, you are a recent addition to your homes defense corps (the local militia) who has been working hard in swordsmanship to become the next leader of the corps. 

I must say, despite playing such a snotty, preppy, punk, Kharg is still a character you can slightly identify with, so you won't spend the whole game pissed off (like I was having to play Tidus in FFX who is just a oversized crybaby).  Although, Kharg is a bit too much of a goody too shoes to fully identify with. 

Also, Kharg has his own little group of followers he starts to gather, from the daughter of your commander to a so called prince (yes, another would be prince, but this one was kidnapped as a child and can only remember being told prior to being kidnapped that he is a prince) named Maru.  There are more, but these are the ones introduced really early in the game, so I figure it wouldn't blow the plot to mention them now (I want to avoid spoiling the story since I feel Arc 4 has a pretty darn good story). 

Before long, your commander dies and you are put in charge of the defense corps.  As if you didn't see that coming.  But don't worry, not all of the plot is that obvious and cliché. 

Then, the game takes a sudden turn and your perspective is put on a different side of the world. Here you become Darc, a half human, half deimos (a deimos is a lot like a cross between a human, a monster, and a demon.  Thus Darc is a slightly more evil character).  Darc, as a half deimos, is titled a wanna-be deimos and is ostersized by the deimos community.  In fact Darc is nothing more than a slave when we first meet him.  Darc, lives under different principals than Kharg.  Where Kharg feels like uniting all people in peace, Darc feels more like uniting all deimos under his sword through his might. 

As you can obviously tell, Darc will soon free himself from being a slave and will have his own higher purpose.  He also will meet his own group of allies that are more self-centered and twisted in their perspectives of the world (they are deimos). 

These two stories involve a few key elements to keep this inter-related and thus keep the plot smooth. Firstly, Kharg has a strong hatred for the deimos, as they are the ones who killed his commander, while Darc has a hatred for humans since he was raised to see them as a threat to his isolationist, power-hungry lifestyle.  Secondly, they both live in the same world and thus will eventually meet.  Third, they both have in their possession half of a spirit stone (the wind stone); when all five of these spirit stones (light, wind, earth, fire, and water) are gathered, the owner will have unbelievable power...I know, we've all seen this before, but what haven't we seen with all of the RPGs made in the last 20 years?  Also, Arc 4 does put a nice twist on this cliché.  Lastly, Darc and Kharge share another bond, but that would spoil the story if I told you, so do yourself a favor and play the game if you want to know more. 

Anyways, the plot starts off quickly enough to not drag, but slow enough to keep you informed at all time.  For those of you who are thinking of getting Arc 4 but are afraid that you'll be lost since you missed Arc 1-3, worry not.  This story is in the same world, but far enough into the future to make it playable for all new-comers. 

Anyways, a little more on the story;  The world is a post apocalyptic world in which things have been reset to a medieval setting, but there are ruins that contain lost technology (like air-ships, guns, etc). Also, half of the world is made of deimos civilizations and the other half are human settlements.  Most importantly, there are small spirit stones in addition to the five big ones.  These small ones serve as power sources for humans and as a power supply for deimos magic (spirit stones work as magic points in this game, so you are constantly buying more to re-supply your mages).  On that note, only deimos can use magic.  What all of this equals in the end is that humans and deimos, which would normally try to avoid each other are instead fighting over spirit stones (think Middle East and oil rights), and your two characters that hate the race of the other are caught up in the middle of this. 

Anyways, as you can probably tell, it is hard to describe this story as the setting, the races, the environment, and the terms are all quite foreign and take some time to get used to.  Despite all of that, I assure you it is a good story with a nice twist to the usually scheme of things.  For example, while Kharg plays through trying to win people over with kindness, you have Darc whose followers are not in the least bit trustworthy and mainly follow him just because he is a badass. 

Long story short, the story is well written and will keep you up to pace on almost everything (you always need a little mystery so you can think, "Boy, I wonder what that means?  I guess I'll play more to find out") without over explaining anything, in a setting that is familiar but is still kept fresh by some nifty new ideas. 


The visuals for Arc 4 are pretty darned good, to say the least.  As my woman has pointed out several times as she watches me play, the visuals are in many ways similar to Final Fantasy X; which I should add was the only part of FFX that I was not repulsed by (flame me, I dare you).  The environments are detailed with sharp visuals using a color scheme and general feel that matches the environment and civilization of said area. If you're in a Deimos area, the land tends to either be darker, more run down, or at the least, far less cultivated (unkempt forests and swamps).  For the Human lands you are faced with medieval looking towns with a nice twist of fantasy elements.  The towns are made of stone and wood with everything from simple huts to shining spires.  In other words, the environments are well done and actually keep the mood of the game, unlike FFX, which had too happy of a feel for all of the run down, Sin destroyed areas. 

The people also look nice.  The humans look like humans, as one would expect.  It's not like we see too many humans in games that look like something other than humans as we all know what they look like.  On the other hand, since Deimos are things we've never seen before in games (I haven't played Arc 1-3 yet, so excuse me if they are in those games) Arc 4 needs to do a good job at visually showcasing them. Fortunately for us, Arc 4 delivers with a fury.  The Deimos come in a variety of shapes and forms (there are Orcons who look like typical wingless demons, Lupines who are wolfmen, Drakyr who are half man half dragons type creatures, etc).  Each individual Deimos looks unique and stands out from not only other types of Deimos, but also other members of their species of Deimos).  This only adds to the depth of our understanding of this new world...unlike FFX that uses repeat graphics for most unimportant characters. 

Also, Arc 4 delivers when it comes to the visual effects.  The magic spells are all beautifully rendered with effects that nicely fit the spell/ability being performed.  Fire looks like fire, but each fire spell looks different, and this applies to all other abilities, as well.  When a weapon is used, it looks like the appropriate visual effect for that weapon (people swing swords, they thrust with bayonets, they aim prior to firing a gun, and all characters who try to block an attack, block as their weapon would be used in such a parry). 

My only level of disappointment in the visuals occurs in two places.  First, when you walk, you move about as wooden as Keanu Reeve's acting.  But this wont annoy a player nearly as much as how you move while talking.  When you initiate a conversation, you and the person you converse with all start to flail their arms around like they are on fire.  Luckily this can be overlooked when you focus on reading the text instead of just watching the speaker, but it will still get on your nerves after a while (at first, you'll probably just find this funny as Kharg chats with some little kid about being a hero and while talking is waving his arms all around on a set course). 


Well, to get it out in the open, there is voice acting.  And to get another thing in the open, it sucks horribly.  However, who can honestly say they have heard all that much in the way of good voice acting in video games (for you damned fanboys, FFX had horrible voice acting, so shut the hell up, now). However, we are fortunate in the fact that most voice acting is far apart and rather brief.  Except for battles, that is.  I believe you can turn off voiceovers in battle, but I, for one, decided to leave it on to get the full feel of the game (and because some voiceovers in a fight are funny; example, when a Deimos heals a Deimos, the one being healed will often snap at the healer and say something like how he/she did not need the help of some goody-two-shoes). 

The rest of the audio, however, is rather skillfully done.  The music usually sets the mood of what storyline you're currently playing.  The music in Kharg's scenario is usually upbeat with a classical European feel to it, while Darc's music is more...well...dark.  The only exception is one track that plays when Darc fights (it only plays occasionally) that sounds like elevator musak.  But this can be remedied by simply turning on your own music (put a CD in or something, and forget about is a RPG after all; the music is not required to play the game). 

As for the sound effects, they are well done.  There's nothing new here since sound effects have been rather top notch in console games for quite some time (in most cases, anyways).  I'll just keep this blunt and to the point by saying things sound like they out to sound like (talk to a cat and it meows, swing with a sword and it sounds like that, blah blah blah). 

So, to wrap up this section; the sound is good with the exception of one or two battle songs and the voice acting, but hell, every game has bad voice acting and a bad song or two. 

Game Play 

Since we are talking about and RPG, there are only two things that really matter.  The story, which is good, and the game play.  Arc 4 does a good job in this field.  As I explained earlier, the game is a strategy RPG in the same genre as Shining Force and Final Fantasy Tactics.  You have your standard move your character on a battle map and line up your attacks, taking into account enemy placement, ally placement, and range/area of effect for your attacks.  As long as you've played a Shining Force game before (and if you haven't...for shame, you sad excuse for a geek) you will know the layout and will feel quite comfortable in Arc 4. 

The main thing, though, that sets Arc 4 in a different genre from Shining Force and makes it it's own unique style is how, in conjunction, the battles are played and how the towns are played.  Like I said before, the battles are played out like a Shining Force style game using a strategy based engine (with some enhancements), but the towns are played out in a style completely unlike any strategy RPG. 

In town, you play a more visually stunning and non-linear exploration than you would in S.F.  You can talk to any person you want, meaning you might actually find out something useful by talking to a random person (for those who forgot, in S.F. you could actually play without talking to more than one or two people per town).  Also, if you repeatedly talk to the same person, they will say different things, and each time a new event has occurred, that same old person will have a whole new set of dialogue for you.  This means that while you are out of a battle, Arc 4 plays like any good old fashioned true RPG. 

Then, once you enter battle, you are pleasantly treated to not only the new non-grid based system, but also far quicker battles than other strategy RPGs have.  Since you travel across a map screen back and forth from town to town and back again (which is not too common in strategy RPGs), you do get random battles at times (this is like in Final Fantasy Tactics and the map screen is even like that of FFT). So, to put these elements together, you have a chance to level up your people in a far quicker way than S.F. or FFT ever gave you.  In fact, if you're not greatly outnumbered or outclassed by your opponents, a battle can take as little as 3-5 minutes.  Thus, in the long run, you will be able to spend far more time advancing the plot than in most other strategy RPGs. 

Another great feature is in how the grid based system of the strategy RPGs of old has been eliminated.  This is nice in itself, but also your attacks are now set up where most characters can actually maneuver themselves to deliver their normal attack to multiple enemies at once.  The main characters (Kharg and Darc) swing their swords in wide arcs (about a 40 degree arc) meaning if find two enemies close together, you can arrange it so that each of those two enemies will face your blade.  Another example is how Maru, the monkey boy would-be-prince who joins Kharg, fires his bow.  His attack range is very thing but long (you can't fire an arrow in a arc...horizontally anyways) so if several enemies line up, you can shoot them all with one well placed shot.  Not only does this feature speed up battles (if you can kill two guys at once, you will finish far quicker than by hitting one at a time), but it adds a further strategy element to the battles (instead of thinking in a grid like chess board style, you have to line up shots more like you would while playing pool). 

I already mentioned this before, but the two storylines that slowly blend together also adds to another great game play element.  You are treated by this mechanism to see how one storyline event from one plot line can be interpreted in the other plot line, and without the repetition found in games with similar elements like Suikoden III.  Thus you can see how the evil Dilzweld Empire (Kharg's main antagonist at the start of the game) can be seen from the eyes of the Deimos, who visualize all Humans to be the same; thus, to Darc the Delzweld empire is just another bunch of punks. 

Well, with all of these good features, there is one bad one that I must address.  In Arc 4, you don't automatically regain HP after a battle ends, so you end up using your healing spells a lot (healing items are too expensive when you start to waste all your money on them).  This is not a bad thing, as it helps to blend that line between strategy RPG and normal RPG, but the way magic is handled can easily make this a bad thing for the player.  Instead of MP you have spirit stones.  Each character can hold so many of them at a time, which is like the maximum MP of characters in other RPGs, and you can stock up in town for a minimal charge of 2 gold/spirit stone.  The only problem is that since spirit stones are so plentiful (you can also find them on fallen enemies) that, I think this anyways, the makers decided to jack up the cost of most spells.  This means you will go through your party's stockpile of the precious stones in only a few maps if you keep taking heavy damage in battles (and often times you cannot avoid taking some serious damage when you are trying to level up that new person who always seems to start 2 or 3 level below your current party average).  Luckily, this does not destroy the value of the game, but it will keep you unpleasantly annoyed for quite a while (you do eventually get used to it...but it will take you a few hours...).  Also, you will never get over having to not just make sure you have enough healing items stockpiled, but also, more importantly, that you have enough MP stockpiles.  Personally, I think the Spirit Stones were thrown in to be that innovative twist that all RPGs require now to be considered hip and cool...too bad they already had this innovative twist taken care of with the grid-less battles. 

Overall, even with the annoyance of Spirit Stones, the game play is some of the best you will find if you're a fan of either RPGs or strategy RPGs.  By blending conventional elements of both sub-genres, the player is left with a fresh and innovative design that proves to be not just new in many concepts, but also new in being a new RPG that is fun for once (too many RPGs have sucked lately).


Well, I have been playing this game for a little over a week now, and I must say that I have not seen this quality in a RPG for a few years (with the exception of Xenosaga Episode 1, which did kick some serious arse).  True, there are a few things that got on my nerves as I play, but that can be said of even the best of games.  The Spirit Stones instead of MP is kinda lame, and the voice acting is horrible (but what game that is good has good voice acting...fanboys, FFX was a BAD game and it had BAD voice acting), but these are easy enough to overlook.

What really matters is if the game is fun, and Arc 4 is incredibly fun.  It's also innovative in it's methods of redesigning the often forgotten about strategy RPG genre.  The removal of the classic grid system and the freedom of movement this brings is by far one of the best innovations used in a RPG for a long time, and it only adds to the fun and quality of Arc 4.

The other key factors of the intriguing dual plots and nicely used visuals and music add to the pure enjoyment of this title.  So, to wrap this up, I give Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits a 9.5/10 (would get a better score if it used MP and had slightly better voice acting, or none at all), which is pretty darned good.