Arc the Lad: Twilight of the
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 here...no 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
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
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
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
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
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 it...it 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.
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.
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).
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
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.