Review by: Jonathan Hynes
Published: July 21, 2003
Just a few years ago, Arc the Lad was nothing more than one of many promising Japanese franchises never to have crossed the Pacific. However, the exceptional men and women at Working Designs changed that by localizing not one, but all three titles simultaneously. Released as the outstanding Arc the Lad Collection, the sales figures must have raised more than a few eyebrows at Sony Computer Entertainment. SCE, once reluctant to even allow Victor Ireland and his team to release Arc in North America, had a sudden change of heart and decided to translate the series’ fourth installment internally. With a new developer and a complete overhaul of the gameplay, Twilight of the Spirits wasn’t making it easy to win over skeptical fans who believed that the series was best left as a trilogy.
This latest installment takes place many centuries after the events of the previous Arc games, so any hopes of seeing past heroes (Arc, Elc and Alec) are in vain. However, the developers did include a few easter eggs for longtime fans, such as one scene that has you examining headstones of the deceased. It may not mean much to casual gamers, but anyone who has played through the first three titles should be able to instantly match the descriptions with the respected characters. There are also a few sly references in some of the dialogue that are very easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.
The story itself is divided into chapters, which are themselves split between two characters: Kharg and Darc. Kharg is what is left of the aristocracy, heir to the throne of a politically powerless, but culturally relevant monarchy. Being such an important figurehead to the nation, he is frustrated by limitations placed upon him. Deemed too important to fight on the front lines, but too valiant to stay behind and do nothing, Kharg’s warrior heart often gets him into trouble. Darc, on the other hand, was born into virtual slavery. Separated from his mother at an early age and witnessing his father’s death not long thereafter, he was alone. “Rescued” and then condemned to the role of a servant by the evil Geedo, he is forced to endure agonizing torture sessions whenever his master feels it necessary to punish him. Viewed as a misfit, even by his own people, Darc is determined to prove his worth as a Deimos, but not at the cost of his soul.
Early in the game it is revealed that the two are actually brothers, separated at birth and raised in two entirely different environments. What makes this more interesting, though, is that Kharg is part of the human society while Darc is a member of the Deimos, who are essentially evolved monsters. Worse still, man and beast are warring with one another over coveted spirit stone reserves, which hold the secret to salvation for both civilizations. As one would expect, these two characters’ paths do cross, but not before a few startling developments set them on their way.
While movement through individual towns and other locals is handled in real-time, the world map uses a point-to-point system similar to that of Final Fantasy X. Usually, you’re given a starting point and a destination, with a varying number of stop-overs in between. It’s in these areas that you’ll run into enemies; at times the encounter rate is 100%, meaning that you’ll be forced to fight every time you pass. But considering that the world map is the only place where battles may be found, it’s not as frustrating as it may first seem.