"A goal almost universally sought after in this day and age is a sense of self. From people, to bands, to companies, identity is a pinnacle that most everyone wants but few realize. Even video games fall into the pool of this unspoken desire, often trying to mark their piece of the gamers' terrain with anything from honed physics to inventive and revolutionary mechanics. Some games even identify themselves with diversity, masterfully easing a passenger through high speed chases, tense shooting..."
A goal almost universally sought after in this day and age is a sense of self. From people, to bands, to companies, identity is a pinnacle that most everyone wants but few realize. Even video games fall into the pool of this unspoken desire, often trying to mark their piece of the gamers' terrain with anything from honed physics to inventive and revolutionary mechanics. Some games even identify themselves with diversity, masterfully easing a passenger through high speed chases, tense shooting sequences, and dramatic confrontations between bitter rivals. Sadly, not every game, nor even a favorable fraction of them, can lay claim to this gift of hallmark. Some games vacillate between genres in a hope of finding a proverbial home, a place they can call their own in a breed of interactive media swarming with so many titles striving for this peak. Despite all the things it does right, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits is an example of a game that travels many roads but never comes to a final destination.
The plot presented by Twilight of the Spirits is told through the perspective of two vastly different parties spearheaded by protagonists that could be nearly given the description of polar opposites. Kharg, a young human, is the heir apparent to commander of defense in his small village of Yewbell. Darc, a young gun with obvious partial Deimos heritage, is a slave for a crabby old witch named Geedo, who rescued Darc from a long, hungry death at a young age. Kharg can be categorized as a somewhat typical RPG focal point, holding in high regard things such as teamwork, honor, and compassion. Darc, at first glance, would be more suited to the role of villain rather lustful, uncaring, and nearly to a point of vanity in his quest to be as one of the Deimos despite his soiled blood.
You as the player are given a rather interesting perspective on the world of Twilight of the Spirits as the game progresses. The humans and Deimos are constantly cursing the very existence of their counterparts, and oftentimes more than that. This is proven by Deimos and human skirmishes from very early on in the game. The humans use the resources known as spirit stones to forge their energy and maintain their way of life. Without the same spirit stones, the Deimos are left without their innate magical abilities. The reason for conflict is only too obvious, and seeing your two parties, (who start on different continents), travel separate pathways to the eventual and only too inevitable confrontation is one that expands into a more fulfilling role by its end. The Dilzweld's Empire's involvement with both factions (and usually not in a supportive way either) adds another factor that overcomes the certain big, bad empire clichés to give the storyline a new element and place to turn when the current of creativity is moving at a lull.
The storyline takes its time in wrapping its victims in the coils of twists, misconceptions, and the ultimate plots to take over the world, and this proves to be quite detrimental to Twilight of the Spirits as a whole. The reason for this is that, while passable, the mechanics found throughout your adventure on the gameplay front just don't prove consistent enough to encourage you to slog to the next point where the quest takes over responsibility of driving the player onward once again. At times the battle system resembles a heavily strategic and tactical affair, which isn't unwelcome to this fan of the strategy RPG genre by any stretch of the imagination. But instead of something that required thought for each battle, the random encounters held more an air of a traditional RPG. This wouldn't be a problem if dispatching enemies not related to your quest was as easy as the latest Final Fantasy installment, but because of the tactical interface of the battle system, nearly every encounter with random beasties on the world map turned into something that took more time than it should. Compounded with the game's difficulty being quite incompetent, (you have to really try to stay at a level not above your opposition), this poses a bit of a problem for the game's overall plateau of satisfaction.
Another omission in the tactical system that Twilight of the Spirit’s battle system tries to impose is its relatively weak skill system in comparison to the depth its battle system implies. Along with the experience points that carry characters from level to level, they acquire SP (skill points) to allocate to different special attacks or magic. The skills are divided into eight class levels for each character, with their most prestigious attacks, spells, and skills being placed in the eighth class. This is the extent of character customization, unless one counts the different accessories and modifications that can be added to armor and weapons. Again, with battles more of a drawn out affair than they should be, it would've been nice to be able to play the game differently based on the choices you make for your characters. This lack of a deep upgrading system doesn't help the unconfident feeling that Twilight of the Spirits radiates, and when the storyline is not at one of its crests, continuing the game becomes more a requirement than a privilege.
It can't be said that playing through Twilight of the Spirits a second time or merely being very slow about it your first time would be a complete waste. Short of being able to play Kharg as the second Hulk one week and a pansy mage always in need of healing the next, you can test your skills, which are probably way past the game's plot level difficulty, in the four arenas scattered around the world. These fortresses of combat pit two of your current party against a series of foes, with different rules applying in different regions. You may find yourself tired and weary from six previous battles, then either groan in doomed anticipation or flip off the console when you see four rather formidable opponents ready for battle number seven. Worst of all, the lovely Arena of Rueloon disallows the use of any special attacks in combat. Hack away, kids! You might even find yourself with some nifty new equipment or, if you have more prowess than most, a hidden addition to your party.
Inconsistencies and indecisive approaches to the game aren't entirely absent in the more aesthetical facets of Twilight of the Spirits. Still, we're not dealing with a wretched looking or sounding video game. The environments in particular warrant a mention, from Asheedo Forest to the center of the World Alliance, Cathena. A lot of effort was made to match the characters to their backdrops visually, but a few cases of poor facial animation and other small flaws add up to detract from the final offering.
Evaluating Twilight of the Spirit’s score is something of a chore for me. The production values behind it are sound, no pun intended, and the majority of the offered tunes would be quite relaxing in different locales. Sadly, the entire soundtrack is heavily misplaced. The battle theme that accompanies Kharg and his comrades into a large percentage of story progressing battles sounds more like a romp through the park then drawing steel in anticipation of the upcoming scuffle. And, sadly, I find it hard to take the tank in front of my party seriously when such naive music caresses my sound system.
Most of the dialogue, blessedly, is given in the form of text read by the player. Some of the scenes, usually those featuring certain characters, are spoken well, but there were a few key points in the game where the cheese becomes almost suffocating. Even worse are constantly repeated phrases while engaged with enemies hearing Darc proclaiming that he will ''save the Deimos'' while combating a cluster of the same Deimos was just too much. The lack of basic context, forced feeling, and 35 hours of redundancy withered me to the point of turning off battle voices, something I usually avoid doing.
If I said Twilight of the Spirits was a bad game, I would have a bit of length added to the ol' shnoz. Playing through it once isn't even asking too much, assuming you can withstand the here-and-there variant of RPG during lull points for the plot to stir and thicken. You can even stretch it out a bit by dabbling in the four combat arenas and trying to get your hands on some of the unnecessarily powerful equipment. Outside of this though, there's little special about Twilight of the Spirits. It fails to ascend to the heights set for it by the series name on the box, and when all is said and done, few will look its way when the upper echelon of RPG'S of today is the topic of conversation. Twilight of the Spirits is a lot of things commendable, worthwhile, and fair, but certainly not extraordinary or special.
Community review by jdog (May 24, 2004)
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