Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits is the latest installment in the long-running Arc the Lad series and the first to appear on the PlayStation 2. If you're up on your Sony history, you'll remember that the original Arc the Lad was one of the very first RPGs to appear on the PlayStation when it was released in Japan in 1995. Perhaps you'll also remember that even though Arc the Lad seemed like an ideal candidate for a prompt North American localization, the original game and its two sequels remained firmly rooted on the other side of the Pacific until 2001, when the series finally saw American release in the form of Arc the Lad Collection. Fortunately, Twilight of the Spirits has suffered no such delay--the Japanese version was released just three months ago, and its American counterpart is now available with fully localized text and voice acting. It's a solid RPG that doesn't take many chances, and while it may not set the role-playing world on fire, it's still a lot of fun.
Mechanically, Twilight of the Spirits is put together like just about every other standard RPG.
In narrative terms, this newest Arc the Lad game has only a tenuous connection to the series. It's set in the same world as the previous games but many centuries later, and the events of those games are referred to here merely as ancient lore. Despite a number of RPG clichÃ©s--the plucky youth with misunderstood powers and the big, bad evil empire are both prominently featured--Twilight of the Spirits' storyline is actually one of its strongest points. The game's world is inhabited by humans and deimos, which are intelligent but bellicose monsters. Humans and deimos share a hatred for one another that stretches back thousands of years, and of course this hatred manifests itself in constant conflicts between the two. What's worse, there are a number of human nations vying for dominance, and the deimos are divided into several different species, many of which don't like each other. With humans fighting humans, humans fighting deimos, and deimos fighting deimos, you've got a storyline that features enough intrigue to keep you guessing for quite some time.
The plot is conveyed in an interesting manner from the viewpoints of two brothers who were separated at birth--you'll play as one character for a while, then switch to the other, then switch back again, and so on. One brother, Kharg, is the former prince of a small kingdom who is coming of age and coming into his own as a fighter. Kharg sports a strange birthmark and latent magical powers that he must struggle to understand. The other brother, Darc, is a half-human, half-deimos slave who shares Kharg's birthmark. Darc lives on another continent and starts out languishing in slavery, only to break free and become a powerful leader of the deimos. Of course, all the birthmarks, magical powers, and mixed heritages raise some questions about Kharg's and Darc's parentage, and the answers are slowly unveiled as the game progresses. As you might expect, the brothers become embroiled in a chain of events that threatens the survival of their world, and they'll both contribute to this conflict in their own ways. Having you switch back and forth between the two brothers and their attendant characters and environments is a welcome and well-implemented feature that keeps the storyline feeling fresh throughout.