JRPG in the Rough
The Playstation 2 is no stranger to RPGs, with the system's library being filled with generic turn-based, save the world adventures. Look at one of them, and you've practically have seen them all. And while Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits doesn't completely shy away from the classic JRPG formula, the small differences makes it a refreshing experience.
Although there are a few straggler characters that couldn't be more one dimensional, the actions and traits of most characters are well defined and reasonable for the given circumstances, even for the more evil of characters. My only beef in the character department came from a few of the human characters, including Kharg and his love interest Paulette, who did not expand to more than the stereotypical hero and the jealous racist (think Ashley from Mass Effect, but with slightly less racism over time), and when voices are thrown into the equation, these characters become overly annoying as well. That's why it was such a relief for the story switch from human to deimos perspective every chapter, as the deimos characters are much more interesting as characters and tolerable in the voice department, which, thankfully, are only really heard during battles and can be turned off on whim.
The battle system is reminisent of the previous Arc the Lad installments, except the gridbased movement is replaced with a more circular area for movement, so instead of picking squares to move characters onto, each character has their own little movement bubble surrounding them indicating where they can move and attack. It works essentially the same as normal gridded movement, but the lack of an abundance of lines made the combat feel less restricted and move so much faster, having an average battle time take only two or three minutes and the larger battles about ten to fifteen. The only exception to this came with the final battle, which took me nearly three hours to finish due to unexpectedly needing to implement different battle tactics, which, had I died, would've meant redoing two other battles and revisitng some long, unskippable cutscenes I had to endure prior to my last save. The only reason I bring savepoints up is that one of Arc the Lad: Twlight of the Spirit's biggest downfalls is the lack of saving opportunities, with my longest going without a savepoint being three hours. That's not to say it's easy to die or anything, but for a fairly recent game not being able to save on the world map is an odd choice since most every RPG now and before 2003 has had this feature.
Among the other features that most RPGs have, but Arc does not, includes mana and weapons. Granted, each character does use a weapon in battle, there are no means to buy or otherwise obtain them in the game. Instead, the game has your rely parts and accessories to upgrade and enhance your battles. This feature feels very interesting and although it doesn't absolutely determine how battles turn out, parts and accessories do have a significant impact.
Back on to mana, while magic and skills are still very much a part of the game, these moves utilize spirit stones in place of mana, a plot device that deimos and humans fight over for the sake of their societies and power. Each character carries a certain amount of spirit stones for use in-battle and can only recover more from fallen foes during battle or otherwise buying them. As I've said, the battles aren't very hard, so they usually don't warrant using many spells or abilities, but this restriction on recovery does becomes a small issue during the last few battles of the game.
Speaking of abilities, the animations for each characters' moves are pretty satisfying to see. One character has the ability to put enemies to sleep with an ability called "Maru's Story Time," which has him drone on and on vapidly like a Paper Mario character, and another ability where he shoots a single arrow into the air, taking down a huge airship that falls on the designated target. As a character's class level goes up, they gain the ability to learn new sets of abilities with ability points, and while I thoroughly enjoy most of them, I was disappointed by a few characters who could learn a speed boosting ability at level ten, that other characters had learned at level five. Overall, more games could take cues from Arc.
Maybe Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits doesn't sound all that I was hyping it to be, but if you're hoping it's the next Final Fantasy, it's just not. You can't play this game for the individual traits it has, but for the personality that results. It's the little things like how fluidly the doors swing open automatically, a silence curative item called Painful Needle among other greatly and bizarrely name things, a book entitled How to Impress the Ladies that's about a bitter man named "Spicy The Dumped, all the way from the dumps," and even the little facial expressions that really sold this game to me. For the $5 that I paid for about fifty hours of game play plus some side missions and hidden characters I didn't even get to, it was a game well worth getting to know.