A Rough Transition
Twilight of the Spirits is not a terrible game. Cattle Call had the unenviable task of translating a top down style into 3D. They had to maintain a fairly deep and well realized lore and world. And they had to somehow do this without losing that old school RPG feel that PS1 Arcs brought to the table. The main issue was perhaps that initial design choice; I wouldn't have blamed them for scrapping a lot more of the formula and trying to start fresh. Nonetheless, I can see and feel that this was definitely an Arc game, but while I definitely appreciate the effort, a lot was lost in the translation to 3D and PS2.
The story and presentation are one of the larger culprits. The tale overall was pretty bland, overly generic, and highly telegraphed. I can put up with the crap graphics in Xenogears for an awesome game and story, but TOTS just didn't have it. I appreciated the attempt at continuing and tying into PS1 Arcs, but I just expected more character depth and more plot than I got. The narrative is told in two parallel tales. The world is divided between humans and Deimos, evolved humanoid monsters that appeared after the concluding events of Arc II. Naturally, you see the story play out through sequential acts on both sides. Unfortunately, the inevitable clash and union of these narratives doesn't happen until the very end, so it really just feels like playing two games side by side. I love forced odd party situations and so forth in my RPGs, but this is not that type of deal. The back and forth with no real cohesion just kind of wore me down after the fifth iteration or so.
Graphically the game is alright. The models are all pretty basic, textures are fairly muddy, and animation is decent. There are some cool bits seeing into the distance, but a lot of the character and style they were trying to capture from old Arc just didn't make it over. The camera is always good, which was a nice plus. It hangs in a fixed isometric perspective that was easy on the eyes. The angles move a little bit to follow the action, but it was definitely well done overall.
The gameplay was probably the biggest letdown. The goal was clearly to bring the old Arc system over into 3D, and they lost all the good while maintaining the bad. The old grid is gone, and character movement is now free within a range based on a statistic. The same conventions remain, so hitting from the side or back is still advantageous. However, the strategic aspects of old Arc are now mostly gone; the fight mostly just mashes together, there is really no working your characters side by side to cover your flanks and so forth. The strategic element is still there, but enemy AI is generally so bad that you never have much to hear. Seriously, they will more often than not go out of their way to either hit the nearest guy head on, or will swarm your character with the highest defense. Area of effect attacks are also notably diminished; enemies have to be extremely close for most of them to take effect. I missed that aspect most of all. Strangely, your protagonists acquire huge AOE attacks late in the game, and they're so overpowered that most late standard battles are one hit deals.
True to Arc fashion, the developers also installed a hideous difficulty spike for you right at the end of the game. After an entire game where positioning was largely irrelevant, my characters were automatically overpowered, and bosses were mostly all pushovers, the final encounter requires highly specific positioning, characters, and tactics to even be possible. I had sold a lot of gear that would've been helpful just because it was never necessary until then. It was not the soul crushing Arc II finale, and I appreciated suddenly having to really use my mind. If tactics, positioning, and reading opponents or bosses had been a part of the game throughout, it could have really been a plus. Cattle Call really missed a chance there with the 3D conversion.
The sound was decent. The music was catchy and orchestrated. There were no amazing compositions, but I appreciated the generally upbeat tones. The variety was pretty lacking as well. The VA work was spotty to bad, especially for 2003 standards. MGS was the gold standard on a PS1, I just expect more out of a PS2 RPG. The Deimos protagonist was particularly ridiculous. Like someone doing a bad Dark Knight impression.
So in conclusion, 2 stars. I always judge pretty harshly overall, so this represents a game that underperformed and didn't really accomplish the goals set out for it in development, as well as having the various underwhelming aspects in graphics and sound. It's strange: while I was playing the early and middle sections, I was pretty compelled to continue, despite what was clearly a middling package. However, as I wrapped the game up, my opinion of it averaged down to reality, and here we are. More than anything, TOTS suffers from trying to compare to early Arcs, as it really just ends up emphasizing the bland presentation, mailed in story, and inferior combat.