Although there's currently a glut on the original PlayStation, the PS2 hasn't seen too many tactical RPGs. Arc the Lad: The Twilight of the Spirits, the fourth episode in the series, walks the fine line between traditional part-based RPGs, and the more strategy-orientated ones. This title marks the series' next-generation debut.
The game's story takes place a millennium or two after Arc the Lad 3. There are two scenarios that the player can play through, Kharg's and Darc's. Kharg is a noble human who is seeking the power of the Great Spirit Stones to restore hope to his dying world and to defend his kingdom from outside attack. Darc is Kharg's long-lost brother, who was captured by devils early in his life and now seeks the Great Spirit Stones on their behalf. The likely conflict between these two can only grow more sordid because of Lillia. Lillia is a friend of Kharg's who happens to save Darc's life and win his affections. The player is reportedly free to switch back and forth between these two characters at any time. In the past, story has been the Arc series' strongest point, and in this respect Twilight does not break with tradition.
The other drawing point has been the battles. The battle system is a typical turn-based affair, with the characters taking their turns in the order of fastest to slowest. The trick, of course, lies with the tactical elements. At the start of a party member's turn, a circular field of movement opens up, and the player has free reign to move around anywhere in this field freely. It is quite like Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter in this respect, except that the player does not need to be careful about expending action points. Instead, all the player has to worry about is getting the character into position and then opening up the attack range area with R1. This donut-shaped field represents the melee attack range by the inner ring, and the more ranged attacks with its outer ring. Once the character has performed his or her attack, spell, or whatever, the turn is over. The character also has the choice to pick up items and money dropped by fallen enemies during his or her turn, and since these goodies disappear once the battle ends, it is wise to leave one foe alive until all the loot gets pocketed.
This by itself does not scream "tactical RPG," but there are other familiar elements. For example, certain attacks allow for radial slices and other zones of effect to attack multiple enemies. The player can also get an advantage by getting atop or behind the enemy. Disappointingly, these strategies are made unnecessary by overly powerful special attacks. The battle field terrain can supposedly be used to the player's advantage as well, but this feature has been implemented inauspiciously in the past. Other, less seen gimmicks reap more interest. Namely, combination attacks between party members and the "tension." This tension, which boosts the power of certain abilities, comes about by communicating with other party members. Unfortunately, this ties in with another problem with battle - the slowness. The voiceovers slacken the already slow process to grim levels. Things would probably speed up once the player gets the hang of the system, and the party gets some experience.
The battle system is given a boost by the solid gameplay elements. The game has 14 playable characters, which is a lot for any given RPG, but pretty meager for most tactical games. What is not meager by any standard is the 60 hours of gameplay time the game has to offer. Hopefully not too much of it will be wasted in navigating the world map. Cattle Call has foregone the standard free movement map for the point-by-point movement, which can make things difficult when not implemented well. The equipment system is also special. Equipment is powered up by attaching items of various sorts, resulting in fancy new weapons.
The realistic graphical style employed by the developer gives the game a good amount of detail. The numerous cut-scenes are motion-captured, as well. Nonetheless, the graphics could use a little more polish. The characters are a bit blocky and the aliasing job is bothersome. The detail pay-off is still pleasant, even if it doesn't look fantastic: the trees swaying in the wind and the stage business of the NPCs is convincing. The sound, (as seems to be the case often these days) not so much. The voice-overs, which Sony is apparently very proud of, only serve to cause more slowdown during battles. The acting is okay, but the absent Japanese voices option would have been appreciated. The music is decent.
At the end of the day, Arc does not stand out as much as one might have thought. Fans of the series should still be more than satisfied.