Arc the Lad: End of Darkness Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

System:
PlayStation 2
Release date:
June 14, 2005
Publisher:
Namco
Developer:
Cattle Call
Players:
1
Genre:
RPG
ESRB:
T

Arc the Lad: End of Darkness

How many misfires must a Lad walk down, before they call him a man?

Review by Long (Email)
August 17th 2005

Thank you! You've just saved the world, possibly the universe. Evil is vanquished, water will refill the lakes, and the trees sprout from the ground again. Roads are safe to travel, and tonight the cities that still stand will celebrate. Back in your hometown, everybody has something new to say to you – thanks, congratulations, reformations of their past lives, a newfound appreciation of their lives. You may take the throne, or you may return to till the land, or you may embark on a new adventure. But you will not know what happens after.

A billion RPGs end in this way, and every time I never get used to it. Endings never feel satisfying. Sure, it's a nice gesture that you get to bid your final adieus to everyone, whose lives you've spent the last 40 hours trying to preserve. Picking up the pieces after near-destruction is a slow regenerative process, not appreciable from wandering around a lonely town for five minutes before the credit roll, especially when knowing that a sequel will probably have only tenuous connections.

It's the refusal to leave the world that I've come to appreciate the new, modern, though still rare, breed of game: the epilogue RPG. Too bad the ones I'm thinking of are follow-ups to mediocre games: Final Fantasy X-2 to the bombastic screw-up Final Fantasy X, and Arc the Land: End of Darkness to the middling Twilight of the Spirits.

New Order

Like in Yuna's hot pants with gun romp, the world of End of Darkness is struggling with new world orders, most prominently that of the Hunters, who run around doing odd jobs which all invariably involve conking monsters. Edda, an orphan on some nowhere island, may be the only person in the world who can exorcise and suck the life out of demons, though he can't seem to be able to suffuse any of it into a discernable personality. Accompanied by a diminutive blonde friend (honestly the worst RPG mascot ever designed; he looks like a Garbage Pail Kid!), they're whisked away from their island and into the employment of Hunters.

And almost just as fast, the world is available to access, which may overwhelm newcomers, but as a direct sequel set five years after Twilight of the Spirits (featuring many of the same characters and even the same camera angles) this makes perfect sense. After all, you slaved to save the world, so why shouldn't you enjoy the benefits of the open road?

But both X-2 and EoD utilize the same narrative propulsion: a series of missions – some necessary, most optional – that band together into a disjointed, fractured story. Nothing necessarily wrong with this practice, but because the plot won't advance for hours at a time as you're running around doing things of not much concern to the overall story, the plot needs to be a real corker, incredible and engaging, which End of Darkness is in want of.

To compensate, at the end of each optional mission (or Counter Task; you get them over the counter at town guilds) you're treated to a block of historical text about the land. Though meant to enliven the world, most of them are useless and plain bizarre (I recall one that stated if you see monsters, it should be reported to the proper authorities). The way they're presented (white text over a screenshot of the land) bemoans a lack of effort, a problem consistent throughout the game.

If boring white text isn't enough, rewards for a completed Counter Task also include gold and experience points. Which Counter Tasks and how many you perform is your decision, though a minimum gain of experience points is required for rank promotion. The tasks are separated by how tough they are, which is compensated with a bigger end reward, not to mention an increased probability of finding rare items. Pleas for help tacked on noticed boards (Notice Tasks) direct propel the plot, but each one can only be accessed after you've reached a high enough rank.

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