Arc the Lad: End of Darkness, a continuation of the respectable Arc the Lad series, was announced almost exactly a year after the North American release of its predecessor, Arc the Lad: Twilight of Spirits. While the game brings the series back to the PlayStation 2, it also will represent a number of firsts not seen in the previous installments.
The tale unfolded within should be easy enough to follow, and is set five years after Twilight of Spirits. Edda, a young orphaned lad, was raised by the Hemo-ji, a miniature race of sorts, on Crahf Island. Island life is a trifle boring for Edda, and he dreams of excitement. Wielding a staff and the skills taught to him by his poorly remembered parents, he wants to become a hunter. One day, he finds a mysterious girl on the beach--the archaeologist, Kilika, who behaves more than a little coldly. Edda soon discovers his innate talent at exorcism, and eagerly embarks on a journey with his best friend Hemo in tow--a journey that naturally escalates into a quest to save his world. In addition to these characters, 24 playable characters return from the other games in the series to give our protagonist a hand in his missions.
"...it will also represent a number of firsts not seen in the previous installments."
If you wish to advance the plot, missions are the order of the day. Each town, in addition to the standard purposes of purchasing equipment and beefing up your characters, provides opportunities for players to take on missions. Some of these missions are storyline-based, but can only be accessed if certain quotas of everyday missions are completed. Missions could include clearing enemies out of a location, protecting people or objects from onslaughts of foes, or teaming up with the AI to form a party of four to decimate enemies.
However, the methods of decimating enemies might be a little different than what you're used to from Arc the Lad. The first "first" that End of Darkness brings to the table is a very large departure from the tactical roots of Arc the Lad: an action battle system. Free movement has replaced the tactical grid, fancy button combos have replaced menu commands, and the magical effects are naturally flashy. Players may choose one of six characters in their party to enter the battle, and from there they may slice and dice at will, using the character's unique abilities to mow down foes. Health and magic meters stretch across the screen, and keeping a wary eye on both of these would be wise. Magic can only be cast if the magic meter is filled to the proper level, and is cast using short button combinations not unlike Squaresoft's Kingdom Hearts. When the R1 button is held, a menu with the four controller buttons and their corresponding skills or spells appears. From there, a simple tap of the desired button will unleash the appropriate havoc upon your enemies. Fallen monsters can drop items and rare cards, which can be traded in at the local card shop for special equipment. Since there will be a plethora of equipment to collect for twenty-five characters, who can each build up a large skill pool, players can tailor their party to their favorite fighting style. Cards are also representative of various skills, and can be combined, refined and equipped to further advance character's skills.
Another "first" for the End of Darkness has also been one of the most hyped--the introduction of online play. If hooked up to the net, players can join up with others of their kind in cooperative missions. Over 200 missions will be available for online play, and each one throws players into a mighty tussle where teamwork should play an important factor--particularly for those players who don't like getting smushed. Also available through internet play is a four player competitive mode, where players can throw customized party members from the single player mode into combat with peers in a desperate struggle for bragging rights. Chat can also be a part of your online experience, as players are ported off to a chat lobby with other players once they log in.
Reportedly, Arc the Lad: End of Darkness will sport approximately fifty hours of gameplay in offline, single-player mode. Combined with the unlimited hours of online play, the game will certainly not be lacking in potential game time. The mission system will also leave room for potential sidequests that players can undertake if KO'ing the final boss seems too unrewarding an experience.
With its cooperative online play, hefty player customization, numerous game-hours, and a radically changed battle engine, Arc the Lad: End of Darkness may tickle the fancy of RPGamers. For the interested, the game will be lining the shelves of your local retailer in the second week of June.