Title: Ar Tonelico Qoga
Alternative Title: Ar Tonelico III
Published By: Nippon Ichi Software America (North America), Tecmo Koei (Europe), Namco Bandai Partners (Australia / New Zealand)
Based on: The third game in the Ar Tonelico series.
Console: Playstation 3
Genre: Role-playing Game
Rating: This title has been classified PG for Sexual Themes, Fantasy Violence and Coarse Language.
Audio: English and Japanese Dubs
Subtitles: English at least.
Region: Playstation 3 games are all region unlocked, so you can play any version of the game on your home console. This review was conducted using a US version of the game which came with artbook and soundtrack CD.
Cost: $60ish from Play-Asia
Blurb: “This series is your standard RPG with strong guys and cute girls, who this time become more powerful the more they strip. The storyline and characters are fine, if not a bit generic and the battle system is actually fun, but not very challenging.
It has been a month since I posted that placeholder review, and thought it was about time to get off my backside and start playing it. With the PSN outage on, I thought it would be a good time to go and complete the Truth End associated with the game, a feat that is rather annoying, not too the level of Cross Edge but more to the level of Atelier Rorona. This is a series oddly enough, based around music, where two beings, the humans, and the humanoid/computer-like musical strippers that use magic by singing songs. Have I enticed you to play musical stripp…. I mean, Ar Tonelico Qoga? Then read on for my review of the game!
Ar Ciel, a planet that was once lush with many prosperous inhabitants… The humans of this planet created a new species with the power to convert songs into various energies, Reyvateils, and boased about their highly advanced civilization. However, a foolish release of immense energy triggered a global catastrophe that changed the world. The planet was shrouded by deadly clouds called the Sea of Death. With the loss of the land, only three artificial towers were left for the people to reside on.
The humans who lived in the Towers struggled to survive, suffering from a scarcity of resources. The world of the Third Tower, Sol Cluster, is practically controlled by Reyvateils. The State of Reyvateils who reside in the upper part of the tower, Clustania, exert their authority over most of the other nations from the top of the world. Clustania aims to establish a society that consists of Reyvateils and purified humans. To achieve their goal, the Clustanians carry out genocidal campaigns called Cleansing upon the human communities that dare to defy them.
It is in this sort of world,
that a young boy meets a maiden who sings songs
Okay, let me be blunt. Despite the fact that this is the third game in the series, this is the first game I have played in the series and unless I am mistaken, the only game in this series ever to be released to the Australian public. Therefore, I am taking all storyline impressions from this game alone, and on the occasion, from what I have read about the previous games. If there are any mistakes in referencing older titles, my appologies.
You start this game controlling the protagonist Aoto, a young steeplejack who lives in a place known as Blue Canyon and has all the idealistic and often generic aspects of a RPG hero. He witnesses an attack on a man and woman in armor by what could only be described as a cross-dressing male with muscles that make him look all the more creepy. Rescuing the mysteriously transformed Reyvateil whilst leaving the man to perish, they make their escape alongside Tatsumi’s quiet best friend Tatsumi to protect her. So begins the journey where they rise up through the tower in their merry quest to save the world.
Along their journey, they are joined by many others including another Reyvateil, Finnel, who like Saki, has the multiple personalities and Hikari Gojo, a doctor who to be honest, plays a very minor role in the storyline. This makes up the five primary playable characters in the game. The primary focus is inevitably on Saki and Finnel who are the primary Reyvateils and each have their own histories with multiple-personae that appear at random and switch personalities and attitudes towards the characters. This in itself makes the game a bit more interesting as just because they are the same person, does not mean they share the same goals as either Saki or Finnel. In each of them, they have at the very least, one character who is a protagonist, and one who could be considered an antagonist at some point.
There are other characters such as Katene, Mute, Gengai and Akane, who also join the party at points during the game, however never actually take part in the battles. It is even mentioned in the storyline that the characters question why Gengai, a reknown warrior, does not take part in the battles. Whilst this can be excluded, some of the other plot holes in terms of gameplay cause some issues. In one point of the game, the characters ability to use song magic is lost through a plot-twist, however, despite having issues in the storyline, the Reyvateil characters can still use the song magic they were supposed to have lost.
Back to the overall storyline, there is a good and solid storyline structure which incorporates the characters well and does not make the entire storyline seem obvious from the beginning, infact a few aspects I never would have guessed until seeing it happen. That being said, the storyline if you take the Bad or Normal ending paths could be percieved as very short and underwhelming as the storyline cuts off and making one small mistake in the game can make the difference of if killing a certain boss equals a truth end or a bad end. The truth end adds more to the content of the series, including a much needed third Reyvateil to your party, however even then, the storyline had more to offer then it delivered, and if they focused less on trying to deliver fanservice, heartwarming scenes and useless detours, they might have been able to offer more of an engaging plot. The core storyline elements were good but could have been implemented a bit better.
Whilst all characters recieve some form of character development, as this is a JRPG featuring stripping singers, it is obviously evident that the female characters receive more development then the males. The character development is given through four means. The first, which concerns all characters is through the storyline and as the plot unfolds, the primary parts of their personality and backgrounds are unveiled. The second, and most probably the minor of the four is through group interactions, where you can find glowing balls of light which starts a conversation with some or all of the characters.
The last two are primarily between Aoto and the Reyvateils. During the course of the game, you can unlock conversations with the girls, which you can then use next time you rest at a save point. This only offers a minor look into the characters opinion on a certain topic or event that has just taken place, however it is primarily used to determine what characters end you unlock, whether it is one of Saki’s endings, one of Finnel’s endings or one of the third Reyvateils endings. The more unique means of character development for these beauties is the Dive Shop system. Each Reyvateil has a world built into them with several levels in each. As Aoto, you have to collect DP (Dive Points) in battle, and then use them to traverse and interact with the people in each of the girls worlds to both get further character development and improve their abilities. The scenarios in this world are not real, however allow you to see the true personalities of the girls which they do not usually show in the real world.
The character development does seem a little bit try and as with the storyline, never reaches its full potential, however the different means they use to demonstrate the characters personalities are well conducted and are unique enough to not seem like a poor generic attempt at giving characters that added bit of development.
In terms of character design, for a game of this genre it is pretty good. I would more or less but the design aspects of the characters on par with Hyperdimension Neptunia, minus the lip syncing involved. First of all, the actual designs added to the controllable characters are detailed and have a bit more realism then other titles released by Nippon Ichi Software America the last year, however instead still offers that anime feel. Costume designed, they also are rather creative and respect the characters personalities, so Aoto is dressed as more or less a generic looking hero whilst Saki remains in a cuteish pink outfit….. in other words, if by itself, would offer squat in terms of physical defense. The same goes for the monsters, with a nice variety of monster designs incorporated into the game, if not a little overused.
As you can see in images further up, we also have the visual novel style talk interface with character portraits. The designs are nice, however I miss the lip-syncing from the Compile Heart games which would have been nicely implemented in this game. Personal preferences aside, the characters don’t have any inconsistencies in emotions, there is no noticeable difference between the 3D and portrait designs for the characters and the backdrops used are more or less adequate. To add the moe factor into this series, each of the girls have a number of song magic characters which all have portraits appear in the Dive World and honestly, most of them are well designed loli fairy characters… if that is to your tastes (I am not judging anyone here) then you won’t be disappointed.
The only major design flaw are the town maps. Whilst the main mode of navigation is through a menu, the walkable areas of the towns are often too far zoomed out and whilst having vibrant colours, offer no real means of navigation except walking to a random exit and ending up at a different zone or if lucky, the navigation menu.
Unless you missed the title of this review, this is a game primarily based around a race of people who can control magic using music….. and can strip for good use. From the opening theme, right through to the end of the game, you will be bombarded with musical elements left, right and center. Is the music any good however? The simple answer is yes. If you are not a fan of upbeat, digitally synthesized music, then the music might be a bit unnerving for you. The music has been primarily produced by Ken Nakagawa, who is renown for this work in the Atelier series, and is of the same standard that I would expect from him. From the start of the game, almost every moment in the game has music playing at you, whilst the battle theme I found increased in intensity as the battle progressed. Whilst I haven’t counted how many songs are in the game, but there is a high number of them (Closer to a hundred I would say) and heck, when Armageddon can be brought to the world with a single song, it is expected to be impressive.
The issue of voice acting is always toyed around with, seemingly a lot more often with NISA games. I will say that the voice acting is of the same quality of any of the recently released games by NISA, so if that turns you off now, might as well skip this paragraph. Since it seems like everyone already makes up their mind on voice preference before playing the game, this game is dual-audio, however I didn’t find the English dub bad at all, and was most probably one of their better releases, with the voices being more representative to their characters instead of being over the top.
This game utilizes a synthesis system similar to almost every other game NISA has released in the last year or two, even with the different developer. The synthesis system has you travelling around the world, collecting items and using them to develop not only items this time, but developing skills using weapons, magazines and random items. Thankfully, it isn’t that torturous to make a number of synthesis items. Most items seemed to be rather common drops from the enemies you battle, but also can be bought, for a moderate price at stores placed in every town. It is a nice system that allows you to develop the skills at your own pace and determine whether you unlock them earlier or later depending on your motivation to get the items. There is a good number of objects to create, and quite often you will open a chest to find ? V-Board ?. Whilst not relating to item synthesis, you can also perform a Song Synthesis on the Reyvateil girls, in which you can give them presents, get them to strip down, and then attach song fairies to each of four slots to improve their abilities in battle when you purge their clothes.
My final point of interest is in relation to the battle system. An RPG can be brilliant at every other area, but without a fully functional and well designed battle system, even the best game can become terrible. Thankfully, the battle system is adequate, but does get a bit repetitive. Every battle, you are allocated one Reyvateil and three humans to take part in the battle. The Reyvateil is responsible for the magic whilst the three humans are responsible for beating the crap out of enemies. The thing is, attacking enemies with a sword is an extremely slow means of undertaking a battle, therefore, the primary damage dealer is the Reyvateil. As time goes on, the BURST gauge increases, allowing more damage to be done to an enemy (From 1% to well over 100,000%). The rate in which this improves depends on how naked the girl is, so after attacking at the right moment and building up the heart level of the girl, you can purge one selection of clothes and gain a bonus from one of the song magic characters. More or less, every battle can be conducted using the Attack > Purge > Attack > Purge > Attack > Purge > BOMBS AWAY!. When battling a boss monster, you can also use a Flipsphere attack which, depending on the Reyvateil and Personae used, delivers an animated scene and heavy damage once hitting the fourth purge.
The difficulty depends on the difficulty level, however I would say that it would be best to remain on Medium for the whole game. Easy is extremely easy and you could essentially play through the game underlevelled and still not get a single game-over whilst Hard requires a fair bit of grinding I found, leaving medium to be the perfect balance. However, I would say whilst the battle system is too basic and could benefit from a bit more thought being needed into winning battles, what can I say, it is a battle system.
In terms of extra content, the first print editions came with a rather nice artbook and a soundtrack CD sporting 42 tracks from ingame. Depending on your source of the game, it is quite possible that the artbook might not be available anymore. All copies come with the soundtrack CD however. However, the game has a lot of built in bonuses once playing the game. The EXTRA menu option they have is similar to that in Atelier Rorona where they let you rewatch movies from the game, listen to every song in the game with comments from the composer and several other things like that. They also have a DLC set put up on the PSN Network, which has another storyline attached to it, and Part 1 of the four or five of them is available free!
Personally, this is an above average RPG for me. Whilst I don’t think it stood out in any field besides music, if you are short on an RPG to play, then I could recommend this title for you. It should keep you busy for something around 20+ hours once you sort out the truth end, and even more if you want to explore the world of the cosmosphere by diving into one of your partners and synthesize every item in the game. The trophies do require you to play New Game + mode a few times, however in comparison to other games, are pretty modest with the exception of the 100 hours game time trophy.
Character Development: B+
Voice Acting: B
Personal Opinion: B
Overall Score: B