Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed)
Release Date: March 15th 2011 (US), March 25th 2011 (PAL)
Price: $59.99 Buy Now!
Variety is the spice of life they say and variety in a JRPG can be something that is hard to come by sometimes. The Ar tonelico series has been known for having many unique features not often seen in your run of the mill JRPG and has grown a name for itself over the years since the first two games were released on the PlayStation 2. Now that the final game of the series and the first one on the PlayStation 3, Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel has been released, does it provide a satisfying end to the series?
The hero of our story is a relatively lazy and laid back man named Aoto whom we are introduced to through him slacking off in bed after finishing a job ahead of time. That quickly all is thrown out the window as the Clustanian army attacks a group of travelers outside of his house. The Clustanian army is chasing after a young Reyvateil named Saki and Aoto isn’t about to let a young girl be taken by the soldiers and well…. man-woman.
This means that Aoto is no longer able to enjoy his carefree lifestyle and is thrown into circumstances far beyond himself. Along his journey he finds help in the form of Tatsumi, a V-boarder in training, Hikori Gojo, Reyvatologist, Finnel, a clumsy Reyvateil with a mysterious secret and more as they attempt to not only survive the Clustanian army but find out exactly what they want with Saki and the deep secrets inside both her and Finnel’s mind.
I believe a little bit of an explanation is order before I continue further. Reyvateil’s are beings that have been constructed with the ability to harness the power of Song Magic and this is the main source of power in the world of Ar tonelico. Alongside their ability to harness Song Magic they are also contain the ability to be “dived into” meaning the main character can enter the Reyvateil’s mind to unleash more of her power.
Now this is exactly where Ar tonelico Qoga takes a step away from your standard storytelling and provides an intricate and in-depth story full of plot twists that will have you searching every nook and cranny of the world to find out more about the story and interact with the characters more. Finnel and Saki contain dark secrets within their minds and only Aoto can try to help out these women for the sake of not only themselves, but the world.
Now usually I would continue this in the gameplay section of my review but this deserves being placed here due to the fact that the storyline is obviously the central part of this game and many things focus around it. Each Reyvateil is able to be dived into via a Dive Shop and this allows Aoto to enter the “Cosmosphere” of that girl’s mind. Through this the player is able to unlock more of the girl’s power and understand the deeper workings of their mind by growing closer to them by knowing more of their psyche and personality.
This is an intricate part to the gameplay but also provides some of the biggest storyline twists that must be delved into to truly enjoy the game. Through entering the Cosmopshere the player is able to find out much more about the Reyvateil’s they are traveling with, even their hidden sides that no one, even themselves, know about. To trigger certain events inside of a Reyvateil’s mind the player must accumulate DP to use inside of her mind; this is done through fighting alongside said Reyvateil in battle. However the player can only dive as far as they have advanced into the storyline which means that even if you think you can make it to the 5th level of Saki’s mind you will be stopped at the 2nd level until you go further along.
The story of Ar tonelico Qoga can draw around thirty hours of your time into it but that is only if you scrape the surface of what you can truly find out about each girl and venture into the relationship building aspects of the game. Rather than having multiple side quests that are often placed to pad out play time the player is encouraged to interact with their own party members. Or should I say mostly on the Reyvateil’s themselves.
There are at least eight different endings that can be experienced depending on the choices you make and how well you know the Reyvateils in your party. This is done by locating glowing icons that unlock extra dialogue in the game’s Camp Mode which lets Aoto interact with the Reyvateil companions such as Saki and Fennel. By doing so the player is able to build their relationship with that Reyvateil and find out more about them by throwing character information at you like a rainstorm, but all funneled properly enough to be understood.
Overall the storyline has a serious undertone to what is first shown off as a comedy. Throughout the story this persists with a nicely weaved balance that forms a comedic tragedy as you find out more about the dark pasts about the Reyvateil’s in your party. Well that and sex. Lots and lots of sexual innuendo is laced into the game and the fact that it is an integral part of the game may either bring players into the experience or make them take a second look at the game itself. I will speak more of this later.
Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel sports some spectacular looking artwork that provides a mixture of HD 2D background images in a 3D world where the characters venture around in. For the most part the areas aren’t too varied or well-designed but they are usually great to look at when you explore the world. Also the character’s 3D models are good enough looking without looking bad even though when contrasted with the detailed appearance the characters look in the still-art dialogue scenes they are noticeably less detailed.
As far as the Purge modes go they are well animated with a sort of magical-girl styled transformation sequence that can be turned on and off depending on how many times the player wants to watch their Reyvateil “purge” their clothes. Occasionally the game will treat the player to a crisp anime cutscene which looks amazing as the full detail of the characters’ still-art is translated into the anime cutscenes.
First let me address the fact that the game contains an option to either choose between the English voice actors or the original Japanese cast. Everything is still subtitled which means despite your preference you will always be able to understand what is going on. The English voice actors do a great job matching their tone to the localized dialogue that NISA has done for the series.
As for background music and the fact that the battles revolve around the tempo and rhythm provided by the singing Reyvateil it is hit or miss. Some songs may seem out of place but for the most part the background music is pleasing on the ears and it is interesting to see it worked so well into a gameplay mechanic like it is within this game.
The game itself doesn’t play too differently from what you would expect a standard JRPG to play as. There is your standard overworld experience where you venture through an environment and encounter battles randomly. Thankfully the player is warned about how close they are coming to a battle via a colored bar in the bottom right corner of the screen that changes color overtime to show the higher chance of entering a battle.
Once the player enters a battle they will be treated to a real-time experience similar to what we have seen in the Tales game series which sets it apart from previous Ar tonelico titles. Players are given three “vanguard” fighters which form the active combatents while the fourth character on the field is a Reyvateil that controls the flow of the battle. She does this by singing a song during the fight and displaying a beat meter at the bottom corner of the screen.
The player is encouraged to time their attacks to the higher beats on the meter to increase the tempo of the song and build up a Purge Meter faster. The purge meter can then be used to make your Reyvateil strip her clothes off and perform powerful Song Magic to destroy the enemies on the field. Yes, you read that right, strip. The game explains this fact by saying that the more skin a girl exposes the stronger their magic grows and this means that the higher the level of Purge the more clothes the girl takes off.
This also means that the strongest Song Magic requires the highest level of purge which leaves your Reyvateil singing in nothing but her underwear at a certain point. Developing this stronger power and creating better Song Magic also requires the Reyvateil’s to strip in their rooms allowing the players to assign specific skills to their Purge abilities.
Other than battling and stripping your Reyvateil down to their underwear there are a couple of other features in Ar Tonelico Qoga. The crafting system has players acquiring random recipes from treasure chests scattered around areas in the world which are shown as ?Fan? or similar to that. The player then uses these recipes from various items they acquire in battle to create numerous items ranging from usable healing items to better equipment and special character moves. The player also gets to decide which Reyvateil they want to help craft items with and are treated to a mini dialogue between Aoto and his chosen Reyvateil which also boosts the relationship between the two but uses acquired DP.
Besides finding out a Reyvateil’s dark secrets and hidden sides of their personality the player can also acquire fairy-like creatures called Hyumas from each Reyvateil’s Cosmosphere. These Hyumas are then equipped to their respective Reyvateil to allow her to give special stat boosts during combat and for their Purge abilities.
In the end a lot of the mechanics involving a Reyvateil’s Purge ability, Cosmosphere, and stripping point are based around how well that Reyvateil actually likes Aoto and the better the two know eachother the stronger they become. In the end though there is no actual nudity to the title, although the player can choose to jokingly pursue further and be shot down by the respective Reyvateil. Some people may find this a disappoint in their RPG but it actually serves a relatively useful purpose outside of being fan service and is also something that the series has been known for since the beginning.
Now you didn’t think that there would be an NISA game released for the PlayStation 3 without a premium edition would you? Well Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel isn’t the exception to the rule after it began last month with Hyperdimension Neptunia. The premium edition includes a ATQ official soundtrack which features a little over an hour of music from the game itself which is primarily all the background music you will be treated to. Fans of the music or in the need of some background music to their own activities can find this a nice addition to their collection.
Also included in the oversized game case, other than the game itself is a fully colored hard covered artbook that features 40 pages that show off character profiles, a few pieces of character artwork and information of some of the more obscure pieces of information within the game itself. The only complaint about the Premium Edition that I found was the fact that the soundtrack CD was placed inside of a simple sleeve as opposed to being bundled in the game case itself but this is mostly for aesthetic purposes only.
Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel has plenty to see, literally in some cases, and enjoy for fans of the RPG genre. With multiple endings and a very interesting story with plenty of twists and lots of character development you will constantly be trying to find out what is going to be happening next. And that my friend is exactly what you should be asking for from an RPG, the drive to continue the story simply to find out what is happening. Sure there isn’t a whole lot of depth to actual gameplay, but that is because it all is sitting in the story. If you can handle the fact that the female characters in the game often take off their clothes, or if you don’t mind fan service, then you will certainly find yourself with a JRPG that will last you a long time.
I give Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel