Graphics:
7.5
Gameplay:
6.9
Sound:
7.7
Control:
7.1
Replay Value:
7.0
Overall Rating:
7.3
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Publisher:
NIS America
Developer:
Gust
Number Of Players:
1
Genre:
RPG
Release Date:
March 15, 2011


2011 is a great year for role-playing fans, and one of the first promising titles for JRPG aficionados will release in two weeks time: Gust’s Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel . The game features a completely overhauled combat mechanic, a relatively interesting storyline, some unique characters, and a very clean – albeit somewhat lacking – visual style. Fans of past entries aren’t guaranteed to enjoy it; the gameplay is vastly different. The traditional turn-based format is gone (surprise, surprise) but the depth is still there and the battle mechanic, although problematic in some ways, is intriguing. I’ll actually be interested to see what the hardcore JRPG fans have to say about this because in all honesty, I really can’t predict. However, I will say that the presentation is classic JRPG from front to back, so that’ll appeal to the targeted audience.

The graphics are extremely clear and vibrant, but to attain that level of brilliance, it’s clear the developers sacrificed a lot of intricate detail. The combat special effects and basic visuals are so sheer and devoid of texture depth, it might almost be confused for a cel-shaded style. The animations, especially when just moving around the environment, are super smooth; almost too smooth, as the character feels weightless and collision detection is an issue. But that’s very minor in terms of gameplay implications. The high points of this graphical palette are undoubtedly the character and world design, as many of the towns and outdoor locations are nicely depicted and appointed. The game really starts to shine later after you’ve unlocked a few of the more powerful vanguard moves and Song Magic; the accompanying effects are a sight to behold. But it takes a while to reach that point, and I could understand the complaint that everything seems a little too stark.

The audio receives a definite boost from the soundtrack, which has always been a plus in this series. The music enhances most combat situations and although downplayed for your standard exploration and adventuring, it still resides pleasantly in the background. The effects range from decent to great, depending on the battle scenario. As for the voice acting, that’s mostly a personal thing, because we always have that exaggerated Japanese emotion; subtlety really isn’t practiced. Some really enjoy this style and that’s fine by me. But as is typically the case with JRPGs these days, I found some of the characters to be downright intolerable, while others were great. For instance, I thought Saki was always adorable and I usually couldn’t stand Finnel. I’m indifferent regarding the main character, Aoto. In general, the sound works very well on a technical level and the voices are about as subjective as can be.

It won’t take long to dive into this role-playing adventure, because you’ll be thrust into battle within the first few minutes of starting your quest. That being said, it’ll be quite some time before you unlock the full potential of your party; I think I had to play for a good four or five hours before I completely understood all aspects of the combat. …and I’m still not entirely sure I get it all. I’ll elaborate in a moment. The combat is the major focal point but for now, just the basics- you will run through standard open environments, where you will find random encounters (with a twist). You can jump and while it’s really floaty and erratic, this isn’t a platformer so I’m okay with this small eccentricity. You will visit towns and other civilizations but because all designers seem to have ditched the interact-able world map, the map in Ar Tonelico Qoga merely consists of selectable icons, denoting locations. Slick but kinda boring.

Now, before I get involved in the battle, let me talk about one interesting addition; it almost reminded me of Thousand Arms and the “dating” process. You don’t actually go on dates in this game, but you will have chances to talk to your female traveling companions when you break for camp (or wherever there’s the option to Rest). If there’s a topic available, you’ll see “Talk” next to the character’s name in the menu screen. So go Rest and have a chat; doing so will enhance your relationship with that character, and there are nine total levels of conversational goodness. You can even find new topics of discussion; they’re shining little balls you can grab when roaming about. The more you talk to one of your Rayvateils, the more she’ll like you, and the better she’ll perform in battle. I enjoyed this new feature quite a bit because it builds on the Cosmosphere idea.

Each Rayvateil has a Cosmosphere, and Aoto must “Dive” into that Cosmosphere in order to unlock the girl’s full potential. You need Dive Points and an understanding of the Rayvateil’s inherent personality, because there are mini-puzzles down there that require you to think about the girl you’re…in. Okay, there’s some innuendo there but it fits, because innuendo is deeply embedded in the game. And this is were we come to battle: