Things began for the Ar Tonelico series back in 2006 and will finally be coming to a close with the release of Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel on the PlayStation 3. Developer Gust has made some changes for this series finale, changing out the turn-based combat for a more action oriented combat mechanic and incorporating a new visual style. With these changes and a great job of localization thanks to NIS America, does Ar Tonelico Qoga takes the series out on a high note, or should they have stuck to their roots?
Players will assume the role of Aoto in this story, a lazy teenager who one day hears an attack outside of his house. The Clustanian army is trying to capture a young reyvateil named Saki and its Aoto’s time to become the hero our story needs. Now with the Army on his tail, Aoto flees with Saki and along the way picks up multiple allies, including another reyvateil named Finnel. With both Saki and Finnel sharing a dangerous bond, Aoto must do all that he can to keep them from being someone’s weapon and in the process curing them.
The story has all the making of a serious drama but makes sure to include a fair helping of humor to keep things balanced. There is plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to be found in the game and enough sexual innuendos to last us a lifetime. These jokes started out funny but as you get deeper in the game a lot of it begins to feel overused. Luckily, Qoga does do a good job of keeping things even and there will be plenty of twists and dark moments in the story. The game draws you in and makes you care about the characters and what will happen to them.
The biggest change that has occurred in Qoga is the combat and its complete overhaul. Past games in the series featured a turn-based combat and Qoga decided to try something new. Welcome in the new R.A.H. system, a real-time engine where players try to attack with the beat. Players will have 3 vanguards plus one revyateil in battle but will only be able to control one of the vanguards, while AI will control the other two. During the battle your revyateil will sing, causing waves on the Harmograph to rise and fall based on the beat of the song. You will want to pay close attention here because if the graph is hitting high waves, your attack power will increase. Also the more high waves you hit, the higher the frequency for your Reyvateil to purge in combat. Purging plays a huge part in combat as it can give your team with combat bonuses like increased attack or defense. The funny thing about purging is that when you do it, your reyvateil loses some clothes and the more naked she gets, the more powerful she becomes until she can do an attack called a Flipsphere which deals a ton of damage. This is a little disturbing as your reyvateil’s look no older than 10 and makes for some very awkward moments.
While it might seem like a lot to take in, the combat system is fairly easy to master. The combat will keep you on your toes with its fast-paced action. All of this would fail however if the AI of your teammates was not good and luckily the AI works great, allowing you to focus strictly on combat, health bars, and keeping people off your reyvateil. You can also switch which character you control in battle at any time, allowing you to experience the battle as different characters. One of the biggest let downs of the game’s combat system is that a lot of battles take far too long to complete. This can become a real pain when you are grinding through a dungeon as the fights really drag, slowing your expedition down immensely. There is a timer bar that helps out a bit though, where when depleted you will no longer be attacked. These longer battles might have been done to help players to unlock more purge’s in battle (which take time to do) but it still feels like it could have been done better.
Qoga features a lot more than combat to keep players busy. There is image synthesis where you can combine objects to create new weapons, armor, and items. You can also use this crafting system to create supermoves for your vanguards. There is also a song synthesis option where you can switch out different Hyumas to produce different combat results when purging. Hyumas are found when diving into a reyvateil’s Cosmosphere. By diving in it allows Aoto to get close to each girl and craft powerful song magic. To dive into a Reyvateil you must first have enough Dive Points because as you progress through the Cosmosphere you will lose Dive Points to even costs. Diving is a lot of fun with the game and allows you to really get to know each reyvateil and the multiple personas they have living inside them.
With a game that centers itself around music it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Qoga has a magnificent score that fits in beautifully with the game. If only the same could be said for the voice acting, which like most RPGs is very hit or miss. Saki is easily the most annoying character in the game, though Aoto is not far behind. It doesn’t get much worse than when she talks from a 3rd person perspective and then proceeds to act as a household pet, leaving you to wonder if your going to be arrested in some child pornography bust. Thankfully, NIS America has been kind enough to include the option to use the original Japanese voice track, but this doesn’t make up for the character flaws. Visually, the game is a bit of a disappointment. The dungeons and cities leave a bit to be desired as none of them really show the same pop that previous Gust titles such as Atelier Rorona did. Luckily some animated cut scenes are sprinkled in that showcase some real beauty but those don’t appear often enough.
Overall, Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel is a decent game that should find a home with people wanting a solid JRPG. A couple of nagging flaws keep this game from fully reaching its potential, but even with those, there is still plenty to enjoy here. A serviceable story provides good balance between humor and drama but is killed at times by awkward dirty jokes. The combat is fun but at times long-winded and the Cosmospheres offer a nice change of pace. Now if only these developers could create a game that we are not ashamed to play in front of our spouses. It’s kind of hard to explain a half-naked 10-year-old girl to my wife, so do us a favor and keep the clothes on next time.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Story does a good job of balancing comedy and drama
– Visuals and voice acting just don’t deliver