When I was a child, I only had one gaming system; a Game Boy Color. The first game I ever got truly invested in was a little game called Final Fantasy Legend II, and that one game has influenced my taste in games ever since. The JRPG genre is what dominates my gaming life, and when I go to a store to buy a new game, they are often what I look for first. So it was that I happened across this game, Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia. Can I say “game” anymore in this paragraph? Yes, I can, because Ar tonelico is one of the gamiest games to have ever gamed.
I don’t mean that as a bad thing, though it can definitely be taken as one. Ar tonelico is definitely not for everybody. I’m still not quite sure if it’s even for me. It’s one of those games where you don’t need to think a whole lot, and it doesn’t want you to think a lot. It holds your hand the whole way, never giving you any real mystery to the plot and never giving you any mechanics that require real skill or talent. It is a “game” by the strictest definition, in that you play it, it’s possible to fail, and you may or may not get any real satisfaction or joy from it.
First, I want to point out that this game was released in 2007, near the end of the Playstation 2’s lifespan. Ar tonelico itself does not look like it was even released on the PS2. It’s got a very simple graphical style, comparable to the Atelier Iris games, except without the cartoonish charm of the latter. It just looks dull and uninspired, with every scene (with a handful of minor exceptions) playing out with waist-up portraits of characters speaking, as opposed to any real cutscenes. It can detract significantly from the experience.
In fact, this game is essentially an Atelier Iris game in all but name. The combat is almost exactly the same, except it trades the nuance and forethought in the Atelier battle system for a much simpler version, which allows you to cast a powerful spell at any point in the battle so long as you sat there waiting long enough. It’s tedious and boring, and I often find myself using items to ward off battles after a long time playing.
Ar tonelico also took Atelier Iris’s crafting system. It just took it. The game didn’t change anything about it, except now all items used in crafting are drops from enemies, with very few overworld spots with items. All crafting takes is being able to tolerate slogging through enough enemies to get the required items.
Map navigation is boring and, at times, confusing. I’m not even sure how to describe it, as you move through names of locations on a general map, only you’re always centered on the place you’re currently looking at, with only adjacent area names shown. Then you use the directional pad or left stick to choose which direction you want to go. I truly pray for you if you don’t remember which direction a certain location was, as you might get lost trying to find it.
Dungeon navigation is no better. There are no clear borders on any of the screens, so at some random point you’ll just find yourself moving to the next screen. This is even true of dungeon-exit borders, as well. The game doesn’t designate them at all, meaning you could also just find yourself out on the world map again, without even a prompt asking if you’d like to leave. It’s such a simple thing that could save loads of frustration with just an easy fix.
Ar tonelico is very shoddy on a technical level, as well. The lag in cutscenes can get so bad that voice-overs and music will pause while the game loads the rest of the scene, which again, are little more than still-portraits of characters that occasionally change expression. The lag is present in battles as well, as casting any spell with your Reyvateil (i.e. the central mechanic of the battle system) will result in slowdown and even moments of complete standstill, which can make trying to perform any well-timed spellcasts practically impossible.
Speaking of the voice acting, I’m not sure these actors even care. They aren’t even comparable to blocks of wood, as wood would have more inflection and nuance. The only one who isn’t entirely terrible is Vic Mignogna, who suffers from the entirely separate problem of being Vic Mignogna.
All this is without even touching on the big reason for this game’s existence, the Dive mechanic. You Dive into the souls of your Reyvateil companions to help them through their inner demons and such, which is treated as being as awkwardly intimate as sexual intercourse. Once inside their “Cosmosphere,” you basically play through a linear visual novel to reach the end. There aren’t any dialogue options or choices to make it difficult or interesting, it just serves as a means to further the character development of the Reyvateil in question.
The characters themselves are actually interesting, and I do occasionally feel for them, but it does little to lift the drab mess surrounding them. They have secrets and fears and relationships with each other, none of which seem stupid or exaggerated, and it really helps to make them feel like actual people. The exception to this would be Lyner, the main character, who suffers from Protagonist Syndrome, in which he has the bare minimum personality so you can insert yourself into his position better.
In the end, I can’t really recommend this game. I had some fun with it in the start, but the further in I went, the less anything interesting happened. Ar tonelico has so much promise, and on the outside, looks incredibly interesting, but the packaging is deceiving. It hides a sub-par, confusing, laggy mess of a game, which steals far too much from better games that came before it. Even if you’re a die-hard fan of JRPG’s, there’s not much for you in this game. Just get Atelier Iris instead, and avoid this at all costs.
Console: Playstation 2
Developed by: Gust Corporation
Year Released: 2007
Genre: Active Time JRPG
Did I mention that this game is priced upwards of $50? That’s way too expensive for this drivel.