Review by rojse
"Ar Tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica Review"
The residents of Ar Tonelico currently have a lot of problems. Reyvateils (women that have the ability to use the power of song to cast magic) are suffering from the deadly IPD disease. The land they live on, one of three towers reaching far above an uninhabitable world, is barely sufficient to support them, and slowly decaying away. The Church of the Holy Maiden has declared war against the Goddess, while a rebellion has arisen against the church for their blasphemy, with both groups believing that their methodology and ideology are the only way to fix their hugely troubled world. All of which is set in an imaginative fantasy world underpinned by science fiction, where the power of songs are channeled, directed and harnessed by highly-advanced technology. Dropped in among all of this is Croix, a young soldier tasked with guarding the Holy Maiden, who will help decide the fate of the world. There's a deep story here, with an extremely well-detailed world, complex moral questions and meaningful choices that you are asked to make.
The gameplay of Ar Tonelico II is a strange beast. It's partly a turn-based RPG, and partly an interactive romance novel. The two parts of this game are brilliantly interwined, with progress from one aspect of the game helping with the other part of the game. With all of this, there is a complex item synthesis system (practically mandatory in a Gust game), and the earning and equipping of various types of bonuses to characters to assist in battle. There's certainly a lot of different systems to learn, and a lot of depth in each.
Firstly, the turn-based RPG aspect of the game. You have four characters in battle at a time (any of which can be switched out for reserve party members during your turn) - two Reyvateils wielding various song magics at the back, and two guarding members at the front. Each of the guards have three different basic attacks they can do, and a guard ability, as well as various high-powered unique skills. Any of their basic attacks or guard skill helps improve the performance of the Reyvateil's singing. There's a lot of underlying strategies here that make attacking quite fun - various elemental song magic types to wield, deciding between how long to charge your magic before using it to deal massive amounts of damage to your opponents, or whether to heal and/or support your front line. When you're not attacking, you are required to guard against attacks by carefully-timing button presses representing each of the two guarding characters. It sounds simple enough, but gets quite complex - it feels almost as fun as attacking your enemies, and it's a great change to merely watching your opponent attack you while you sit there waiting for your next turn. Winning battles earns you money and experience, as expected in an RPG, but also earns you points to various Reyvateils, which segues in quite well with the second major part of the game.
The points that you earn for your Reyvateils allows you to delve into a Reyvateil's Cosmosphere, or part of their mind space, providing that you have had had enough conversations with a Reyvateil. By diving into a Reyvateil, you access a short interactive story, symbolic of the various personality aspects of that Reyvateil, the various characters important to her, and the problems that they Reyvateil is undergoing. Helping her overcome these problems unlocks song magic and further conversations. It's a rather neat and inventive way of developing the personalities of the various Reyvateils in your group. There are plenty of other gameplay elements that can be mentioned, but it is sufficient to say that all of these are interesting, complex and well-implemented in the game.
"Ar Tonelico II" uses high-quality 2D pictures and backgrounds for conversations with various characters, with a few animated cutscenes. They're decently animated and not entirely out of place with the artwork used in the rest of the game. The animation style for exploration and entering battles with enemies is animated with 2D characters in 3D environments. The explorable environments do have a lot of recycled graphics used (particularly artificial areas). Most of this is easily explained within the context of the story, but the graphical quality may not be quite up to the bespoke areas used in latter RPG's on the PS2, but it certainly manages to do the job.
Considering how central the concept of music is to the game (and even underpins the fictional language used in the game, the music is brilliant stuff. There's a huge variety in the type of song and musical instruments used, all of which are quite effectively used. Quite a lot of the dialog is voiced in Japanese. I'm not familiar with Japanese enough to comment on the quality of the voice work, but there's nothing that is particularly annoying or out of place. I haven't played as much of the game in English as with the Japanese, but what I've heard there is of decent quality and not particularly annoying or out-of-place either.
Gameplay is of a quite decent length - approximately forty hours for a single playthrough. You will be required to make a major choice about ten or fifteen hours into the game (you are given ample opportunity to save and are told of the choice beforehand). Providing you have saved at this point, to play through from there a second time in order to unlock all the various conversations, costumes, song magic, artwork, and endings, expect to add another twenty or thirty hours to the game. The core gameplay is not particularly challenging or difficult in itself playing standard, but there are a few side-bosses that may provide some difficulty, particularly if your characters are underlevelled. If you're having particular difficulty, you can play the game on Easy mode. It really should not be necessary, though.
With all of the praise I've heaped upon this game, it needs to be said that the game does contain a lot of sexualized innuendo - there's some rather suggestive artwork, and a decent amount of character dialog, too, and I do understand and appreciate that some people might not like such a tone in the games they play. It's hardly the worst game for doing this, and the game largely does a great job in providing legitimate story-based reasons for the various suggestive aspects of the game without feeling overly contrived or sleazy. I have no problem with this aspect of the game, since the gameplay and story are able to stand on their own merits even if this aspect were to be removed from the game.
This is a fairly niche release, and you may have some trouble trying to find a PAL version of this (apparently the NTSC version is somewhat easier), but it's well worth the price of admission - deep characterization, complex world-building (check out the various Ar Tonelico wikipedias for more detailed information) an engrossing story, meaningful choices to make (that isn't answered by simply asking which choice is more advantageous to beating the game or dealing more damage) and a great deal of various systems that are fun and interesting to learn and master. If you normally don't play games with sexual innuendo present, unless it is a serious issue for you, I wouldn't let that dissuade you from getting this game - it would be a shame to miss out on such a great game over a single issue. This is an RPG that is well worth adding to your collection.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/30/12
Game Release: Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica (EU, 06/05/09)
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