Sure, you can’t pronounce the name, but why should that stop you from looking into a good looking role-playing game from the factory that is NIS America. Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia is the story of Lyner Barsett, one of the Knights of Elemia. Unfortunately for you, Elemia is under attack by an unknown entity and as a Knight it is your duty to fend the attackers off. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. You’re going to need help, and lots of it from some unlikely places. Help comes in the form of Reyvatail’s an odd race that you will partner up with to make you stronger. Think of her as your magician, but instead of casting spells to boost your power or defense, she’s singing. Yeah, that’s right. It’s a quirky game with a lot (read: a metric ton) of innuendo and double entendres, so it’s for more mature gamers, but it’s unconventional story and gameplay are straight up old school. A turn-based fighting system and those pretty pictures that pop up next to the characters every time they say something is definitely old school. Sure, we’ve progressed beyond that, but some people like their games this way. Classic gameplay never grows old or tiresome.
If there’s one area that Ar Tonelico could have really punched up it’s the graphics. It looks great when you see those character windows pop up and they’re visually detailed, but then when you look beyond that the game lacks detail in the environment. There’s plenty of room for improvement because they cut out all the overworld exploration and went straight to the exploration of an area without the hassle of all the random battles that it normally takes just getting there. Of course most RPG’s aren’t exactly graphic intensive anyway and this is no exception, despite the fact that this game is on the now “last generation” PS2 the game could have benefited from some sprucing up. As noted, though, for the most part the game looks good, you’ll wish there were more animation and some better looking areas to explore, but graphics are secondary to the story and gameplay.
The music is done well as are most role playing games, with the highlight of the soundtrack being the songs by the Reyvatail’s. In fact the music is great. From the very first moment the game turns on you hear a beautifully haunting melody, with more to follow throughout the game. It’s the rest of the audio that suffers with bad voice work due to what can either be attributed to either bad acting or overall disinterest on someone’s part, whether that’s those responsible for the localization or the actors themselves. Part of it is the dialogue written and the other part is delivery, but either way what you end up with is some voice-overs that are pretty sub-par compared to that of other top tier role playing games.
Ar Tonelico attempts to be a little different with their battle system, though it ends up being similar to the Active Time Battle in older Final Fantasy games. The combat is interesting and different, but that also leads it to being repetitive and tedious after a while. Even fighting the lowest level enemies winds up being a battle that could take a couple of minutes. In theory the Reyvatail, who is in essence your magic user via songs instead of spells, has to build up her power within a fight to have any real effect. Sounds like a great idea, but sometimes is more trouble than it’s worth. Because they’ve tied bonus experience and item drops to using the most powerful songs, in a way you’re almost forced to spend extra time in long drawn out fights, especially if you’re intent on collecting those items for crafting more powerful items.
The story itself really felt like it was all over the place because you never really feel like you’re headed in one specific direction. While the game is fairly linear, the story moves along at a rather pedestrian pace. Characters are constantly coming and going from your party, which doesn’t help the character development which is usually vital in a role playing game and in this case even more vital because Lyner, your main character is encouraged to interact with the Reyvatail’s so that he can “Dive” into their mind and unlock more powerful songs and the like. Diving into their mind is one of those times in the game where you get to experience the blatant innuendo. It leads to some rather abstract and rather misleading moments in the game.
The one thing you’ll notice after a few hours of playing Ar Tonelico is that there is a lot, and I mean, a lot of innuendo. It’s odd to see it in a video game, but it’s even more odd to see it appear so much in a game the way it does here. It’s rated for teens, but there’s a lot of references to things you might want to keep away from younger or immature kids. Most of it is subtle and would go undetected, but some of it is blatant and overly obvious.
If you’re looking for an RPG heavy on the role playing elements, Ar Tonelico might be something you want to take a look at, but if you’re hoping for something with a little more action and a deep story, you’ll want to look elsewhere. It’s a nice little 2D RPG, but the PlayStation 2 has a lot of really good ones that are more worthy of your time and attention than this. This might be a decent rental or a good buy at a budget price, however, at full retail price I might be hesitant.
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