Apr 3, 2011I'll admit it, I'm a sappy, sentimental, romantic kinda guy, growing up on games like Lunar and Grandia I really came to enjoy a good love story in my RPGs. Sadly for many RPGs a love interest is just shoehorned in, a tacked on extra or a checkbox in the big list of stuff they think they have to include, so much so that many people think they're pointless or add nothing to the game or even detract from it. So when the Ar Tonelico series came along I was really excited to see a series that really went for it with the love story. Of course I'm several hundred RPGs on since I started and there's a lot of things I like in an RPG, good music, a well thought out world that feels alive and has a sense of culture, large swathes of character interaction, likeable characters, a battle system that is both fun and different etc. Thankfully Qoga succeeds in a number of these categories and excels in a few.
As with the other games in the series, Ar Tonelico Qoga takes place in a tower above their inhospitable planet of Ar Ciel which has been covered by the sea of death. Unlike the other games where reyvateils were partners and lived among humans or below them, in this area reyvateils dominate over humans and carry out cleansings and purifications, either killing humans or enslaving them in the name of Clustania. The scale of the story is both massive in scope and minute in detail and is constantly balancing between intimate personal issues, large scale political movements and events with world changing consequences in a really satisfying way.
Of course the story hinges on the two female leads, Saki and Finnel. They're reyvateils, a race of artificially created(though still biological) humanoids with the ability to use song magic. Saki is optimistic and innocent, Finnel is pessimistic and cynical, two fairly standard personality types, however when you begin to unfold the events that molded their personality they really become great, memorable characters. A further and unique level of complexity is added to them in the form of their personae. Both of them have a number of alternate personalities that govern aspects of their personalities. Sarapatra for example is a more mature, adult side of Saki. I can't talk too much more about them without spoiling some of the fantastic twists and turns of the story but you're left questioning if these personae are truly other sides of them or something else as they often work against their other sides desires.
The other vanguard characters, Tatsumi and Hikari, took me by surprise with how great they were too. With such an emphasis on the romance between the hero and heroines you'd expect them to take a backstage and play a bit part, but no, they have their own story and goals which you help them to achieve while they help Aoto with his quest too. In fact in the early stages of the game Tatsumi is so preoccupied with pursuing his own agenda that he seems pretty cold and seems to be constantly looking for an opportunity to leave the group. He just cant ignore Aoto's troubles though and through the course of the game develops to be a really great friend.
Even beyond the main cast, many of the NPCs have amazingly well thought out stories, some of them even tying back into plot threads through the previous two games in the series. I particularly enjoyed Mute, Akane and Richaryosha. Mute is a massive muscular melee fighter, completely railing against the regular idea of a reyvateil as a songstress summoner. Despite her role as an enemy early on and her fearsome appearance she's quite a sweetie at heart and can be oddly cute at times. Though still terrifying when running around shouting HONEY! DARLING! Akane too is an enemy to Aoto, but she's also Finnel's childhood friend. she's a cold hearted ruthless commander at first, but if you're a good enough friend to Finnel you might just end up being friends with Akane too.
The crowning glory of the Ar Tonelico series is definitely it's hymmnos, songs that are sung in a language specially created for the games. There are a couple of oddball tracks in there, particularly CUTYPUMP and EP=NOVA are strange tracks that I didn't like at first, but suit the characters really well. They hugely expanded the number of vocal artists working on this game and some of them are really great, KOKIA's tracks are beautiful. The rest of the soundtrack isn't quite as great and might be slightly disappointing to fans of the previous games but dont misunderstand, it's still a wonderful OST, better than almost everything else out there. It just had an unbelievable pedigree to live up to. Some of the slower tracks used in the more emotional and intimate scenes are really memorable soulful pieces.
Overall out of the hundreds of RPGs I've played this will be one of those I really cherish, it's the only RPG so far this gen other than Valkyria Chronicles I feel is really a classic in the making.… Expand
Oct 26, 2011There's always more to learn of the characters in all sorts of ways, and underneath the goofiness, there was still a thick layer of strong narrative and character development that kept me invested through sixty hours. I don't know if JRPGs will ever return to their previous prominence, but if Ar Tonelico Qoga is any indication, they still have a lot to offer.
Apr 27, 2011With all the technological bells and whistles driving this sequel, it ended up halting rather than evolving the series. Great animations set against clunky backgrounds, too much repetition in both the combat and music, and the lack of difficulty hold this JRPG back from being something truly special.