Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star
Ar Nosurge acts as both a prequel to the Ar Tanelico series and a sequel of Ciel Nosurge. The former is a trilogy of JRPGs across the PS2 and PS3 that involve singing, while the latter is a Vita-exclusive visual novel. Ar Nosurge logically combines the two into a really strange, but funny and enjoyable adventure. The core plot revolves around a world at war with itself – a church-led faction who has sided with the Sharl, a group of aliens who took over the human race. The church decided to co-exist with them at the expense of severing their relationship with the rest of the human race, and unrest has ruled the day ever since.
Our main characters are Delta and Cass – the former is male, the latter female, and that plays a crucial role in one of the game’s main activities called purification. In one of the game’s many innuendo-reliant bits, both characters strip down and as the game itself describes it “make physical contact while inserting the crystal”, and you can choose where the crystal goes, and that’s actually fairly subtle compared to some of the items you can buy later. The story is rather bizarre to say the least, and its frequent use of scantily-clad, flat-chested females is a bit disturbing. It then crosses the line a bit with all of the bathing sequences and fanservice.
The Ar Tonelico franchise’s singing plays a vital role in the game’s battle system. On a basic level, offense is achieved with a combination of square, X, and triangle with each offering up a variety of attacks. Square attacks are fast and won’t do much damage, while X and triangle take more time, are in shorter supply, and do a ton of damage. The key is to vary between the three attack types and then make use of singing whenever possible. You don’t get many chances to sing, so it’s best saved for boss battles. Activating it requires you to press start and then select the song you want to sing. It’s a bit odd to press start mid-battle, and while it doesn’t add much time to things, mapping this function to a trigger button would’ve been nice.
Ciel Nosurge’s visual novel setup comes into play during the Genometric portions of the game. While visual novels aren’t a huge deal on consoles, their basic “choose your own adventure” style is very much like an RPG anyway, since they involve conversations and either rewards or punishments based on them. Here, the idea is that you hop inside someone’s subconscious and engage them. You’ll meet new characters and while those meetings won’t make sense at first, they will make more sense in time as you meet new characters in the core adventure that are clearly the equivalent to that character in the Genometric area. These portions aren’t as fun as the battle system, but do provide you with something new to do between battles.
Exploration isn’t a big part of the game, as it’s largely menu-driven. As someone who has grown to value efficient game design, I have no problem with this setup as the parts of the world you can explore are beautiful – even if they are a bit claustrophobic at times due to there being so little area to actually move around. This means that there’s no real reason to not seek out every nook and cranny since it takes very little time to do so, and it will net you items you can use for your adventure. Like the Atelier Iris’s series alchemy, you can combine things to make recipes that will aid you in your quest. These things aren’t going to break the game in your favor, but can save you during a time of need.
Visually, this is an impressive game in still, but it falls apart a bit in motion. The worlds and character models are nicely-detailed, but they don’t quite fit into the world well. There are times when you’ll be walking around, or see someone walking, and it appears like you’re floating above the ground. This is especially evident when you’re climbing up or going down steps as well, and it’s jarring. Beyond that, the animations are fairly smooth, although the scantily-clad female attires become numbing after a while. It’s one thing when there’s a contextual reason for it, but when you’ve got a super-young looking girl running a restaurant with half of her butt showing at all times, it’s a bit ridiculous.
JRPGs have been highlights for gaming soundtracks for many years. Ar Nosurge has a really intense soundtrack with an operatic theme that gets your blood pumping the second you start the game – literally. It starts up, and you get a fast-paced video setting up the characters, the setting, and the game’s universe with a stirring score sung by a variety of singers that are used throughout the game. This makes most of the game’s songs seem fairly epic, and that does a lot to make the experience more exciting as a whole. The voice acting is fairly solid, although it’s not the best work of anyone involved. The dialogue isn’t all that good even if things are enjoyable to see unfold. Battle sound effects are in-sync with attacks and have a nice oomph to them.
Ar Nosurge is greater than the sum of its parts. The storyline is too goofy to take seriously, with a cast that you can get behind on a surface level, but aren’t fleshed out enough to really hook you for a significant length of time. Still, the battle system is really fun to use and is so exciting that it’s worth playing through the game just to keep using it. The inclusion of the visual novel sections is a welcome change of pace too, even if they aren’t my personal favorite thing in the world – they’re well-done. The graphics are strong at times and in some regards, but the characters don’t seem to fit into the world well. The soundtrack is strong, and probably the best overall feature in the game. The voice work falls short of reaching those heights, but it’s reasonably good despite the limited script.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
This review is based on a digital copy of Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star for the PlayStation 3 provided by Koei Tecmo.