Ar Tonelico has been a series that featured beautiful character designs, an intricate battle system and stellar soundtrack that was truly unique for an RPG that made its entry on the PlayStation 2. After the success of Ar Tonelico 2, fans have eagerly anticipated the next installment to their beloved series but with Ar Tonelico Qoga, the game is drastically different from what many fans are expecting on the PlayStation 3.
The game takes place 2-3 years after the events of Ar Tonelico 2 in the world of the Third Tower known as Sol Cluster. The Reyvateils, artificial beings capable of Song Magic, have exerted their power and influence over other nations by committing massive acts of genocide. Clustania, the Reyvateilian society in the upper Tower, is responsible for these “Cleansing” campaigns that have resulted in the death of countless human cities and towns. You take control of Aoto, a young steepjack trainee from Blue Canyon Hamlet who fights back against the Clustanian army chasing after Saki, a mysterious girl whom he saves in his hometown.
Battles take place in real time as you control the leading Vanguard, which you control to defeat enemies and to defend the Reyvateils, the Heroine who is able to summon Song Magic to unleash devastating attacks on unsuspecting foes. Song Magic is unleashed by filling the Heart Gauge which is gradually filled as the lone Reyvaeteil sings when you begin combat. Once the message “Purge ready” appears, the Heroine goes into “Purge” mode after a quick transformation, which allows her to boost and grant the Vanguards with elemental powers. Be wary of trying to purge your heroine if she is not ready, otherwise there will be a devastating interruption with her song magic losing control.
A harmograph is displayed in battle, which is linked with the background music. Attacking the enemy in sync with the high and different color waves results in greater damage dealt to your opponents and a temporary boost to the heroine’s heart gauge. As the heroine sings, she is engulfed in a circle known as the Heroine Field but she suffers if an enemy invades this space. Removing enemies is possible by using a “blowback” that literally blows the enemy away. Consecutive blowbacks cannot be performed until the icon gauge is refilled. The song magic itself, can be initiated by the player at any time.
Image Synthesis allows you to craft new items by selecting the heroine you want to ask for assistance and fulfilling the items and ingredients required. More items can be synthesized further in the game that equip you with new Supermoves, and after the appropriate DP is used, a synthesis event takes place between you and the heroine with the option of naming your new item.
To build rapport with the heroines, you’ll need to engage in talk events to gain their trust in you and to strengthen the relationship. They are often available at save and rest points after certain conditions are met for which you have a various conversation topics. The more topics that are available, the greater is her displayed trust in you which lends itself later to diving of cosmospheres that allows you to craft her song magic. If chitchatting with them isn’t your cup of tea, you have the option of showering them with gifts to boost their trust meter, but be warned as each heroine has specific likes and dislikes.
Upgrading the heroines’ song magic is done via programming Hyumas into elemental slots. These Hyumas are magical fairies and the more she trusts you, the greater the likelihood you’ll be able to set high level Hyumas. However, to do this you will need to ask the Heroine to undress for which she will either accept or flatly reject you. Hyumas that are equipped into a slot affect the song magic and Purges for Heroines in battle. Information regarding the Hyumas is listed in addition to the effects for the Heroine which forms the basis of the R.A.H. system.
This game features tons of fan service from asking the heroines to undress to performing the Purge mode in battle where she undergoes a clothing transformation. While the sexual innuendos in the previous installments were subtle, you can’t help but feel that it’s excessive and unnecessary in the battle system and gameplay mechanics. Even the most diehard Ar Tonelico fans will likely be turned off by these inclusions in the game.
Visually, the cutscenes are gorgeous but there is a feeling of disappointment with the game’s towns, villages and outer world as many of the environments are dull and overly plain. The soundtrack is something to behold as many of the tunes are memorable as it keeps the bar high that was set by the earlier Ar Tonelico games. Sadly, the visuals in this game do not fare nearly as well as the audio.
Ar Tonelico Qoga is a game with much potential that is overshadowed by its sexualized themes and excessive fan service. Much of the appeal is lost with its stereotypical cast of characters, bland visuals and repetitive random battles that quickly outwears its welcome. I couldn’t help but feel very underwhelmed by what could have been a promising and satisfying game. A lot of high hopes and expectations were riding on this latest Ar Tonelico installment with its best moments being marred horribly by its flaws and shortcomings.