Is this a retro review? Game is almost a decade old. Ah well.
So I played Ar Tonelico because one of my close friends (yes, I have close friends) recently (if three months ago can be ‘recent’) delivered unto me one of their patented rants. As someone that loves video games and friends, I take their rant rather seriously and decided to play it. After all, if it’s something that creates a two hour rant, it can’t be that bad.
Ar Tonelico is a JRPG, so you know what that means. Insufferably long, collecting something or another, big bosses, there’s going to be a traitor, the works. You play Lyner, because there’s no name finer. You start off in
the Cloud District the Sky City of Platina and monsters that we call viruses are running wild. Normally you can handle them but this new one is super strong and can’t be damaged by physical attacks. One of your party stays behind to hold it off while the boss (that is, your boss) sends you to the lower world to find a macguffin that will solve all of the problems. Your ship gets attacked by a dargon and it crashes.
When you hit the ground, you’re probably bleeding out but a
love interest girl of the church saves you. You can tell she’s special and that she’ll probably join your party at some point because she’s the only one with her sprite that’s wearing pink. Once you tell the church your mission, they pledge to help, and we can finally really set off. Oh yeah, the pinkie has a name, Aurica. She’s assigned to follow you (I knew it) and help you. Which is her wet dream come true because it parallels a legend that she loves and she’s easily deluded by fantasy. “Oh Lyner, true love will spark between us and we’ll be the legend cometh again”. Poor girl.
Aurica is revealed to be a Reyvateil, a special class of people that can use magic by… SINGING. Wow, that melody thing in the title sure came about. It’s almost like the ‘tone’ in Ar TONElico is actually related to music. Reyvateil fight with you but since they’re focused on singing, they stay in the back and you need to protect them if they get targeted. They level up in battle with you but don’t get stronger spells naturally. For that, you need to ‘dive’ into them (mind out of the gutter mates). Diving into a Reyvateil means entering their psyche or something like that. Each Reyvateil has a ‘Mind Guardian’ that sorta acts like the Virgil to your Dante, but often less friendly. And Aurica has the best Mind Guardian because his name is Don Leon and he has a sexy spanish accent and he’s this adorable little lion with a pan on his head! He’s the best! I mean, look at him!
I love you Don Leon. You’ll always be my hero.
So yeah, diving into the Reyvateil. You enter the Reyvateil’s Cosmosphere which exists as a metaphor for the Reyvateil’s ‘inner demons’, things like anxiety, depression, or a feeling of entrapment. When you dive into the Reyvateil, you confront them and these inner demons. You help them solve their problems (remember, the only person that can save you is you) and badda bing. You get new song magic. I think that it’s a pretty neat system, even if I feel like it may exist (in game) mostly to explore relationships between you and the Reyvateil. Out of game, I feel like it’s designed to help young teenagers that are playing the game solve their problems. Or maybe it’s an avenue to helping people look at things from other perspectives, so that we may understand each other a little bit more. I think it’s great, a nice little after-school special.
And that’s pretty much the game. You have to save Platina and eventually the world (because JRPG) and you choose between one of three waifus… or do you. Remember those Cosmospheres I mentioned? I hope so, it was only the prior paragraph. If not, go up a paragraph and (re)read that. Anyway, so each Cosmosphere has 9 levels. On the ninth level, a ‘ceremony’ is performed in the name of giving the Reyvateil more power. But it’s a ceremony that her friends and family are all supporting you and telling you to ‘take care of her for me’ and… yeah it’s a wedding. We all knew it was a wedding. Lyner, you’re retarded, the whole ceremony is a wedding. It’s a wedding in all but name. They even say that which I know as wedding vows (I have not yet been wed, nor do I remember what the real weddings I attended were like) and at the end there’s a hug instead of a kiss. Which brings us to the characters.
The characters aren’t terribly dynamic. Particularly Lyner. Lyner is the most boring protagonist you can come up with and he fits all of the determined idiot tropes you can think of. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I suppose since I think the real lessons are in the Cosmospheres and the emphasis is on common situations you might encounter, I view the characters as an avenue of storytelling. They’re constructed to suit the story. But seriously, Lyner, you’re boring. So how did we get here from weddings in Cosmospheres? Easy. So Lyner has this line that pisses me off every time he says it. The line before is the priest saying something like, ‘now hug [the girl] as a confirmation of your vows’ and you know what this little bugger says every single time? ‘Do I have to?’ Lyner you dimwit. The girl is in her wedding gown, you’ve helped her get through all of her insecurities, you’ve agreed to essentially marry her and you don’t want to hug this pretty little thing that you’ve loved and nurtured? *Flips table* I’m done.
So the characters are as simple as they need to be to tell the story and produce the scenarios presented. Is it lazy writing? Probably not. Is it cliche? Hell yes. Is it bad? No. The characters play out their after-school special and everything is good. I enjoyed it.
Let’s talk about crafting since this is a JRPG with crafting and I don’t see it often in this way with the other JRPGs I’ve played. Mostly Tales games and Final Fantasy (the good ones). The crafting system by itself is boring in that you collect materials from monsters you’ve slain, you craft yourself something nice. Where I like crafting most is in the naming of crafted things. Let’s say you’re crafting something. Depending on the active Reyvateil, if it’s the first time you’ve crafted it with her watching, she’ll try to name it. The conversations to naming things can be just straight up amusing. One Reyvateil is absolutely silly with her names. Your naming scheme is horrible! Just stop! You’re not clever! The other is trying to forcefully take your love and make everything she names and the conversations that follow relate to your undying love for her. It’s great. These conversations are probably my favourite conversations in the game.
The thing I like most about Ar Tonelico is the commitment to a theme. From the outset, the theme is music. ‘Tone’ in the title? Check. Singing maidens? Check. The first forest you land in? It’s called Viola forest and normally I’d let something like that slide as sheer coincidence. But then the next forest you go into is called Cello Forest. Once is coincidence, twice is intentional (that goes for you, would be couples that ‘accidentally’ bump hands while walking together). There’s also a Singing Hill location and Silver Horn location. Silver horn, by the way, looks like a trumpet. Within Silver Horn there’s a barrier that exists to stop people from going through it by FRYING THEM ALIVE. What it’s called? Oh, only the VOICE OF GOD. What? It can be turned off? By pressing THREE VALVES (Half-Life 3 confirmed). Let me get this straight; inside a trumpet, the Voice of God is heard. Aren’t trumpets usually associated with messages from God? Did not the angel that told Mary about baby Jesus announce their presence with a TRUMPET? Did Joshua not bring down the house with TRUMPETS? And do trumpets not usually have… not one, not two, but THREE valves? Song magic drives the game, literally. The plot requires your Reyvateil to sing specific songs! Overall, I probably give the game the most points on this commitment to theme alone.
Overall, highly recommend!