Ar Tonelico contains one of the very oh so cliché stories that follows young Lyner Barsett who is an Apostle of Elemia which in layman’s is knight. He is tasked with going to the lower world to find a weapon that is capable of defeating a cybernetic virus that has manifested and is on the cusp of world destruction. But that doesn’t stop our plucky young hero from finding a way to get himself between two very polar opposite girls who have some interest in him. The story moves along at a very speedy pace and is one that you actually want to pay attention to because you have so much vested in the characters with this game.
So one of the big draws to Ar Tonelico is the dating simulation that is thankfully not shoehorned into this game, but instead is a very subtle aspect that you actually enjoy taking part in. The way this plays out is very simple, over the course of exploration you will come across areas of interest. This will generate topics of conversation that Lyner will discuss with one of the two girls. Once they have opened up enough to Lyner you enter a place called a Dive Shop, once there you enter the psyche of the girl, and from there help them get over fears or doubts that they may have. You might be wondering the purpose of all this and I can assure you it’s worth the effort. By helping these girls, you unlock skills in battle and new costumes that will further enhance their abilities, which is silly but it works, and it’s quite fun.
Battle is a very simple turn based affair, and it has a lot going on on screen. Between watching your song maiden in the back power up her skills to keeping her protected the battle system is surprisingly simple yet fun. Each character has a portrait in line at the top of the screen showing their place in the queue. While this is going, the song maiden hanging out in the back of the group is powering up a spell and can be called upon at any time. During battle the power of songs is determined by how long the song is kept active. So an attack spell just gets stronger over time resulting in more damage, and the same goes for healing spells. The song maiden isn’t an invincible entity and must be protected, bringing a little bit of strategy to the mix. If it weren’t for the music, I would have absolutely no problems with the battles, but as I stated above, it’s hard to cope with the audio.
If you can get past the fact that you’re playing a game where you interact with virtual females and try to talk through their problems (sounds like a light night on World of Warcraft for some people) then you’ll find a title that’s a fast paced and enjoyable RPG. And if you are one of those Japan-o-philes who loves everything Japanese and wanted a good dating sim, give this game a look as well as it contains a fairly good introduction to that whole genre of game that will never see the light of day on American shores. While the graphics are archaic and the audio has a few snags, the overall game-play experience is great and helps get us through a lull of RPGs as we wait for the next generation of titles to arrive.
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A solid RPG/dating sim that will please those that love all things Japanese
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