You ever play a game that infuriates you and seems to do everything in its power to prevent you from playing on and enjoying yourself? I really feel like I had that situation come up multiple times over the course of this review. Ar Tonelico Qoga Knell of Ar Ciel is just one of those games that has so many aspects of it from tired JRPG tropes that it's incredibly hard to find much to enjoy about this game in the first place. But then there are the times where the characters step in and start interacting with each other and you start to forgive the game. Then it decides to throw you in a random battle, or send you off to a dungeon with no discernible way to get there. It's a constant tug-of-war with the bad aspects and the good. If I had to judge this game solely on characters, this game would have fared a lot better. But the mediocre aspects of the game do a lot of damage to helping this game succeed.
Ar Tonelico is a game that is definitively for the fan of all things Japanese. I hate to make a sweeping generalization like that but really it's true, you've got to love stuff like Hyperdimension Neptunia, the Atelier series, or pretty much anything else from NIS America's stable of games. It just has that level of quirk that is tough for the average gamer to handle. Those familiar with a 'harem anime' type of plot will not be surprised by anything in the game. The ESRB recently handed an M rating to Ar Tonelico Qoga, and after seeing what the game has to offer it's not without good reason. Nudity is a common theme, with female characters shedding clothes to gain more power. I don't know how that works, it was briefly explained in the game but I'm pretty sure I just glossed over it and got it that being nude was a good thing. But other stuff like suggestive moaning, and implied sexual encounters aren't all that uncommon either. If anything it feels like the ESRB was a bit heavy-handed, but some of the content is so blatant and ridiculous it's kind of hard to look at this with any kind of straight face.
Let's get those negatives out of the way. First, random battles. Why do these still happen? When even the most classic of franchises like Dragon Quest can abandon this mechanic it's high time to just stop doing it altogether. Now, to stave off too much random battling there is a limit to the number of fights you can get in to in any one area, but that's only so long as you remain in the area. If you go out to the world map the meter will reset. After an event about half way through the game the standard monsters will change to something more powerful, making each area a prime place to level up, but sometimes you just want to cruise through an area. There are items for that, but they have to be used frequently and are not very cheap.
Next up we have a very fragmented story that at times seems to feel awkward and stunted. Aoto is a steeplejack who one day wakes to find the city of Clustania raiding his village in an attempt to hunt down a Reyvatiel named Saki. After saving her it's a long adventure that because a matter of saving the world, through the power of song, so to speak. You'll learn that the world is actively trying to destroy humanity and the reasoning behind Clustania's actions. A lot of my hang ups on the story just stems from events that seem to happen and they have no consequence. Someone in my party has to sing an important song, yet they still fight in my party, or they've just been gravely injured but are still well enough to fight alongside me. A lot of events just happen in this game, with no sense of passing time, and with little consequence to the story. On the flip side of this there are the character interactions that do a lot to shape the story of Aoto. By 'diving' in to the minds of the three female leads he's able to form a relationship with each character that ultimately determines his future, sometimes with very offbeat results. One ending had me leaving the world behind with my female companion following along so she could be my 'gal wife.' One of the pleasant surprises though was seeing characters from previous Ar Tonelico games show up to help me out in my quest, it made the world as a whole feel a lot more cohesive.
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