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  1. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Koei-Tecmo Platform: Vita Release Date: January 19, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen Another year, another Atelier game. Except... not exactly. It was not until fairly recently that Atelier Sophie was announced (and with a June release date as well). So, before Atelier Sophie was confirmed, I was facing a very serious existential problem as an Atelier fan. Much like an alchemist needs a cauldron to start crafting, I need a new Atelier game to start my year otherwise everything feels off (maybe not true, but I was not about to find out). In order to avoid such a tragic fate, I decided to shift my gaze towards the enhanced port of a former PS3 release with Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky on Vita, purely in the hopes of satiating my yearly Atelier fix. Now, admittedly, I have already reviewed the original release of Atelier Escha & Logy back on PS3. Quite in-depth, I might add (maybe too in-depth...). Because of this, rather than inadvertently writing the same review twice, I will focus on what is new to Atelier Escha & Logy Plus and with the context of having played its sequel (and the final part of the "Dusk" trilogy) Atelier Shallie last year. Next to nothing has changed in regards to storytelling. The player still chooses between two alchemist protagonists at the start with either Escha (pink-hair) or Logy (white-hair) as they work together to bring the dwindling R&D division of the town Colseit back on track. Since I chose Escha my prior playthrough I decided to try out Logy's side for Plus. Which, despite some minor variations in cutscenes, endings, and in-game objectives, are quite similar overall. Even my opinion of the gameplay systems remain just about the same. The combat and deep alchemy mechanics are still fun and addictive, but a second playthrough easily solidified my thoughts on the game's overall limiting mission progression and lackluster storytelling events that propel them. What is new to the Plus version primarily comes in the form of new character events, costumes, and including all former DLC in the game by default. Most are not substantial on their own but add minor variety to the moment to moment gameplay. For instance, you can play dress-up by tossing cat ears on Logy, play former DLC only party members (as well as one entirely new character unique to Plus), and swap between (almost) any of the in-game music with tracks from many Gust games, which I certainly welcomed on my second playthrough... especially the cat ears on Logy part. I think the bullet point feature that they added specifically for Plus is how you can change the context of Escha and Logy's relationship. In the original their relationship was completely platonic, almost strangely so, and now there are scenes that give the player a choice to add more romantic undertones over time or remain the same. These scenes are very inconsequential at large (and don't really change any of the endings either), but I suppose the option is there for those that found their prior relationship weird and want more cutscenes between the two. Generally minor additions aside, the more pressing question is probably comtemplating how well does this port hold up compared to it on PS3. And, for the most part, the answer is decently well. It sacrifices a stable framerate in combat (which can be pretty choppy for flashier attack animations), however both the visuals and generally quick load times are faithful to its PS3 counterpart. There are a couple of oddities specific to Plus however. For example, some formally dubbed scenes on PS3 are not dubbed in the Vita version, while at the same time some of the new scenes are actually dubbed, which is kind of surprising. My best bet is that this was probably some file size balancing act (since the Japanese dub is a free separate download altogether), even if it came off as strange to me nonetheless. At the end of the day, Atelier Escha & Logy Plus does very little to change its inherent identity. Everything from the strength in its gameplay mechanics to its weaknesses in the awkward structure and flat storytelling/characters. There is certainly more content-wise in Atelier Escha & Logy Plus, but on the technical spectrum it may also be less desirable if one is particularly picky about framerate. Which, in all honesty, will only bring the question of which platform one would prefer to play it on since the new content is not that substantial (though generally welcome), and both versions being comparable enough. I still feel just about the exact same about Atelier Escha & Logy overall even with the Plus iteration. It is certainly a good title, with a solid port to boot, but it also has become that much more apparent to me that Atelier Escha & Logy is a stepping stone for what I found to be an ultimately better game, which is Atelier Shallie. Pros + Fairly faithful port of the original game + Includes all of the DLC by default from extra playable characters to the modifiable in-game soundtrack(s) + Lots of costumes and a few new story events Cons: - Framerate issues are quite noticeable in combat - Odd removal of English dub in previously voiced scenes - Still basically the same game, so... I stick by most of my original criticisms Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good A faithful port with a couple of neat perks included, but as a whole Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky serves as little more than another means to play the title than an actual genuine refinement. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  2. barrel

    Review: Nights of Azure

    Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Koei-Tecmo Platform: PS4 Release Date: March 29, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen Gust Corporation is definitely a creature of habit. Not that that it is necessarily a bad thing. I mean, I generally enjoy my near-yearly dosage of addictive item-crafting madness that comes from various Atelier titles, as well playing the few and far between successors to the music-centric role-playing-game: Ar Tonelico. It is just that, well, there is not much on their resume except for those types of RPGs. This is why their newest localized title, Nights of Azure, ends up feeling like a surprise from Gust. For one, it is pure action-RPG when they have pretty much only made turn-based RPGs (let's pretend that Ar Tonelico Qoga's combat system does not exist when I say that...). Second, it is a title that plays around with an intentionally darker setting. If you have seen any of the media for this game, it'll likely bring the relationship of the two heroines into question. Which, to answer the question in advance: Yes, the main characters Arnice and Lilysse are in-fact a couple... sorta. And. surprisingly, their intimate relationship is not done in a tasteless fanservice-y way, as it often feels like subtext than anything else. Anyway, the reason for their close relationship has a lot of do with the setting. Many years ago the "Nightlord" was slayed by the First Saint. But, in the Nightlord's moment of death, he also caused the world to be irrevocably changed by raining his blood upon the land and causing the "Eternal Night". The blue blood that the Nightlord emitted caused much of what it touched to turn into demonic fiends and also allows the Nightlord himself to be revived at regular intervals. So, the player assumes control of the newest Knight, or Agent, of church-like organization called the Curia by the name of Arnice. Arnice is tasked with killing fiends (possibly the Nightlord himself) and to also protect the Saint's successor, Lilysse, who can possibly delay the revival of the Nightlord with her sacrifice. Nights of Azure secretly feels like a successor to Atlus's PS2 Devil Summoner titles. While there is no detective work involved (or the chance to beat up a mechanical Rasputin), Arnice can summon demons, or "Sevran", to fight at her side much like Raidou Kuzunoha. Actually, for better or worse, Nights of Azure also feels like a product of the PS2 era as well. As an Action-RPG Nights of Azure feels very disjointed. That is not to say it is not fun at times. Arnice does have some flashy moves with her handful of weapons, various obtainable demon summons, and strong transformation abilities. Even a few of the late game bosses have a couple of clever gimmicks that they show off. However, the core structure more than wears out its welcome with many baffling design decisions and excessive backtracking. It also does not help that the combat is generally not deep or challenging enough to hold you over during that time. It feels like it is made by a development team without a strong grasp on how to structure an actual action-RPG. This issue surfaces in a lot of ways. One very odd design decision it has is a time limit that constantly looms overhead every time you go out, and you have to return to the main hub (a hotel) before or when it expires. There really does not seem to be a strong reasoning for it existing beyond how leveling Sevran works, since it tallies their levels when you return. This alone can lead to many tedious moments with levels if the timer expires before reaching a boss's room or sporadic stage checkpoints. Miscellaneous tasks like accepting quests to kill monsters or pick up items, or a challenge based battle arena, also don't add much to the game either. The title is at its best when it showcases new battle scenarios as well as new sevran/abilities to play with, and that is more rare (and grindy) than it should be. To add to the monotony of the level design is the necessity to revisit many areas for either main story quests or to see a new areas open up. Even though the world is apparently about to end, you are still required to do a lot of generally pointless tasks for the fairly flat supporting cast of characters. The male characters in particular basically have one shtick that almost defines their entire character, since one is obsessed with researching demons while the other is in love with money -- both are fairly annoying throughout. It is a shame because it really feels that Gust had some solid ideas in store for the setting, but no characters that are mature or deep enough to tell it. This includes the main heroines as well which don't make their development very believable despite being the key towards saving the world. It becomes even more strange as characters will casually mention very dark things in relation to the world, but without any gravity behind it. For example, one of the quests that steers towards the "best ending" implies how an entire island was set aflame by the Curia, despite having humans and demons live peacefully there. That story device almost immediately gets brushed aside like it never happened by Arnice as well as the one who said it. Still, not all of the good narrative ideas go to waste. Honestly, my favorite part of the storytelling is actually buried within several text-only short stories that you unlock. They certainly are not at the level of Lost Odyssey's fantastic "A Thousand Years of Dreams" content, but it does make Arnice's and Lilysse's relationship feel significantly more believable than how they act in the main story. Not only that, the core premise of the setting makes far more sense by simply reading the last chapter of these stories (that you unlock by beating the game the first time). Perhaps the biggest treat of the entire game is actually the soundtrack. Unsurprisingly, it has the key composers of recent Atelier games, which have setting a fairly high bar with their musical scores as of late. It does not reach the level of some of the phenomenal tracks in Ar Tonelico titles but Nights of Azure manages stand on its own. There a lot of variety from operatic pieces, jazzy themes, to the occasional Castlevania-esque rock pieces that pleasantly accompany certain bosses and stages. For the good intentions that Nights of Azure has as an action-RPG it stumbles in the most baffling ways. In raw mechanics, it would have been totally competent, but it actively finds various ways to more than wear out its welcome with excessive padding and an intrusive gameplay structure throughout. It also does not help that the storytelling and characters fall noticeably flat for a setting that actually has several neat ideas. If you can put with its many annoyances throughout Nights of Azure is a curious, albeit misguided, Action-RPG that does have some fun moments. Pros: + Fun moments in certain battles in addition to the various Sevran companions + Neat concepts are played around with for the world-building + Good soundtrack Cons: - Chapters feel deliberately padded out by having you revisit areas or to randomly obtain items multiple times - Combat is fairly shallow and is a cakewalk throughout most of the game - Generally flat writing and characters - Awkward time limit and leveling up structure Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent While it makes a lot of strange missteps, from a disjointed gameplay structure and awkward storytelling, Nights of Azure is a curious and occasionally fun endeavor from Gust Corporation that has several distinct ideas as an Action-RPG. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  3. barrel

    Review image 5

    From the album: Atelier Shallie

  4. barrel

    Review image 4

    From the album: Atelier Shallie

  5. barrel

    Review image 1

    From the album: Atelier Shallie

  6. Developer: Gust Corportaion Publisher: Tecmo Koei Platforms: PS Vita and PS3 Release Date: June 24, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the Vita version of the game As the resident Atelier series expert here at GP, I“ve been asked multiple times to tell people which recent Atelier games (on PS3 and PS Vita) that they should check out. No matter how many times I“d phrase it, however, I“d have a hard time recommending Atelier Rorona. Why, you ask? Well, the original Atelier Rorona had a lot of problems. Not only in comparison to its sequels, which largely improved upon the gameplay, visuals, and even storytelling/characters, but it was also chock-full of annoying design decisions and it even had significant technical problems as well which made it quite difficult to recommend, even as a prerequisite towards its sequels. Still, after many sequels with lessons learned, Gust decided to revisit the first PS3 title in the series just four years later and attempted to significantly overhaul it with Atelier Rorona Plus. Does it prove to be a much-needed improvement or is it little more than lip-service? The title starts off with the young apprentice, Rorona, who takes on the responsibilities of running an alchemy workshop because her master is too lazy to keep it running. Because of this, Rorona is pressured by the royal council and the local townsfolk of Arland to fulfill various tasks for three years, otherwise the workshop will be forced to close down for good. It is a simple setup that more or less dictates the entire flow and has been left largely left untouched from the original release minus a few new character events and endings. In part and parcel with the setting, Rorona has to wisely manage her time through the use of alchemy while supplementing the means to do it with both light-hearted RPG exploration and combat. Every three months or so, the fan-favorite character knight, Sterk, assigns new objectives to Rorona in which requires her talents in some form. As a bare minimum she needs to complete at least the primary task, but there are other optional objectives to work towards in the meantime for overachievers who want additional rewards. No part of Atelier Rorona Plus is terribly complex on its own, but it is generally how it is woven together that makes it and the other entries stand from the traditional RPG crowd. For example, its primary focus on alchemy, or rather item crafting, is a crucial component to the structure and has a deceptive amount of depth to it. Rorona may be inherently encouraged to be a hermit to fulfill most tasks despite the game's bursts of exploration to obtain new materials or see new character events, but it manages to avoid the laborious trappings associated with item crafting because of the quick and rewarding nature of it. This also applies to battles and exploration, which generally go by fast as well and helps feed into the simple but effective overall gameplay loop of fulfilling various tasks for the local denizens. With that said, the original Atelier Rorona was actually quite an unforgiving title at the time. For those who weren't following a guide and maximizing their in-game time, they were under the constant pressure of a bad ending because of its strict deadlines that left little room to do anything else. Thankfully, that has changed as well as many other aspects and it is crazy how many of the minor annoyances and oddities from the original release have been ironed out. Everything from streamlining inventory for turning in quests, being able to skip cutscenes, choosing specific endings, or even simply having an MP bar opposed to HP being the primary resource for combat skills and alchemy. The original game was full of very odd and annoying problems like these, not to mention how it also liked to crash a lot too. Honestly, I could spend all day talking about mechanics or subtle interface changes and how much better this is compared to the original. At the same time, though, there is the rub, there are a lot of changes and improvements from the original release but very little that is unique from the sequels it mimics. It borrows Atelier Meruru's combat system and gameplay engine, Atelier Escha & Logy's main mission design, and general interface enhancements from recent entries. These are all good aspects on paper, and unquestionably makes for a much better game than the original overall, but for those that actually played those titles (like myself), it noticeably doesn't handle most of those aspects quite as well those other entries. A lot of Rorona Plus's problems for existing fans is its been there, done that feel of it all. This is primarily because it does not quite have the same finesse/spirit as the games it copies. As mentioned earlier, most of the main campaign has been left unchanged and it only reminded me of how much better character interactions/storytelling are handled in later games like Atelier Totori and Atelier Ayesha. It's the same deal with the gameplay, like how it generally copies Atelier Meruru's combat system for the most part, but isn't as flashy or fun; or even Atelier Escha & Logy's main mission design, but with less incentive or reward. With all of these constant comparisons running through my mind, I wasn't really thinking about how much they have improved this game but rather how much I'd rather play those other sequels, especially with Atelier Meruru Plus and Atelier Escha & Logy fresh in my mind. In the matter of fairness, what is new beyond interface/mechanical changes is its enhanced visuals/environments and a new post main story chapter. I know what you may be thinking—"The visuals are enhanced?"—and yes, they actually are. It does away with its originally bizarre chibi-ish character models with new models altogether that are more faithful to their in-game portraits. Also, the environments have been expanded, quite literally, from the original release which had very claustrophobic locales. Of course, the blunt truth of it all is that the visuals are still pretty underwhelming, in particular the environments, and even the character models aren't as good as later iterations, but it is a mostly appreciated refinement from its original release. Perhaps the most substantial addition is the new chapter called "Overtime", which occurs after completing the main story and extends in-game time by one year. The context for it is that the main protagonists from Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru accidentally go back in time and need help from Rorona to get them back to their present. Admittedly, this new chapter is mostly fanservice either for those who have played the later games or so advanced players can go crazy with item crafting in preparation for the tough superbosses/dungeons. In spite of that, it does have some neat new additions like a time capsule mechanic that utilizes save files from previous titles to get new items, and even a few new cutscenes that make the narrative transition between the sequel, Atelier Totori, more cohesive. In all honesty, this mode was probably the most fun part of the entire game since progression is much less funneled than with the main scenario. For as numerous as the changes that are in this version, Atelier Rorona Plus does not manage to completely escape the groundwork from its original release, for better or worse. It borrows a ton of elements from its sequels, and adds a few neat additions of its own, but rarely achieves complete parity or even tries to creatively surpass its later iterations. As a whole, Atelier Rorona Plus merely cements itself as the least desirable recent entry in the series. It's certainly better than it has ever been, and it works itself up to being decent overall, but the series has simply seen better. Pros: + Big improvements to the gameplay and interface over the original + Huge in-game soundtrack to draw from + “Overtime” mode has some neat additions Cons: - In-game visuals are still unimpressive overall - Combat, alchemy, and gameplay structure still aren“t quite as good as other recent iterations - Doesn“t do enough of an overhaul for those who have played the original game Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent A very significant refinement from the original release, but Atelier Rorona Plus ultimately pales in comparison to its other recent iterations as a game overall. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  7. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Tecmo-Koei Platforms: PS3 Release Date: September 23, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen “You can say all the pretty things you want, but there“s no way of knowing whether you“re telling the truth.” Ar NoSurge: Ode to an Unborn Star is probably one of the most confusing videogames to describe. It is both a sequel to the unlocalized Vita-only dating sim/visual novel title called Ciel NoSurge as well as a prequel/spiritual successor to the RPG series Ar Tonelico. It also has more than enough internal mythos and bizarre gameplay design quirks to help alienate those without exposure to either series. Frankly, it is difficult to pinpoint who this is for in general; yet, despite all of that, I think I“m one of those people, even if it is difficult for me to come to terms as to exactly why. The initial backdrop of Ar NoSurge takes place on the colony ship called Soreil, which is mankind“s last bastion of hope after having their home planet annihilated and failing their intended voyage to another one. To make living matters worse, a cult organization by the name of Genomirai Church divides the colony residents inhabiting it and is forcibly trying to convert non-members through the use of fairy-like magical beings called Sharl. Rather than idly sitting by in fear from the Sharl, main characters Delta and Casty set off on a covert mission ordered by PLASMA to retrieve one of their former scientists in order to help counter Genomirai Church“s ambitions through the use of song magic. Ar NoSurge's setting is so hugely predicated on the events that occur in Ciel NoSurge in particular that it is almost unthinkable to me to play it without that context and expect to enjoy the storytelling in this game. Of course, the biggest problem with that is that Ciel NoSurge has not been localized into English and—if you are not fluent in Japanese—your only real chance of catching up on most of the narrative context is through the exhaustive, but nonetheless much-appreciated, fan-made summaries of Ciel NoSurge like I had to. After getting over that massive narrative hurdle, I suppose the next question would be—is Ar NoSurge actually worth the effort? Honestly, the best answer I have for that is yes and no, for a lot of reasons. For both a narrative and gameplay device, the player alternates between two predefined parties during the course of the game. The childhood friends Delta and Casty serve as the first pair, and the main protagonist of Ciel NoSurge, Ion, and her robotic companion, Earthes, as the second pair. Even if the circumstances are definitely different between Delta and Earthes, both parties will certainly see their share of battles, genometrics diving, purification ceremonies, and, most importantly, synthesis dances. Combat in Ar NoSurge is turn-based on paper, but it has loose similarities in its semi-active flow like in other games such as Valkyrie Profile, the various Mario RPGs, and even Ar Tonelico 2. You whittle down foes using the four face buttons while trying to initiate Breaks/Combos before unleashing charged up song magic, and on the enemy“s turn try to perfectly time guard presses to mitigate damage. While combat can be fairly fun, it is not balanced particularly well due to a standard difficulty that is far too easy and mechanics that take their time to be introduced. Seriously, if only to respect the battle system and some of the fantastic music, you should bump up the difficulty to hard so bosses and entire enemy mobs don“t very easily die in less than thirty seconds. Every other gameplay element aside from walking around and picking fights is almost entirely centered around storytelling and the interpersonal relationship between characters. Ar NoSurge is so incredibly dialogue heavy that it is not an overstatement to say that you will spend more time reading than anything else in this game, not unlike previous Ar Tonelico entries. Which is saying a lot for such a big title with multiple endings. I may have a greater patience than most about lengthy exposition, but Ar NoSurge's can be overwhelming for even me at times. Because of this, the storytelling and characters are the title's greatest strength and weakness. One of the most frustrating things about the main storytelling is its plodding pace. It has a sort of non-commitment approach to its narrative from the amnesiac lead, Delta, to a constant tease of events to come but not actually acting on them until much later. It is all the more disappointing after reading up on Ciel NoSurge, which frankly had better storytelling throughout. That said, the main story does have one of the most fascinating uses of a fourth wall breaking narrative device that I have ever seen. Not in a comedic, knowing-wink way either; the device is presented in an oddly serious way that works surprisingly well in the later half of the storytelling. Still, Ar NoSurge does pick up the main narrative slack in other ways in regards to its several different approaches to developing its characters. The first approach is Genometrics, which are basically the equivalent to Ar Tonelico's Cosmospheres. Genometrics kind of serve as seemingly goofy dream-like worlds in the heroine's subconscious in which Earthes or Delta "dive" into to learn more about their partner and also gaining new combat song magic and skill increases in the process. For as bizarre as Genometrics may inherently be, they serve as interesting, indirect analogues to the character's past or personality, and not just the heroine's but other characters as well. Some Genometrics levels are definitely handled better than others but I really liked seeing how the characters, in particular Ion, grew as it progressed. Next are the the purification ceremonies which serve as another means of fleshing out the characters. Admittedly, these ceremonies comes off rather pervy at first (like a few other instances in this game), since the main characters are in swimsuits and talk about how uncomfortable it is to talk to each other like that. But, after enough events the characters bring up interesting discussions during these moments. Delta and Casty benefit from these conversations the most by having the most endearing back & forth. I know most won't believe me when I say this, but even the shopkeepers in Ar NoSurge have quite a bit of character. In addition to giving context to unimaginably bizarre synthesis items that they create for the lead characters, they even have their own story arcs, which is something I wouldn't expect to say about shopkeepers in any game. These portions are way too long-winded at times, since they start conversations with each new item and recipe (which there are a ton of), but at least many of the conversations are pretty amusing and help flesh out some characters. Also, synthesis dances are the best thing ever... don't question it, they just are. The presentation is also an area with very divided strengths. While the soundtrack is excellent, the visuals most certainly are not. Aside from key characters, most models animate and look rather poor in motion, and the environments are not only tiny in scope but generally bland as well. In a sharp contrast to the underwhelming visuals, however, is the fantastic music. Some of the vocal compositions, or rather Genometric Concert pieces, really steal the show in Ar NoSurge, which is probably very unsurprising to those exposed to Ar Tonelico and know how narratively important the excellent songs are to the series. Many of Ar NoSurge: Ode to an Unborn Star's idiosyncrasies will actively alienate possible players as it indirectly forces people to do their due diligence on Ciel NoSurge before even playing it. Those committed enough to get over that significant hurdle are left will an experience that, while fairly flawed in structure, and even more so in its pacing, can be charming in its own right. It hedges its bets on a cast of characters and a setting that develops in intriguing ways, as well as an enjoyable combat system and stellar musical score. It is not very graceful at all about what it tries to achieve, but I am glad I got to see Ar NoSurge's journey to its conclusion. Pros: + Characters and storytelling develop in fairly interesting ways + Fun combat system + Stellar vocal compositions and music + Huge game with multiple endings + Synthesis dances are the best thing ever Cons: - Plodding main narrative pace and exhausting amount of dialogue - Presentation is extremely inconsistent. - Ciel NoSurge knowledge is basically required - Cakewalk difficulty and combat takes time to evolve Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Many are likely to lose their footing in its exclusionary storytelling and very awkward pacing, but those who can overcome such trials will find that Ar NoSurge: Ode to an Unborn Star has many pleasantly unique and hidden characteristics that are worth exploring under its rough surface. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS3 code provided by the publisher.