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Found 31 results

  1. 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.
  2. barrel

    Review: Samurai Warriors 4-II

    Developer: Omega Force Publisher: Tecmo Koei Platform: PS4/Vita Release Date: September 29, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS4 version of the game I have been out of the loop with Musou action games for a good while. Back on the PS2, I had fond memories of playing the original Samurai Warriors, but the mere existence of Samurai Warriors 2 & 3 completely slipped me by… not to mention the enhanced versions of those same games. Regardless, Musou titles have been getting more and more positive fervor as of late, from fanfare spin-offs like Hyrule Warriors to the most recent Dragon Quest Heroes. Even last year“s more traditional Samurai Warriors 4 picked up traction as well from series enthusiasts. Of course, it would not be a proper numbered Musou release without an annualized and somewhat confusing enhanced version, so here we are with Samurai Warriors 4-II. As I implied before, Samurai Warriors 4-II in general is all new to me. So, aspects like being able to switch between two characters on the fly mid-battle, multiple special meters for "Hyper Attacks" and "Rage Mode" skills, interim saves for convenience during combat, and 50+ playable characters were all pleasant surprises for myself. Heck, just the regular attack animations are infinitely more responsive and cooler to look at than my old man's Samurai Warrior's perspective of a bygone era, like Nobunaga Oda floating and demonically swinging dark energy matter to decimate foes or Motochika Chōsokabe playing a Shamisen like an electric guitar... that can somehow cut down armies of soldiers. But, after an hour of so, the new sheen wore off for me and the basic it the basic hack and slash formula was not nearly as foreign to me as as I would have expected -- for better or worse. I mean, Mitsuhide Akechi still for some reason has purple hair, the enemy soldiers like to stand by and do nothing, and pretty much every key figure in the Sengoku era of Feudal Japan apparently felled 1000+ enemies in a single battle with bread and butter attack combos in around 30 minutes -- clearly the pinnacle of historical accuracy. Humoring series quirks aside, actually, the main difference between the original Samurai Warriors 4 and Samurai Warriors 4-II is its the story mode. The prior release divided the storytelling into four factions while 4-II is by different groups of characters. Though the surface-level character motivations and cutscenes makes it seem like it's easy to follow, I am pretty sure the transition from one fight to another will make next to no sense for anybody who doesn't have some background knowledge of Japanese feudal history (and in some instances make far less sense with that knowledge due to some characters being, erm, alive.). To be honest, it's pretty disjointed from any perspective (and not particularly entertaining), even if it seems like Omega Force was probably aware of this by making the latter unlocked story modes progressively less and less serious. Going down the list of additions beyond the story mode it appears like most are real minor quality of life stuff or giving players more excuses to chip away at grinding levels for its huge character roster. There is a new Final Fantasy X styled sphere grid system where you collect tomes from battles to unlock passive and stat bonuses for every characters. Also new is a "Survival Mode" which brings a risk/reward mindset as players decide for themselves whether to climb further up a tower with varying objectives for a potentially huge cash out . Other than those, the typical incentives from the previous game from loot drops, leveling up weapons, and a create character mode to give really devoted players to chew on something for a good while. This sorta hits the underlying theme of Samurai Warriors 4-II (and doubtless other Musou games)...which is, how much do you enjoy turning off your brain and grinding in the quickly familiar a hack & slash gameplay formula? After my initial novelty seeing what is new from my ten year gap away from the series I eventually learned that my answer was "not very much". Even removed from my context of not enjoying mashing the square (and triangle) button THAT much, at least without the gameplay moveset depth of a good character action game to compensate it (which this doesn't have), the value proposition does not seem strong even for returning fans of the first iteration. There is literally only one new character, Naomasa Li, whom honestly seems rather lukewarm compared to many other characters in the roster and the save transfer functionality between the two is woefully short for how little has been added. Also, the recently announced Samurai Warriors 4: Empires, which seems to have more new going on, makes Samurai Warriors 4-II as a follow-up seem fairly lacking. With a near ten year gap from the last Samurai Warriors title that I have played it was fun to see the transition to the most recent release of Samurai Warriors 4-II. There is plenty to chip away at from a time perspective with its diverse, huge roster or characters and mechanics to grind. But, after getting over that initial novelty rather quickly, it is quite telling that its love it or hate it button-mashing formula made me quickly learn my stance for this release on its own. For those that have played the previous Samurai Warriors 4 there doesn't seem to be a strong incentive to check out this psuedo-expansion because of its near negligible changes to gameplay and modes, and Samurai Warriors 4: Empires frankly seeming more substantial for those willing to wait. From the context of somebody who is not an already established Musou fan, Samurai Warriors 4-II does even less to change one's mind. Pros + Tons of varied playable characters + Responsive controls and satisfying, flashy attacks animations + Love it or hate it button-mashing gameplay Cons - Is an unapologetic grind when it comes to unlocking new attacks or improving stats - Fairly minor additions over the previous release - Story mode is really disjointed and underwhelming - Love it or hate button-mashing gameplay Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent With little to invite series veterans, or even newcomers, Samurai Warriors 4-II is a confusing expansion/sequel that is likely better off being ignored for an ultimately better iteration down the line than having those try to stubbornly uncover its merits. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  3. barrel

    Review: Toukiden: Kiwami

    Developer: Omega Force Publisher: Koei-Tecmo Platforms: PS4, PS Vita Release Date: March 31, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen With so many Dynasty Warriors versions, spin-offs, and crossovers, it is hard to believe that Omega Force actually has the time to do anything else. Yet, last year Omega Force tried their hand among fellow "Hunting" action-RPGs with 2014's Playsation Vita exclusive Toukiden: The Age of Demons. It was firmly entrenched in ancient Japanese lore and in many ways tried to make many aspects associated with games like Monster Hunter less obtuse. Not unlike Monster Hunter, however, it has quickly seen an enhanced version for not only PS Vita but the PS4 as well with Toukiden: Kiwami. Does it earn its second welcoming or has the thrill of the hunt long since passed? Among most hunting games that actively try to distinguish themselves—Soul Sacrifice with its oppressive setting, Freedom Wars with its fast-paced mobile combat, Gods Eater Burst with its anime-like storytelling, and so on—Toukiden wears its inspiration on its sleeve the most from not only Monster Hunter but its contemporaries as well. In a normal context this would be a bad thing, but in the case of Toukiden it feels like it takes a harder look at certain clunkier flaws associated with the genre. I'm not saying such aspects don't exist in Toukiden: Kiwami, but the moment to moment gameplay can possibly be more fulfilling for those who want less opaque progression and more context to their monster slaying. The first reason for this is that there is an honest-to-goodness story mode in Toukiden. In the original release, the main narrative was a character-driven tale of the fellow hunt—I mean "Slayers" of Utakata Village as they fend off Oni for a world on its last legs. In Kiwami they nearly double the story content by including an entirely new narrative arc that takes place three months after the original's story that encompasses more of its internal lore and also introduces new faces as well. Though storytelling expectations are admittedly low for the subgenre in general, both story modes still manage to easily surpass expectations by doing a solid job at creating a localized tale that is interesting enough to kill one Oni to the next despite its predictable moments. While narrative context is certainly appreciated, the bulk of the time is spent taking down large Oni with allies in the narrative or those in online multiplayer. Because of this, it is especially difficult to not make a million comparisons to similar releases, since on a rather basic level Toukiden: Kiwami really does not really attempt to do too much different. Missions are rather typical and rarely amount to anything more complex than kill X amount of monsters or felling a boss-like Oni. It also bears mission repetition problems that are quite commonplace for the genre where you fight a few too many of the same bosses with minor alterations (or none whatsoever) to advance. But as I said before, it is not a surface-level perspective that makes Toukiden stand out among its action-RPG niche, but rather the refinements around it. Aspects that would seem like blasphemy to Monster Hunter like being able to see an enemy's health bar, having surprisingly useful single player A.I. companions, being able to revive allies, and requiring far less material farming are minor on paper but go a long way in making the title more approachable instead of being an overbearing commitment. Toukiden: Kiwami specifically makes this even more the case from having newly added powerful team attack skills or being able to send your fox-like pet "Tenko" to retrieve items during missions. This carries over to fast-paced and satisfying combat mechanics as well. There is most certainly depth to each class, and none of them feel unfit for solo play either. I found myself rather fond of one of the three newly added classes to Kiwami, rifle in particular, due to its surprisingly technical style. The rifle class has you utilize different ammo types creatively and try to trigger different effects altogether if they are fired at grenade lobs. Of course, because of its basic mission design, and combat skills being nowhere near as varied as a pure character-action game like Bayonetta 2, it can feel rather button-mashy for melee classes in particular. Which, considering Omega Force's Dynasty Warriors pedigree, is perhaps not too surprising that it falls into this "love it or hate it" pacing over time. What also helps differentiate combat are the Mitama and limb dismemberment systems. Mitama, aka the souls of fallen heroes, give players various passive skills in combat. Due to the sheer variety of Mitama, you can forge your own play style since all of them seem practical. For example, as a rifle user I found it highly valuable to use agility-based Mitama, which increased my weapon reload speed and allowed me to occasionally negate attacks. Other classes may find it more valuable to use Mitama to make it easier to dismember/purify Oni limbs, which in doing so makes it easier to deal direct damage to enemies or obtain rarer item drops. Though, like the original, limb dismemberment can be annoying since certain classes have more difficulty with it and therefore can take significantly longer to kill tougher Oni because of it. Aside from the newly added story mode and classes, there is tons to delve into in a multiplayer environment. The story modes alone are quite a bit to chew on but Oni-slaying purists can be occupied much longer if they want to tackle much tougher late-game missions for higher level gear and weapons. What is neat about both the Vita and PS4 versions is that they both feature online cross-play in addition to being able to transfer saves between the two if you happen to have both. For a former Vita release the game holds up surprisingly well visually with its transition on PS4. Certain character models may look doll-like, and some textures look rough upon close examination, but otherwise the general art direction and environments, as well as the very solid framerate, fair well despite being on far more technically proficient hardware. Also good is the soundtrack, which has a decidedly classical Japanese instrument flair but is all the more fitting because of its well-done overtures and certain boss themes. It may not distract incredibly passionate Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate fans, but for other people who haven't been able to get into more popular hunting titles (like myself) or just want to try a different flavor of it, Toukiden: Kiwami can possibly be different enough to be a preferable alternative. It has a fairly in-depth story mode, is more approachable and faster-paced from a gameplay standpoint, adds significantly more content, and it also fills the void of a complete lack of any Hunting action-RPGs on modern consoles. It may not be the most original take on the action-RPG subgenre but the cut of Toukiden: Kiwami 's jib is in the right place. Pros: + Decent story mode with nearly double the overall content from its original release + Fast-paced combat and diverse Mitama mechanics make combat, bosses in particular, satisfying + New classes, team special attacks, and bosses are welcome additions + Surprising solid visual transition from Vita with neat cross-play/cross-save functionality as well Cons: - Like most in the hunting subgenre, it suffers from some shamelessly repetitive mission design - Many classes can feel rather button-mashy over time - Limb dismemberment mechanic can be annoying Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Though lacking in originality, this substantial re-release boasts a ton of content and a different, more approachable and just different enough take on the hunting subgenre for who want more context and less grinding to their monster slaying. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  4. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Koei Tecmo Platform: PlayStation 3 Release Date: March 10, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen With a near-annual schedule since a 1997 debut, the Atelier series has now reached its sixteenth main entry. Though I have become something of a consistent fan of their whimsical alchemy-centric RPG nature over time, I could feel myself slowly drifting away from the series after the previous two "Dusk" entries. I could tell Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Escha & Logy were good games, and they tried some different things that I liked, but something about them just did not click with me like the prior “Arland” trilogy. Perhaps the formula was getting old for me, and maybe the new direction and characters just weren't resonating with me as much as I would like. What I actually realized is that Atelier Ayesha and Escha & Logy were simply not as enjoyable. The third and final entry to the Dusk trilogy, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, not only reminds me why I even got into the series but it also outclasses both of its prequels in many ways. The last entry in the trilogy continues to leave the world in a bad way. The "Dusk" is causing fresh water to drastically deplete, wildlife to starve, and desert masses to stretch far beyond the eye can see. So, the attention shifts to commerce town of Stellard, known in particular for its fresh water supply. Within Stellard are the two main "Shallie" protagonists: a brunette chieftain's daughter, Shallistera, who intends to find work to compensate for accidental collateral damage caused by her airship and also by helping her decaying village; and an eccentric green-haired girl, Shallotte, who is flat-out broke and simply looking to make a better life for her and her mother. Like the previous Atelier Escha & Logy, you have a choice between playing the two different "Shallie" protagonists. While their overall tone and cutscenes differ early in, with Shallotte generally being more happy-go-lucky, and Shalistera's side is slightly more self-serious, they both more or less converge around the halfway mark so that you don't really miss too much from either side by the end beyond unique endings, specific character events, and music. Traditional Atelier titles used to be light-hearted RPGs that blended time-management, simple yet enjoyable combat/exploration systems, many tongue-in-cheek character interactions, and a surprisingly deep crafting system that wove it all together. Pretty much all of that is still here except for the time-management part. This was a heated topic for earlier games where people either found it too limiting or—if you are like me—made it so the games were at a constant moving pace. Either way, that is completely gone now, and in its place are far more flexible "life tasks". Life tasks are a surprisingly solid alternative that should please fans of either side because of how much it allows you go at your own pace while also telling the player what they can do to progress the main story. There is a lot to do in Atelier Shallie to the point of almost feeling like an insider-only club at the offset. A lot of this is because it is front loaded with mechanics and doesn't really hold your hand regarding how to play through most of it beyond some fairly brief tutorials. It seems easy enough at first as you fulfill basic requests at the Cooperative Union Headquarters by exploring new areas, making or bringing assigned items, killing specific monsters, or as Sharlotte would say: "Picking up traaash ♪. For almost no caaash ♪," but it quickly escalates from there. The concept that I like the most about this title is that you are not really funneled into any one play style. You are sort of encouraged to mess around with every facet as they each feed into one another. Unsurprisingly, since alchemy is the series staple, it remains as a centerpiece of it all. Opposed to being a chore in most games, crafting becomes a deceptively deep and addictive puzzle-like mini-game in Atelier Shallie. Not only is it satisfying to learn its nuances to make combat/exploration easier, but you can also easily get caught up in the "One more item..." mentality, just for the sake of it. Maybe you want to make the best barrel possible? (I know I would). Or perhaps you want to have its traits carry over to something entirely different that makes the next item even better? Before you know it, it has you in its evil but cutely presented trap, and this is before you even get to the other aspects. Still, the other aspects are certainly worth talking about. When you go out adventuring, battles are quite flashy and enjoyable despite being turn-based. It isn't until you get at least a six-person party that it really shines with elaborate follow-up attacks, super moves, dual-draw alchemy skills, and the newly added burst mechanic, which honestly does not take very long considering the fast overall gameplay flow and the game itself being a bit too generous with leveling up rather quickly. Also new to the series is a revolving-camera for most dungeons/areas (as opposed to a fixed-camera angle). This is by no means anything new for RPGs in general, but for the Atelier series it does make exploring and gathering in new environments more varied, since the general scope has been increased and the conveniences designed around it. The environment themselves could benefit from more visual detail, however, because of their general stark appearance. Where Atelier Shallie actually stumbles the most is with its characterization and storytelling. Atelier has never been known for high-quality storytelling, but Dusk trilogy in particular felt like the foundation for something more substantial, with its desolate world and implications of events' past, during Atelier Ayesha in particular. Unfortunately, it ends on a rather lukewarm narrative note and abandons most prior buildup with its setting and characters. The characters that do have a presence obviously fair better, avoiding Escha & Logy's issue of a paper-thin supporting cast and having noticeable individuality. And while the humor and delivery doesn't always hit its mark, the platonic relationship between the cast generally tends to be endearing more often than not despite their lack of a purposeful narrative footing around them. Though it doesn't succeed at presenting a fleshed out narrative, it does rather well with its visual and audio design. It has been noticeable that Gust has been trying to move away from visual novel-esque character portraits... with varying degrees of success (I'm looking at you, Ar Nosurge). They have progressively gotten better at forging more anime-like 3D character models and it especially shows in Atelier Shallie from the stylish skills in battle to cutesy character tics during cutscenes to even alchemy, despite the far less impressive backgrounds behind them. What is actually more pleasant than the game's vibrant visual style is its impressive soundtrack. Atelier Ayesha was no slouch with its excellent musical score, but Atelier Shallie manages to surpass even it with the sheer breadth and variety of its score. There is just a jubilant whimsy to the soundtrack with its distinct, catchy pan-flute or accordion percussion for character themes, to battle tracks that range from rocking to raving, that even if you have no interest in the actual game, it is worth giving a listen to. With its sights focused on quality gameplay over the unrealized ambition of its setting, Atelier Shallie easily bests both of its predecessors in nearly every way. It is rich with both audio and visual personality, rewarding and addictive gameplay, and a far more lenient structure for the outside looking in. It may have lost track of its potentially interesting background and characters, but I am convinced that Gust has brought their A-game to the final entry of the Dusk trilogy where it counts—as a fun, light-hearted take on RPGs that is belittled only by the unrealized potential of its setting. Pros: + Rewarding, addictive crafting mechanics + Flashy and fun turn-based combat + Excellent soundtrack + Distinct anime-like character models with lots of personality + Time limit system has been removed and replaced by a very varied and flexible gameplay structure Cons: - Storytelling and (most) characters do not really develop in any meaningful way - Front loaded with mechanics that can be overwhelming for series newcomers - Exploration environments don't look particularly good Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea proves that when the series is focused that it can more than showcase why its cunning RPG formula has not washed away over time. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS3 code provided by the publisher.
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    From the album: Atelier Shallie

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    From the album: Atelier Shallie

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    From the album: Atelier Shallie

  8. 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.