Wednesday, March 23, 2011

First Impression - Ar Tonelico Qoga (PS3)

"The song that ends the world"

Ar Tonelico Qoga (aka: Ar Tonelico 3)
USA release: March 15, 2011
Developer: GUST
American Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software America
MSRP: Mature

Gust is a well-known developer that makes quality games with unique character designs and amazing musical scores. They have two well-known franchises, the Atelier franchise and Ar Tonelico. The former is known for its infectious characters and unique RPG gameplay that is fairly open ended. The latter is known for its involving cosmology, amazing musical scores, and great character designs. It is unfortunately know for another thing, embarrassing dialog and copious amounts of fan service. I will give a short first impression thread of the first 5 hours of Ar Tonelico Qoga ), I will review the final game when I complete it later down the line.

Gust is well known for making games that don't have high production values, but they do make up for it in the passionate love for the product they create. The graphics are not bad, but they are not on the same level as something like Final Fantasy, it is not even on the level of Atelier Totori (sequel to Atelier Rorona if you don't know). The game has a great camera that is not controllable, but always seems to be in the right place at the right time. What it doesn't have in graphics it makes up for in great set design. The towns are gorgeous and unique presenting a unique mix of steampunk design and Hong-Kong flash, the dungeons actually feel like organic dungeons. The franchise is also well known to have an amazing soundtrack, with Ar Tonlico 2 having one of the best RPG soundtracks in a very long time. So far, in the first five hours I am a little underwhelmed by the musical score. It could be because Ar Tonelico 2 set the bar so impossibly high that it is hard to get on that level. I am hoping that the musical score will have amazing pieces later down the line and that they save the best for later. One of my favorite sequences in the game is when you dive into the Reyvateil in something called a Cosmosphere. As the lead character, you dive into the Reyvateil's mind and go through a story sequence where you learn about the character's issue or problem personified in living creatures and scenarios. Like a dating sim, making the right choices means that you can conquer the level and move to the next level of cosmosphere. As you do it, the lead character gets much closer to the female Reyvateil. A full completion of a cosmosphere is the equivalent of having the Reyvateil be your bride since you know their deepest and darkest secrets and the Reyvateil is very very close to the lead character. The game is definitely made by people who love making it since everything feels so organic and well-realized compared to many games out there.

The cast of characters I have met so far are fairly interesting. Aoto is the lead character for the game, he is charming and hard working. Saki is the main character and a Reyvateil, she is the well-endowed female in the cast who likes to tell stories and enjoys kids. What is quite interesting is that her main outfit is quite modest (as seem on the left), which is kind of refreshing. The other main female Reyvateil is Finnel, who is the flat-chested twintailed tsundere. She is the opposite of Saki, wearing extremely revealing clothing, as seen on the opening picture. There is Tastumi who is almost like a guy tsundere, voiced by the ubiquitous Johnny Young Bosch and Hikari Gojo, a pretty boy doctor who specializes in Reyvateils. You must be thinking by now, "what the heck is a Reyvateil?" Revvatail are female singers who interact with a powerful tower using an ancient song called Hymmnos. These Hymmnos are what make are Ar Tonlico unique, the songs are translatable and could be understood. They are unique pieces of music that are recognizable the instant they are sung by any Ar Tonelico fan.

The battle system for Ar Tonlico 2 made the game quite interesting. Ar Tonlico Qoga uses the same concept of having bodyguards attack and protect the Reyvateil, but it has a different spin on it that is unique to say the least. You move around the battlefield and can attack in real time, if you synchronize with the Reyvateil, you can increase her attack. After she builds up enough power, you can press a top button and shake the controller. This leads to them....stripping their clothes to go to a high level of attack. I am not exaggerating this statement. Saki says that the Reyvateil do it because they get hot as they summon these powerful attacks, but since they didn't do it in the other Ar Tonelico games I am thinking that it is just for fanservice.

This leads me to the elephant in the room, the reason WHY Ar Tonelico 3 has a mature rating. I haven't played the game for too long, but I have already been inundated with fanservice. The franchise is known for it, but AT3 ratchets it up to a whole new level. As seen on the picture in the left, the game does have the standard embarrassing dialog that makes the franchise so (in)famous, but that doesn't garner a mature rating. What makes it garner the mature rating in the rampant fanservice. As I pointed out, a Reyvateil will strip off clothes in battle to get more powerful attacks and spells. You normally see it in a gratuitous transformation sequence (with Saki) that has bouncing parts all over the place. To upgrade her powers you also have to get her to strip. This is the type of games you don't want to play in front of mom, dad, your priest, or your kids.

The game is quite fun so far and I am looking forward to see what comes next. The game is a great experience so far and I hope that it can continue to be great. For your information, I am going down the Saki route just because I certainly do find her more interesting than Finnel, our twintailed tsundere. Look forward to a full blown review where I analyze this game in more detail.

A gratuitous Saki picture before I head off

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