Ar Tonelico (Second Opinion)
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 09/12/2007

Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia, while initially coming off as a boring, generic RPG, eventually proves itself with several innovative and deep gameplay systems.

Set on Sol Ciel, a world on which all that is left is a pair of floating islands and a tower, Ar tonelico‘s story won’t set any new standards. Right from the beginning, Lyner, a Knight of Elemia, is quickly drawn into a save-the-world scenario, as powerful viruses threaten to destroy his hometown. He is sent on a mission to recover a Hymn Crystal that supposedly has the power to save his people from the viruses that are attacking. Sure, it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but the way the tale is told is not only well done, but also has some innovations.

Character development and interaction is an integral part of the core gameplay, not just the story. Players will have access to Reyvatails, females whose ability to craft magic from songs is sought after by almost everyone. Inside each Reyvatail’s mind is a cosmosphere, which Lyner will eventually dive into. By doing this, he unlocks futher song magic, as well as huge amounts of storyline. This sexual innuendo-laden interaction with Reyvatails is integral to the entire game.

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The game looks good, but seriously, we’ve seen this before… many, many times.

Reyvatails also bestow their unique touch on the battlefield. What would have been an incredibly simplistic, even boring, battle system becomes a unique, fast paced slug fest wit hthe Reyvatails involved. Most of the battle system is nothing new. Players select from the standard attack/skill/item set that is present in nearly every turn-based RPG to be created. It is the Reyvatails and their song magic that the battles get fun. At the start of and throughout every battle, players can command their Reyvatail at any time by pressing the “triangle” button. Generally, players will have their Reyvatail start singing an attack song immediately. As their other characters fight, the songs the Reyvatails sing increase in power almost infinitely, as long as players can heal their MP. Players can also increase the rate at which the songs’ power increases as they battle, simply by landing successful attacks. Another important aspect is the defense of the fragile Reyvatails, as they can be specifically targeted by enemies.

This game is by no means difficult. The Reyvatails’ song magic is usually a gauranteed one or two-hit kill, even on bosses. Most bosses have no attacks that can cause any sort of real damage, and the ridiculous rate at which characters level up further reduces any chance enemies have. This is unfortunate, as it makes it simple for players to almost ignore the Grathmelding system. Grathmelding is the name for the item creation system in the game. Huge amounts of items can be collected and created as characters explore the tower of Ar tonelico. Sometimes grathmelding is an essential part of the storyline, with some items only accessible from the system, but these moments are extremely rare, and with the ridiculously low difficulty of the game, it truly can be ignored other than at these moments. Players should note, however, that they will indeed miss a lot of the meat of the gameplay if they ignore this aspect.

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The battle system is turn-based, but there’s plenty going on.

A couple things should be noted about the localization of Ar tonelico. The first is that the dialogue is superb. Despite a large amount of innuendo in reference to the “dive” system that could be seen as childish, the overall quality of the dialogue and interaction between characters is top notch…for the most part. There are a few instances where the character says something and then does something almost opposite. There are also a few spelling errors, notably one point where Lyner is spelled “Lnyer.” The voice-acting could be described as terrible. Lyner’s voice, along with about half of the supporting characters’ voices aren’t bad…but the Reyvatails’ voices are awful. For a race of women whose voices and songs create magic, one would think the voices would have a light, almost melodic tone to them. Instead, their voices are shrill (Misha), and just terribly done (Aurica). Thankfully, voices can be toggled on or off.

The production values are similarly split. On one hand, the graphics aren’t much to look at. While the hand drawn characters and backgrounds are well done, they seem slightly lacking in variety and they are really nothing that hasn’t been seen in the last Atelier Iris. Some of the battle sequences look really good, but mostly the battles are drab and unexciting visually. The sound is especially divided. The aforementioned awful voice acting is offset in a huge way by the soundtrack. Ar tonelico‘s soundtrack is easily one of the best in the history of video games. Not only is it varied, but each and every theme is memorable. The vocals are especially well done. The game merits a purchase, if only for the soundtrack. It really is that good.

Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia is not a game for everyone. The similarities between the “dive” system and almost dating sims will drive away some, and the turn-based combat may keep others away, but overall Ar tonelico is an extremely well made game that manages to shine despite a few faults.

-Joseph Wartick

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Very Good
Graphics Average
Sound/Music Excellent
Replay Value Average
The Verdict: 8