|Dev: NIS America|
|Release: March 15, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.|
Shops and towns play a big part in the game since they enable you to save, craft, buy things, and rest. Resting also allows you to get to know your heroines by visiting them at night and talking to them. Like a Japanese Jack Tripper in an anime Three's Company, Aoto gets caught between two lovely ladies, and throughout the game, you're asked to decide who to chat up the most. Of course, it's in your best interest to keep them both on the line since the more they like and trust you, the more they can do for you in battle. Getting to know your heroines isn't just as simple as nighttime chit-chat though. You also have to convince them to let you "Dive" into them. Yes, the sexual innuendo is absolutely intentional here, and there's a ton of goofy build-up around the girls "giving up" their first Dive to Aoto and the fact that he's Diving into more than one of them.
In actuality, Diving isn't at all physical, but entails Aoto and the heroines going to a Dive shop in town and climbing into separate mechanical pods. The process allows Aoto to dive into a girl's mind and help her overcome her fears by investigating the various facets of her psyche. In truth, it represents the most fun you'll have in the game as you get to explore a wide range of weird, surreal places and meet a number of different characters who represent the heroine's different personae. You'll also unlock powerful "Hyuma," spunky little fairies who can be manually programmed into the heroines' minds, allowing them to access different buffs and heals during combat. Programming is related to resting and involves visiting a heroine and talking her into letting you do it. Absurdly, this is another area where things work better if the girls strip, and it's up to you to schmooze them into doing it by talking pretty and bringing them gifts.
Overall, Ar Tonelico is entertaining and offers some fresh ideas on some fairly stale RPG conventions. It's also a beautiful game, with gorgeous painted backgrounds and attractive characters. The downside? Well, for one thing, big chunks of the soundtrack will make you wish you had a pair of those expensive, noise-canceling headphones. During combat, or when certain characters appear, the music goes into these horribly manic, ear drum bursting, knock-off Marilyn-Manson kind of themes that are outright bad. Then there's the issue of unavoidable random battles; many RPGs have outgrown this obnoxious mechanic, but Ar Tonelico Qoga apparently hasn't. In the travel sequences, you can't go twenty steps without a battle and while you can flee these battles and not get stuck fighting them, you still have to put up with being stopped every ten seconds. Worse than that though, are the ridiculously suggestive parts of the game. It's like they hired a team of fourteen-year olds to write the script and all the eye-rolling excuses for partial nudity and contrived lines such as, "I can feel something coming inside me!" are, paradoxically enough, a big turnoff.
Even with these problems, Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel is a polished, pretty game that offers an interesting (if labyrinthine and melodramatic) storyline, a fun crafting system, and the kind of bombastic visual effects lovers of JRPGs have come to expect. It also represents a relatively accessible example of the genre, one simple enough for new gamers to easily learn but complex enough to avoid alienating the JRPG veterans.
CCC Freelance Writer