Lancers and Ladies
They wrap the lusty wishes of adolescent boys and crusty businessmen into one splendidly perverted package! They never ask you to leave your house, yet you’ll enjoy myriad dates and perhaps even a night in bed! Can’t say they’ll slice, dice, and julienne cut for you, but these marvelous and innuendo-laden hosts are “dating sims!” If you can’t wait to spend a night on the town with a two-dimensional drawing of an imaginary woman, they’re just right for you!
Reportedly, Gust “innovated” by merging that genre with the traditional Japanese RPG to create Ar Tonelico II: Melody of MetaFalica. As the teenage Croix, you’re the star of the local knights, but your cold, distant nature has earned you less than a few friends. A young girl named Cocona lives with you, but she isn’t your girlfriend – really, she insists – meaning you’re still available. The weaponsmith would love to get a piece of you, and a mere few hours after you’ve met her, even the holiest woman in all the kingdom would love to get into your pants. Your character isn’t kindly to any of them, and is about as plain and uninteresting as can be, yet they find him inexplicably irresistible. Logical and very fresh. Honestly, have you ever heard of a young hero paired with a spunky little sidekick before? If you’ve said “yes,” surely you jest! They did declare that they’re innovating things, here.
Ordinarily, such a nonsensical harem plot would be complemented by excellent humor, an increasingly dramatic and complicated back-story, or at least a fair share of nudity. If you must put up with these drab, demanding females, you rightfully expect to get a glimpse at their goods, if nothing else! Alas, neither early on nor in its later moments does Ar Tonelico II offer any of the aforementioned benefits. Though NIS would have you believe that the simulation and RPG aspects blend together “seamlessly,” they too often do not. To empower your party, you must delve into the deepest parts of each girl’s mind, where you encounter thrills like none other. Oh, yes! Compliment their outfits! Discover the cute creatures conjured by their imaginations! Attempt to rebuild the self-esteem they shattered with their own insecurities! Order them to flash you, thereby repaying Croix for all the headaches he’s put up with!
Yeah, I lied about that last one.
These psyche-traveling journeys require Dive Points, which are accumulated during battle, and only if the girls are in your party. Thus, to explore every aspect of their personalities, you must battle, enter a town, visit a Dive Shop, then repeat it all. This sequence of events is forever awkward, as you must deliberately go out of your way to engage in the simulation elements. These lengthy, text-burdened segments tear you away from the actual gameplay, and you’re forced to endure hours of mind-numbing discussion. Though these segments are supposedly “optional,” the Reyvateils – female psychokineticists – earn their powers during these Dive sessions. If you want to be reasonably powerful, the simulation parts aren’t optional – they’re mandatory.
Unfortunately, all of this means that the most story-driven part of the game – the dating sim component – isn’t appealing. After you’ve reached the seven hour mark or so, things begin to improve, but only slightly. Most of the Dives have little to no dialogue choices, forcing you to watch hours of discussion that’s practically out of your control. Fortunately, the actual battles are much more involving, and vastly superior to the first Ar Tonelico’s. Your Reyvateils are utterly defenseless, and you must protect them in-between attack sessions. To do so, you’ll have to watch a meter, and then press a certain button – either the Square or the X – when two bars collide. It’s more challenging than it sounds, as the margin for error is small – microscopic, even, if you’re aiming for “Perfect!” blocks – and brings some excitement to a once purely turn-based system.
Sadly, the stages within which these battles take place are hardly interesting. Though Ar Tonelico II charms at first glance, its curvaceous artwork is truly soulless. Its passable artistry was rendered by someone truly skilled, but this was clearly “just another job” for them, as their work lacks passion.
Interiors are sparsely decorated, and often colored brown or gray, while – to make matters worse – every Dive Shop, major palace, and inn looks exactly the same . Textures, structures, and environmental details are shared across zones, which means that very few original sprites were actually created for Tonelico II. Thus, it all feels cold and artificial – like a shallow copy of what proud things two-dimensional RPGs once were.
At times, the music that plays along with these areas compels you to trek onward. The soundtrack includes some marvelously minimalistic and ambient pieces, complemented by stirring vocals. Plenty of it would inspire you to relax, or to simply behold your fairly artistic surroundings, which helps in overcoming the visual flaws. Unfortunately, none of these musical pieces loop seamlessly, and there are plenty of jarring, saccharine-sweet tunes that only serve to distract you. Once again, the simulation and RPG aspects don’t blend, but instead clash – a very definite line is drawn between the sweeping compositions of a role-playing game, and the cheesy, uninspiring Muzak of a dating sim.
Due to the mind-searching Cosmosphere sessions, the variety of nightly dialogues you can find littered about, and separate storylines with unique endings, there’s certainly a multitude of things to be done within Tonelico II. Whether you’ll wish to partake in everything it offers depends upon you – whether you can appreciate simplistic, naive characters, a predictable plot of good versus evil, and hours upon hours of discussions about everything from daily wear to stuffed dolls. Truly, what a marvelous work Tonelico could have been! What if you weren’t required to find additional discussions, but could instead earn them through smartly-navigated dialogue trees? What if they had more time to personalize each and every area’s art, and refine the character designs into things more fantastical yet believable? Had they ditched the elevator music and instead replaced it with additional epic tracks… oh, well then, it would have been a marvelous game!
As it is, it is only middle-ground, very much a “what could have been!” Metafalss is an interesting place where you’d perhaps like to spend a weekend, but hardly anything more.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.2 Graphics
Though impressive and reasonably colorful, the sprites in Tonelico II are frequently reused and lack inspired design. 4.0 Control
The timing-based aspects of battle are fabulously responsive – as they should be – but navigating pre-rendered areas is a sluggish drag. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There’s a fair amount of well-composed tracks, but their effectiveness is damaged by the entirely unimpressive Muzak. While the sound effects do their job, they’re flat and simplistic, arguably leaving the voice acting as the most consistent aural component. 3.8 Play Value
Thanks to dozens of infected Reyvateils to hunt, two leading females with wholly different stories, a large amount of recipes to craft, and more, the second Tonelico offers much to do. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.