Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia - Reader Review  

The Apostle
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

25-40 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The world of Sol Ciel consists of a floating continent known as the Wings of Horus and a tower known as Ar tonelico. Near the top of the tower lies the city of Platina, home to the Apostles of Elemia. Among the apostles is Lyner Barsett, who, after several battles with Viruses in the tower, crash-lands an airship in the Wings of Horus, where he must find his way home. Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia, developed by Gust and Banpresto, saw its North American release early in 2007 thanks to NIS America. Though the game has its quirks, many technical shortcomings damper its quality.

   Battles are randomly-encountered, with a gauge showing both how close the player is to encountering enemies and how many encounters remain in a dungeon. Fights consist of up to three frontline attackers and a backline support character known as a Reyvateil squaring off against an enemy party that too consists of three frontline attackers and a backline fighter. The player's frontline characters take their turns depending on speed, while the player can access the Reyvateil's command menu in real-time. The frontline characters have the commands of attacking, using items, using an HP-consuming skill, or waiting for their next turn, while the Reyvateil can have the party escape from battle or begin charging up Song Magic for eventual execution (if it's attack magic).

   A gauge at the top of the screen shows character and enemy turn order, with all characters and enemies having an active time gauge that gradually fills between turns, during which the Reyvateil's Song Magic accumulates in power, with the player able to change the Song Magic or unleash it against the enemy if it's an attack spell. While the Reyvateil's Song Magic is charging, her MP gradually depletes, although it gradually regenerates whenever she's not charging magic. Sometimes, enemies might target the Reyvateil for attack when a particular enemy reaches its next turn, with a number of red rings indicating how many of the frontline characters must guard her so that she takes no damage. If the frontline attackers successfully guard against an attack on the Reyvateil, all defending characters can counterattack the enemy.

He's a brave one. Warning: This game may not be appropriate for those afraid of heights.

   Winning a battle nets all characters experience points and some money, with Reyvateils also gaining Dive Points that the player can use to dive into various levels of their Cosmospheres to unlock new magic spells through various story events, which too require Dive Points to view. Completing various levels of a Reyvateil's Cosmosphere sometimes unlocks new dresses for that Reyvateil, which are basically like armor and allow for various stat increases. Unlocking various Cosmosphere levels requires the player to view certain scenes while resting at inns, with charts for each Reyvateil showing viewed scenes, which the player can trigger by walking across glitter sometimes seen in towns, using certain magic spells in battle, and so forth.

   Another feature is Grathmelding, requiring Grathnode Crystals and other materials to synthesize items; players occasionally find new Grathmeld recipes within dungeons or from story events. The player can also place Grathnode Crystals onto characters' equipment for various effects, and even place up to four on a Reyvateil's magic spells for additional effects in combat. Finally, each Reyvateil has certain elemental skills that the player can use within dungeons to break walls, objects, and so forth to advance.

   Though the battle system has some interesting concepts, their execution leaves something to desire. Frontline characters, for instance, don't have a great arsenal of skills at their disposal, and are mostly reliant on normal attacks throughout the game; moreover, although their skill sets do increase slightly, many remain grayed out most of the time within battle. Sometimes these skills are accessible when a battle has dragged on long enough, and when the Harmonics gauge at the bottom of the battle screen has increased a number of times (allowing for faster charging of the Reyvateil's magic), although it might've been nice if frontline characters' commands were more diverse.

Succubus Aurica gets kinky

   Battles are also bogged down, especially later in the game when battles start to take several minutes to finish, by the endless flashy animations that occur while the Harmonics gauge is increasing and the Reyvateil's spell is charging, alongside the general choppiness of the battle visuals. The need at many times to defend the Reyvateil from enemy attacks can also slow down battles, since doing so wastes several of the player's turns with a counterattack against one enemy. All in all, the battle system is enjoyable at first, but somewhat loses its appeal as the game progresses.

   The interface is okay, with town and dungeon navigation not being too difficult, although menu navigation can be painfully sluggish, making things such as character management take more time than necessary. There is, however, one interesting quirk during Grathmelding, where if the player selects an item to create for which materials aren't sufficient, the game automatically guides players to create the items necessary to synthesize the chosen item if the materials for those are available. Still, the menus could've certainly been faster to navigate.

   Ar tonelico borrows many elements from the Atelier Iris series, such as item synthesis, the use of skills to navigate dungeons at times, and the visual style, although it does have unique elements such as the general setup of combat and the Dive system that help it feel fresh.

   The story isn't superb, although it does have its strong points. The Dive system adds considerable depth to the Reyvateils, and makes for some humorous scenes. The rest of the story, though, really isn't all that interesting, with the main story being rather bland and the characters other than the Reyvateils being fairly one-dimensional. Furthermore, conflict doesn't really play much of a part in the plot, with few, if any, memorable villains. In the end, the plot has some interesting concepts, yet is sloppily executed.

Even the enemies hate it! When holograms attack

   The soundtrack, for the most part, is hit-or-miss, with some good tracks, yet many weak ones, as well; there's also a bit of a problem with weak music volume, even when the game's music volume is turned all the way up. The voice acting, moreover, is rather weak, with most characters sounding like they're reading out of books, and at many times, the music drowns out the voicework. In battle, furthermore, voice clips are sometimes mismatched; for instance, Lyner sometimes grunts after he attacks an enemy. Overall, the sound could've certainly been better.

   The visuals could've been better, as well, given the endless graphical lags and choppiness that plague the game, especially in battle, where constant flashy animations in between character and enemy turns can really slow things down. The 3-D overworld is also at the low end of the Playstation 2's graphical abilities. Still, the graphics are decent on the surface, with nice sprites and environments, and some rare anime cutscenes, although there's really no excuse for the technical problems, especially given that the game doesn't exactly push the system to its limits.

   Finally, finishing Ar tonelico can take somewhere from twenty-five to forty hours, with things such as finding all Reyvateil conversations boosting playing time. Overall, Ar tonelico is an all-around average title that has some good ideas, although their execution leaves something to desire; a recently-announced sequel, however, just might give its mechanisms needed improvement. Fans of Gust's titles might find something to celebrate, although those looking for a solid experience should look elsewhere.

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