Our Man in Japan is at Tokyo Game Show and he had the chance to check out two of Gust's newest offerings: Ciel no Surge Offline and Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star both for the PlayStation Vita. Check out his impressions below
Koei-Tecmo had a variety of games available, most of which could be grouped into two categories — Musou and Gust. The latter consisted of two games that didn't make a lot of sense when played individually (at least, not in their demos), but which formed a rather interesting set: Ciel no Surge and Ar no Surge.
Ciel no Surge Offline comes off at first as one of those embarrassing girlfriend simulation games, because that's a lot of how it is. The player is taken through a short tutorial on how to interact with Ion, the virtual girl in question, via the Vita's touch screen, and then the player gets to have a date on the beach. Aside from the usual Gust sci-fantasy aesthetic, it seems like a simple variation on its genre. That is, until the dream sequences start. Interacting with Ion gets you points, which are used to further explore the recesses of her psyche and slowly piece together the secrets of her lost past. The montage that followed in the demo was a confusing series of scenes, sometimes cutesy and sometimes kind of disturbing. It was like being given a handful of puzzle pieces. They didn't really fit together, but you got the general outline nonetheless.
And right next door at the KT zone, there was Ar no Surge, which does a great job of filling in the spaces with its initial info-dump. We see a world consumed by its own sun, a queen sacrificing herself for her people, and the creation of an artificial paradise, an ark to carry the survivors away. The narration continues, bringing into the picture mysterious, otherworldly entities that now prey on the populace, as well as the political split between those who wish to fight and those who wish to placate the terrifying menace. It's all told in a dry, historical manner, but when paired with the emotional scenes shown randomly in the other demo, you get the feeling that there's one heck of a story behind it all.
It's important to hold onto that feeling, since the bit of gameplay available in the demo isn't given enough time to make sense. The main character, Delta by name, wakes up confused in a weird, futuristic place. He somehow knows things, such as access codes, without any idea how. Everything's okay, though, because his friend Cas is with him, and she seems to know what's going on. Maybe. There's one battle, which lets us see that combat is very similar to Ar tonelico. Cas stays in the back, preparing song magic while Delta takes turns alternately whacking the enemy and defending his friend until she can let loose the sound and the fury. Not long after this, he wakes up for real, and we discover he's actually a struggling restaurateur in a very vertically oriented city. The demo ends before any of this gets even the least bit of explanation, but I did notice that a few characters seen or mentioned in Ar no Surge appeared in Ion's dreams in the other game. It's all connected, somehow.
Gust's games sometimes seem to have that fever-dream quality to them. This pair of titles simply takes it more to heart, I think.