Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Review #313: Ar Tonelico Qoga - Knell of Ar Ciel

 A sad reminder of what JRPGs have turned into.
 A few years ago I played Ar Tonelico 1. While I was bored with it every now and then, it wasn't too bad. Then again, Ar Tonelico was one of the Japanese Fanservice waifu moe games™, which is the kind of games I dislike, so I skipped the second one. And then I saw gameplay from Qoga(Ar Tonelico 3), and damn, it looked just like Tales of! I had to play it. And play it I did.

 The story.... the story is Ar Tonelico 1 gone full Japan. Seriously, I felt like I was playing Ar Tonelico 1 all over again. Let's start with the three Reyvateils(Basically, Songstresses), Finnel(The brunette) is a flanderized version of Mischa from AT 1, Saki is a flanderized version of Aurica, and the third Reyvateil looks exactly like the third Reyvateil from AT 1. Even their backgrounds are VEEEEEEERY similar, only more moe. There's also an Ayatane look-alike, because why not. It's hard to explain, but the way the story progresses also feels a whole lot ton like Ar Tonelico 1. Then we have the 'Vanguards', also known as the 'three other guys that form the party'. there's the main character, Aoto, who's your generic 'I WANT TO PROTECT X!!!!' anime hero with not a single drop of originality to him, there's Tatsumi, who's plot twist is given away 4 hours into the game, and then there's Gojo who barely gets any development, and what little development he gets, its during non-voiced cutscenes, because who cares about Gojo? As for the dialogue, it was laughable, I found myself laughing out loud at times, due to how cringy or stupid it all was. It's also filled to the brim with generic Anime situations, like the accidental boobgrab and what not. Not to mention the plot threads that are mentioned but kept.. dangling never to be addressed again, right Aoto? The cosmospheres are back, which are basically sidequests which delve deeper into a Reyvateil subconscious... which can be funny, but they are a way to simulate character development, except that at the end of the day, its just filler, the girls will behave like they've always behaved. They don't grow, they don't evolve, they stay as generic waifu stereotypes. Did I mention that this game goes full Japan? The girls get stronger as they get rid of their clothes. Yup. And instead of costumes, now the girls get 'personalities', which is a way to get even more generic waifu stereotypes into the game, the 'mature sexy lady', the 'sexy secretary', the 'sexy assassin', the 'sexy cat-like nekomimi girl', etc. Which, y'know, there's definitely an audience for these games, except that I'm not part of it. Now then, if you happen to like this type of game, there's about 8 different endings depending on when you finish the game, and a few choices you get to make throughout the game.
 I've stopped talking about graphics when it comes to games because it's something entirely subjective, and unless I want to note how much I enjoyed the visual style, or the art direction, I don't usually bring it up. But Ar Tonelico 3 looks incredibly underwhelming. I hate it when people say 'it looks like a 'insert a console' game', but Ar Tonelic Qoga does look like a PS2 game, a very sharp PS2 game, but a PS2 game nonetheless. Environments are simple to a fault, while dungeons are fully 3D, the towns are completely done in 2D, so you've got 3D models running around 2D planes, which looks terrible. The character models are disgustingly simple as well, with little in the way of shadows on them, and are very non-detailed. Dungeons are pretty bland as well, not only will they bring back memories from AT1(Which might be a good thing?) but sometimes they are even interchangeable with each other, with little to set them apart between each other.

 It doesn't stop there, the game feels fairly amateurish as a whole. When moving around dungeons, you'll notice a few hiccups. For instance, the jump button will have a hard time working when you are walking down a slope. Or running down stairs will have your character running on air for a few seconds. And try to aim a jump towards an object, it's not unusual to be able to stand on the side of an object. These aren't very annoying, since they have no negative, or positive, impact on the gameplay, but.... on battles, your attacks may not come out if you are too close to an ally. Y'see, when you press square, your character automatically runs towards the enemy before executing an attack, but if an ally is in the way, instead of running around him, your character will stop dead on his tracks in front of said ally. Fun. Once, my CPU ally stopped moving after I run onto him, and I had to move out of the way in order for him to remember how to move. This doesn't happen on Tales of games!
 And it's a valid comparison to make, seeing how it seems to borrow so much from its combat system. Battles are engaged through good, old, random encounters, and they take place in real time. Your party is made up of three vanguards and one Reyvateil(There's only three vanguards, but you can switch the Reyvateils, from each of the three girls... and their personas), the Reyvateils starts singing automatically at the start of a battle, and she confers passive bonuses to the rest of the party, although you can order her to shoot her magic at your will. As for the Vanguards, you can play as any of them, and they deal close-ranged attacks, their job being to protect the Reyvateil. Except that there's not much  they can do to keep enemies away from the Reyvateil. Y'see, in a Tales game, you can usually see everything that's going on, not so much here, the camera is zoomed in too close to your character, so you'll never have a clear picture of where is each enemy. I mean, you could press X to freeze the action, since its the 'Use Magic' button, see where is everything, and then cancel out of it. The targeting system is terrible as well, because there's none. When you press Square, your character will choose an enemy to attack, based on... I don't know what. Vanguards have a basic three hit combo with the square button, and holding a direction on the directional pad while pressing Square will produce a special attack. It sounds decent, but there's no combo system, no nothing. There's no nuance to the combat. Oh, wait, pressing Square according to the songs tempo will enlarge the heart gauge faster, allowing you to 'purge' the Reyvateil's clothes faster, which makes them stronger. Yeah... Japan. Except that you purge by holding a shoulder button and shaking the joystick, which isn't very responsive.

 Did I mention that your vanguards have a hard time keeping the enemies away from the Reyvateils? That's because A) The camera is terrible, so it's easy for enemies to get to them while you can't see them. B) The AI is terrible, so you can't count on them, nor can you tweak their strategies. C) Your attacks have no knockback. If you, and the CPU, decide to gang up on an enemy you can stunlock him in place though, but if an enemy decides to ignore you and make a run for it, they are gonna get to the Reyvateil. Mind you, the circle button is an 'emergency attack' that will knock back the enemy, but it has a cooldown period. Still, the combat is so easy, that even if they get to the Reyvateil, you'll never be in danger of losing a battle. But I don't mind the combat being easy, I mind it being so limited and dull. The combat is not fun, there's no strategy, and there's no style, which turns combat into a chore. I found myself longing for Ar Tonelico's 1 combat, at least it had more substance to it.
 The exploration is dull as well. Towns have very few secrets, if any at all, so exploring them isn't very fun. Dungeons are dull and tedious, sometimes with labyrinthine roads, probably to make up for the tedium of them not having any sort of puzzle or stuff to solve. As mentioned previously, they aren't even interesting to look at or memorable. The only thing that made them stood out was how much they reminded me of Ar Tonelico 1's dungeons. And for whatever reason, when buying equipment, you can't compare the stats between the item on the store and what you've got equipped. It's Final Fantasy 1 all over again, where have all those years of evolution the JRPG genre went through gone to?

 I've admitted that Ar Tonelico 1 bored me at times. This is Ar Tonelico 1 all over again, times ten. It's even worse thanks to how dull the combat system is. How boring dungeons are. How stupid the story and its characters are. How creepy the premise is. Ar Tonelico Qoga is nothing more than a sad, sad reminder of what JRPGs have turned into. Breath of Fire IV, I'm sorry for calling you 'ordinary', compared to this, you were a shining diamond.
 3.0 out of 10

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