Ar Tonelico II
Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Release Date: 01/20/2009
When I watched the trailer for this game, I was blown away. My initial reaction was “Is this fan service naked lesbian magical girl anime rpg with singing? I didn’t even know you could do that all at once!”
I wasn’t sure that it was possible to do all of that in one game, but I was going to find out.
Upon arrival and cracking open the box, this game even smelled like fan service should smell. There was a sweet synthetic smell of bubblegum lust in the air that I could taste in the back of my throat; a musky scent that a stripper from outer space might wear.
The allure of this title was clear.
The collector’s edition game is boxed with a 24 track audio CD soundtrack and a small art book. The art book is pretty and shows a variety of concept art and chibi versions of game characters. The back of the book has some phrases in the language and characters that was created for this game series, Hymmnos. I looked into the background of this game while it was on its journey to reach me, since I had not played the first Ar Tonelico game, and was completely blown away to find that this much attention to detail had been given to the magical language used just in these titles.
Clearly there is some very serious fandom at work here. I knew then that I needed to be extra diligent in my review to capture its details.
Story / Modes
The first ten minutes of the game story unfolds with some of the usual cliched JRPG plot devices. In this case, someone is being abducted from their village for having forbidden magical powers and a father is killed in an attempt to protect his daughter. The details of this, I was immediately convinced, would be revealed in shockingly relevant moments later in the plot. The focal point in Ar Tonelico IIare song magic users, the Reyvateils. Subduing them and sending them to Bell Knight HQ is a recurring task and gets you rare ingredients and items.
Metafalica, the ability to use song magic to create land, has been repressed by some kind of global computer named Goddess (Which I suspect is some clever Japanese kanji pun.), and naturally the princess player character of Cloche is inspiring a revolt to secede from the control of Goddess. Yeah! Slit your dress up to your hips, make out with your hot friends, and fight the power!
The main character of Ar Tonelico II and cliche heroine seducer is Croix. You might think that he’s a girl by looking at the cover, but actually he’s a super prettyboy knight. With his sister Cocona, you meet up with Cloche and Croix’s supposed girlfriend Luca and do the usual JRPG save the world thing. Naturally, this includes making cakes, befriending cute things that fly by flapping their ears, and completely nonsensical japanese anime girls.
Later you find that Cocona isn’t actually his sister, but some girl he picked up to appeal to the loli-pedos who are playing this game. Cloche is the princess who just wants to have her hair pulled, and Luca is the bossy hooker (in this case “dive therapist”) with a heart of gold. Golden when she’s not too busy betraying you to the other characters in implausible plot devices.
There is a lot of strangeness in the storyline even in the first hour or two of the game. The characters change their minds about who they are every 20 minutes or so. What do you get instead of an actual storyline? Kind of an innuendo fueled trip down the rabbit hole into a hentai game without the hentai.
I found this endlessly confusing as to what was the point of this story. Every plot twist involved clicking through a long sequence of wading through the mental baggage of the magical girls psyche in order to level them up or unlock a spell power. Since it was virtually challenge and puzzle free, I found my attention wandering despite my best intentions.
Story Rating: Bad
This is an extremely adorable and super extra Japanese styled game. Much of the backgrounds are in a hand painted style and are gorgeous. Cut scenes are pure anime and are done quite well.
The character design style here is attractive. The character representations in the dialogue sequences feature pictorials reminiscent of other great titles and traditions. Simple and delightful.
Unlockable outfits for the characters that yield greater ability bonuses run the gambit of every fetish I’ve ever heard of. It’s all very visually appealing as a cheesecake eye-candy-fest.
Graphics Rating: Very Good
The first question that everyone had been asking about this game was if there was a toggle for Japanese language. The answer is yes and it is highly advisable that you should make use of it. I briefly switched to English in the middle of the game to get a feeling for what the other side of the language voice talent provided to the game was like and I found it to be very annoying.
The BGM music in this title is very smooth and orchestral. The singing and hymnals are breathtaking. The combat and suspense music is inspirational.
The quality of the voice acting, especially that of the Alfman character in Japanese, is exquisite. Gust really made a great effort in this aspect of the game.
Sound Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay
The combat system in Ar Tonelico II is a bit of a departure from most. You can attack as many times as possible in a set amount of time per turn and must time defense of the magic users by blocking in time with a gauge.
Leveling up is accomplished in the usual monster grinding method with the warrior characters. You defeat monsters and enemies and you get experience points. With the Reyvateils, the song magic users, this is a bit different. DP, or Dive Points, are gained in combat and can be spent at a dive shop. The idea is that you dive into the mind/soul, called the Cosmosphere, of the Reyvateils (which are only female) to become closer to them. Being a janitor of their mental baggage is part of the job and as you progress, you unlock levels and magical abilities.
The game makes every effort to make references about how diving into these hotties is “relaxing to them” and some characters in the game get bent out of shape because of how indecent it is when “kinky things” are performed in these recreational diving activities. Yes. That’s right. These girls are giving happy endings in their heads. It is also mentioned that the closeness of the Knight and Reyvateils relationship corresponds with the Reyvateils magical abilities, so some of the pairs you encounter are lovers. When you have more than one pair in a party, the Reyvateils have girl on girl relationships as well measured by an in-sync score. Whenever the party is resting at an inn or at a campsite, there is the opportunity for conversation in which the characters can get to know and grow closer to each other. This is how the magic users improve their abilities.
There is a cooking component, called Shop Synthesis in the game, which is used for item creation. This is fairly deep as Croix, one of the Reyvateils, and a vendor are required to make anything. The Reyvateils that may be used varies on location being used and occasionally you can use more than one. Substitutions in the ingredients can be made and the recipe is dependent on who assists you in its creation.
Conversation topics, for use at rest periods, can be found by exploring in maps, in gameplay, in the Shop Synthesis, and perhaps other places.
Dualalithnode crystals are used to give the magical girls power-ups in the bath.
No really. I’m serious.
You can add bath toys and the girls can have conversations in the bath to raise their sync score by talking to each other and have their hearts grow closer.
If all of this wasn’t enough for you, the Reyvateils need to be given a life-extending treatment every three months because otherwise their magic would consume their life and they would die. How is this done? You take a “so big” crystal and insert it in the girls “installer port” with the instructions that you should “slide it in, slowly… be careful… please don’t hurt me. I’m really delicate right there. Ow! It hurts! Do it slower!”
Yeah. Okay. If I was a 14 year old gamer, this might have caused me to thrown down an adolescent hyperactive boner.
Also when referring to dives for the first time, Luca is jealous that Croix’s “dive virginity” is taken by Cloche.
The weird innuendo and strange not-exactly-sex bit is continuous. Showing up in the middle of the night to the girls rooms to “grow closer” is strange. They should just come out and say that you need to plow the bajesus out of these girls to get some power-ups.
Here’s an example from the first installment of the game series, the first Ar Tonelico.
Wow. What can you say to that?
There are interesting elements of skill in this game. You must be effective at blocking attacks for your Reyvateils, or your party will end up dead very quickly and it’s game over.
I like a bit of flexibility in my RPGs. Without the ability to choose what to do next, it gets a bit tedious. There is more than a bit of this in the game as the pattern of play is almost always:
- Go to city X.
- Explore ruins.
- Find boss fight and ignore everything else if you want.
- Go to the next place on the list.
Perhaps more objectionable is how non-thrilling the story and gameplay is in Ar Tonelico II. As I eluded to before, this title really does play like some hentai title only there is no tentacle monster or deranged high school janitor to dole out penetration. For that you have keys and life extension treatments. The dive sequences are a series of mini stories where you basically click through them until they are over and you win. This is the same in the dive therapy sequences to unlock a teen girl squad of followers.
It is also the same in the majority of all dialogue in the game. In playing Ar Tonelico II for over ten hours, I had only made one decision of consequence that forked the game characters for about an hour. All of the gameplay is clearly linear without any real need to do side quests, grind for levels, or discover anything.
What is interesting in Ar Tonelico II is two things of note. The first is the leveling system of the Reyvateils. The second is the combat system which achieves an interesting mix of archaic and original-ish real time tactics.
Leveling of the knight and knight-like characters is of the standard kill monster and get XP method. Since everyone except the casters are tanks for the song-magic users in the game, there are no real surprises there. The unlocking of abilities inside of the girls minds themselves and giving out levels for bathing with purchased or found crystals is both weird and awesome.
The blocking and attacking system of the vanguard is interesting as well, in that it is tactical and offers a variety of approaches and configurations.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent
Because of some of the incredibly tedious gameplay elements in Ar Tonelico II I would not expect that anyone would want to replay this game. The linear storyline which is quite free of choice, side quests, and very little variety, should yield the exact same experience when replayed.
The lack of pickups, challenging gameplay, and a tedious storyline free of choice or interaction will keep replay down to a minimum.
Replayability Rating: Poor
The combat system is interesting and, once the blocking system is mastered, it is fairly fun to play. The options of using harmonics to activate the Reyvateils combo magic, using burst-raising attacks to quickly increase the multiplier of the standard magic attack, the use of a strong physical damage attack, or a comfort action to raise the MP levels of the casters gives several tactics to try in combat if you have previously been ineffective.
The abilities that can be stacked using crystal bonuses have possibilities as well.
Balance Rating: Enjoyable
Ar Tonelico II makes a couple interesting developments in the genre. The guarding and attacking system with the Vanguard (knights) and Reyvateils is something new to me. The leveling system of the Reyvateils of character mind exploration and adding crystals to the bath is interesting and different.
The rest of the gameplay is fairly archaic with planar dungeon and city landscapes, overly simple sprites, and uninspired gameplay.
In my judgment, these factors balance out to about average.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
I found it really difficult to keep playing this game. The music loops and press-X-ten-thousand-times-to-progress-through-the-storyline literally put me to sleep on a couple of occasions.
Ar Tonelico II is a game that should be played in small doses so that it can remain interesting. Hardcore play for hours at a time, if you are anything like me, will strip away the desire to persist.
Addictiveness Rating: Very Bad
Load screens are brief and mostly painless. The art and music are pretty great. I find it a bit tragic that the gameplay isn’t more compelling as there is so much that is top notch about this game.
Because of this, I view Ar Tonelico II as a highly niche title. Without the actual bootay payoff, that this game is nonstop insinuating at all times. I’m not sure who would be a huge fan of this game. Someone who likes all for foreplay of a hentai seduction game combined with a dumbed down simple RPG with a couple of twists.
Appeal Factor: Poor
The inclusion of the soundtrack and art book are really very nice in this edition of the game. There are a lot of good ideas at work in Ar Tonelico II that miss the mark in good playability, but the artistic concepts and fresh ideas make it interesting.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Graphics: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Addictiveness: Very Bad
Appeal Factor: Poor
FINAL SCORE: Decent Game
Short Attention Span Summary
If you find yourself wishing you could play a half super-Japanese style RPG and half hentai game without any of the obvious humping, this may be the game for you. Though this is an amusing release, this will only find strong appeal with a rare breed of otaku gamer.
This is a strange bird even in the realm of Japanese RPGs.