I’ve played some strange games in my day; some really weird ones. Now that I have played Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ceil, I can add it to that list, but as strange as it may be, that doesn’t stop it from being rather good.
The game centers on a young adult named Aoto, who finds a young woman being attacked by troopers from the rival country of Clustania. Aoto takes it upon himself to protect the woman, Saki, from the Clustanians and return her to her home town. He also gathers help from his best friend, Tatsumi, and local physician, Gojo.
The game’s main battle mechanic has deep correlations to the story itself. Saki is a Reyvateil. Rayvateils are magic-using singers that sing during battles. Their songs give other party members strength such as poison abilities and higher defense. If the party members synch up their attacks to her song, the Rayvateil’s magic will go up. Once filed to a certain amount, the player can “purge” the singer. When this happens, she loses some of her clothing and gains the ability to use magic. Depending on how well Aoto’s relationship with that certain girl is, the Reyvateil can store more magic and purge again, up to four times, losing more clothes and gaining more power in the process. That’s the battle system in an insane nutshell.
The battles take place in a real-time fashion where you control one party member that is not your Reyvateil. The point of the battles is to defeat enemies while trying to keep them off your singer. The singers can’t attack normally, but use magic after purging. In order to store up enough magic to purge, the party members attack. During battles, there is a note chart at the bottom of the screen that has high and low notes on it. If you have your party hits an enemy when the high notes come by, it will add to the purge meter. In order for you to purge, you have to hold one of the four top buttons of the controller L1, L2, R1, R2 and shake the controller activating the SIXAXIS. Depending on what button you hold, it will add effects to the party members. As mentioned before, there is a large variety of boosts. Attack, defense, and speed are just a few examples. After the singer purges, she can then use a magic attack. The attack differs depending on which singer you are using, and will be stronger depending on how many purges you perform.
The party members can attack up to 3 times in succession. After the third hit, a new combo begins. The player can use special attacks by holding a direction on the D-pad while hitting the attack button. These attacks use up some of the character’s health, but offer up major damage to enemies. The player can pause the game at anytime to use a healing item or special attack item or change the current character they control in battle.
At inns and camps, your party can create weapons, items, and develop new special attacks for use in battle. Crafting plays a major part of the game. You will constantly find items after battles, in chests, and, of course, from vendors. Purchasing weapons with lower stats may look like a waste, but you will need them as ingredients to make better weapons or learn better attacks. During crafting, you must use the Reyvateil that specializes in that particular recipe type. This is one of the few games that made me think outside the box.
As I said earlier, the game’s story is integral to almost every aspect of the game. Ar tonelico Qoga is a very linear game that is completely story driven with almost no side quests to be seen. It’s a very different style from many other JRPGs, and these qualities make it quite refreshing.
As stated above, the better Aoto gets to know his Reyvateil, the more powerful they become. In order to do that, Aoto must talk to them. When in camp or staying at an inn, the player can choose to visit certain girls and talk to them about certain topics that have occurred or ones you find while exploring. This will help break the ice between Aoto and his singers. It feels almost like the social aspects of Persona 3 and 4.
There is also another way to get to know the girls better: use a machine to go into their minds while they’re asleep. That’s right, now you can be an Inception master just like DiCaprio in a special technique called “diving.” At certain towns, there are places called Dive Shops. Here, Aoto can “dive” into a Reyvateil’s subconscious and learn more about what makes them tick. These areas are about as side quest-y as you’ll get in the game. Entering a singer’s “Cosmospheres” will place Aoto in their dreams. Here, Aoto must complete tasks that will build trust with the specific Reyvateil. These dreams can become rather intense and very strange. Everything you do while in a cosmosphere uses up Dive Points. (DP) When you run out of DP, you are ejected from the singer’s dream and you both wake up. A player can gain more DP by participating in and winning battles. By accomplishing goals and completing levels in a singer’s cosmosphere, you unlock deeper levels, as well as little creatures in the dreams. These creatures allow Aoto to attach certain buffs to each button when purging in battle.
Travelling consists of both walking around areas and a menu system. When in towns and cities, a menu will appear that names the different places you can go. You can choose what area you want to go to and then walk around. Leaving the area will take you back to the travel menu. Dungeons are all strictly walking areas. The battles are all random encounters that happen while you’re walking around. There is a bar at the bottom of the screen that both depletes and changes color. From what I can tell, when the color goes from green to red, you’re about to get into a battle, but I have seen where the bar is still green or yellow and a battle will commence. I can’t really figure it out, to be honest. I do know that when the bar depletes, that means you have very little chance of getting into a battle. Plus, it doesn’t refill if you leave the area and come back. It’s almost like you killed all the enemies in the area. I can see what this is trying to accomplish by having the player continue through the area instead of trying to grind out some levels, but still it’s a little annoying.
The game is very story driven from beginning to end. Everything the game has to offer is intertwined with the story. Even the diving mechanics have a large impact on the story. I really do like how this is handled, but I have a feeling hardcore RPG players will find this disappointing. More casual players will welcome it.
I never really found the game difficult. In the early stages of the game, it was a little challenging, but after leveling up and gaining better items and abilities, I never had a single problem with the battles. Even some of the major boss battles were simple to complete. I think it was a combination of leveling up quickly and the over powering magic attacks the singers can release that made the battles so easy. Even with its rather easy game play, the story itself will last you easily into the 40 hour range.
Ar tonelico Qoga is a rather surprising game. I was expecting another boring, strange Japanese RPG with very sexual elements. What I got was an entertaining Japanese RPG with very sexual elements-that is also strange. All kidding aside, the game kept me playing. I couldn’t help but be enthralled with the storyline, and because there were no side quests, it kept me interested in the story and coming back for more. The combat, while simplistic, is satisfying and thought out. You never feel like you’re stuck due to being underleveled. The crafting and learning of new abilities is a satisfying game in and of itself. If you’re a fan of anime and Japanese culture, you may want to check this game out. I would suggest it to any RPG fan, even the non-JRPG players. It’s far enough from the norm that you may enjoy it. Just keep an open mind.
Review copy provided by publisher.