Reyvateil control. Stripping control. Song magic control. Diving control. Everything is monitored, and kept under control. Nudity has changed. The age of the clothed has become the age of the nude.
All in the name of fanservice for the masses. And he who controls the stripping, controls history. Nudity has changed. When the stripping is under total control, nudity... becomes routine.
Sexual innuendos have always been a staple with the Ar Tonelico franchise since its birth on the Playstation 2 and though the above resounds the gripes of reviewers jaded with the amount fanservice associated with series, I, for one, welcome its current gen iteration Considering that the last JRPG I played was Dragon Age 2, Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel injects a much needed breast of fresh ass to the otherwise stagnating genre You play as Aoto, an upstart Steeplejack apprentice, which is sort of a fancy way of saying construction worker. Much like every other protagonist before him, Aoto's peaceful life making ends meet comes to an abrupt end when he unwittingly involves himself in a conspiracy beyond his imagination. What started off as a promise to escort a moeblob love interest to safety eventually escalates into a long drawn quest to save the planet from itself. Joining his party is a flat-chested tsundere who is also a love interest, a rather fetching girly boy and a doctor with sister complex. So far so JRPG.
Battles are of a snappy real time pace, but this starts to crawl even fairly early on because your party never does much damage to begin with. You will then have to rely on the Rayveteils, or song maidens, as they are the true powerhouse. Like any form of artillery, they bombard your enemies though you are required to synchronise your attacks to the rhythm of the battle tune. Once you achieve a certain number of beats, you are given the option to "purge" the Reyvateil's clothing, which not only provides for excellent eye candy but power up your spells. Given enough time, they can even one-shot endgame bosses. You don't mess with someone who is able to rain down enemies with confectionery. As you might have guessed, they are fragile when left alone, so it is your duty as vanguards to protect the girls from
The game has a relatively low difficulty curve, so you could probably try playing it with one hand, leaving the other free to savour the stripping sequences... However, this eventually comes to a point where you would have to repeat the process several times within a single fight, so if you will mostly likely just turn it off to save time. Fret not though, as all unlocked sequences go to the gallery for future perusal
So while combat is nothing to write home about, the main attraction to me has always been the cast themselves. This time however, the introduction of multiple personas for the two main heroines mean less time is dedicated to flesh out their respective character development. Therefore, it is very unfortunate that these personas fade into obscurity after barely making an impact on the main plot, as they are all so interesting.
Because Ar Tonelico has always been a cleverly disguised visual novel with RPG elements, a huge portion of character development takes places within the Cosmospheres, virtual simulations of the heroine's minds which the hero can explore. The true selling point of the series, Cosmospheres reveal much of the heroines' traits and personalities, adding a great level of depth to the characters, as you traverse deeper into their Cosmospheres.
Not too dissimilar to Dominic Cobb's role in Inception, your primary objective is to dive into the girls' subconscious to help them come to terms with whatever psychological issues that they might be facing. Every successful level cleared leads to a paradigm shift, allowing you to strengthen your relationship with the girl, which in turn sets up their respective endings. Occasionally, you will even stumble across little tidbits of information such as the location of the girl's most erogenous region... Things do get a little naughty within the Cosmospheres, and Gust has included a Panic button that replaces the scene with random non-related images, in case someone walks into you. Just like one of my Japanese porn games
As you are not expected to make an actual decision until late into the game, it makes choosing a girl that much more difficult, knowing full well you will be depriving the other person of her happiness. While easily rectified via multiple playthroughs, I applaud the writers for being able to elicit emotional investment of this degree from me, which in my opinion, is the one of the bases for all good role playing games.
It puzzles me greatly that all the other reviews I have read for this game fail to mention the great soundtrack that accompanies it, though admittedly not quite on par with its predecessors. The background music is average at best, but the vocal scores are where the Ar Tonelico franchise shines. The producers have gone to the extent of creating a language from scratch known as Hymmnos for the many hymns during the course of the game. Each piece is beautifully composed to reflect the the emotions of the Reyvateils, which are often times melancholic. Then there's the following:
Do not be fooled; it is actually a hymn for peace that was able to bring an entire fleet of battleships crashing down. I am guessing that their penis engines malfunctioned and they came crashing down Shikata Akiko reprises her role by providing the vocals for a majority of the hymns, along with other veterans like Shimotsuki Haruka.
Supposedly the final game in the series, I find Qoga to be a decent finale, despite some quirky design choices. If you are already a fan, then you would not care what I have to say anyway, but for newcomers, do yourself a favour and play the previous games first before delving into this. There is actually a lot I could have nitpicked on, but given the general decline in quality console RPGs these days, they are hardly the game-ruining ones that plague titles like Final Fantasy XIII, so I am still very satisfied. Not a classic by a long shot, but good enough to wrap up the trilogy.
P.S It took me roughly month or so to complete the two main routes, which is pretty much all I have been doing since. Probably another week before I can start going back to watching Japanese cartoons full time again