Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica Review

Gust is known for developing highly unique videogames, sometimes sacrificing wide audiences for implementation of very specific original design elements. If there was ever a game to break this niche status, the well-crafted Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica may be it. Published by NIS America, the still-out-of-the-ordinary Ar tonelico II improves upon its predecessor in nearly every way, and proves itself as a very worthy entry into the ever-growing RPG catalog.

Ar tonelico II takes place in Metafalss, a troubled land that is caught in the midst of a war between rivals the Grand Bell and the Sacred Army. These two groups both seek to steer Metafalss toward peace and prosperity, but each has very different ideas regarding how that goal would best be achieved. The Grand Bell wishes to obliterate the Goddess of Metafalss, who has neglected the land and its people for far too long, and then build a perfect world without her impeding the people’s progress. The Sacred Army believes that the Goddess is the key to Metafalss’ salvation, and that the Grand Bell must be stopped in order to appease her. As the story progresses and the intricacies of each faction are revealed, the lines between “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong” become increasingly ambiguous.


Ar tonelico II


The game’s story begins when protagonist and Grand Bell soldier Croix is given the task of protecting the exalted Lady Cloche from assassination by the Sacred Army. From there, the complexities of the narrative continue to mount through one of two entirely separate story arcs — paths that are determined by highly consequential player choices. Regardless of which way the story is directed, it is consistently interesting throughout, with very few lulls in its narrative pace. Thanks to a map system that eliminates the long-distance travel and slow exploration of many other RPGs, players spend more time in locations that advance the plot, and less time getting there. By selecting destinations from a menu, players progress quickly and continuously drive the story forward.

Character development is a huge part of Ar tonelico II, and players will spend much of their time cultivating relationships with the special Reyvateil members of their party. Reyvateils are the magical female race with the power to cast powerful spells and understand the fabled Hymmnos language. By having conversations with these ladies and “diving” into their subconscious “soulspaces,” they develop both as characters and as RPG party members. The Cosmospheres, which are essentially separate game-within-a-game adventures inside the girls’ minds, are especially important for revealing the girls’ thoughts and feelings, growing closer to Croix, and learning new song magic to be used in battle. For the player, spending time exploring these areas adds great depth to all of the characters, and sheds new light on the different aspects of their personalities. These quirky and unusual mini-stories don’t fail to entertain, although it’s possible that some players may show greater interest in the more action-packed “real” world of Metafalss. After all, what’s an RPG without its combat?

Ar tonelico II‘s combat is complex and creative, but not so much that it disrupts the flow of battle. In fact, fighting through the game’s random encounters is a pleasure compared to many other JRPGs, and something players are likely to look forward to, rather than dread. As in the previous game, the song-magic-wielding Reyvateils are the most important part of the party, but between launching powerful, charged spells with these unique characters, there is still plenty to do. Vanguards, who occupy the front line in a four-person battle formation, will see the most action in any given fight, as they are tasked not only with inflicting physical harm upon their foes, but also with defending against attacks directed at the fragile Reyvateils.

Combat involves a series of timed attack and defense phases in which players use the Vanguards to fight in semi-real time. During the attack phase, pressing the action button associated with a character (square for the top row, X for the bottom) along with a direction on the D-pad will make him or her launch one of three attacks on the targeted foe. Two to three attacks per Vanguard can be strung together before the phase ends. If a Reyvateil is singing a song, a small graph representing her emotions indicates which types of attacks will make that magic most effective. Other factors, such as the Reyvateils’ connections with the Vanguards and each other (as cultivated through gameplay), also affect the strength of spells, which can be unleashed at any time during the attack phase with a tap of the circle button.

During the defensive phase, players absorb and deflect enemy attacks using the same Vanguard-specific buttons as in the attack phase. Timing these commands with a meter that corresponds to enemis’ actions will result in varying degrees of defensive success. Pressing the button just as the cursor passes over the horizontal meter’s sweet spot will result in a completely deflected attack, while premature input will result in a few levels of partially cancelled damage. A split-second late, and the party will feel the full brunt of the blow(s).


Ar tonelico II


This new battle system makes each fight fast-paced and interesting, and makes the player feel very connected to the action. Improving one’s efficiency in battle over the course of the game is rewarding and enjoyable, so long as the player doesn’t mind actively participating in combat. Coupled with the limited number of random encounters per area and the clear indication of impending battles, the entire combat experience in Ar tonelico II is very well crafted.

The game’s audio, too, is above average. Even on the normally unimpressive English side of things, the game’s voice acting is solid, and works with the game’s oftentimes peculiar and innuendo-ridden dialog to further color the game’s characters. For purists, a Japanese language track is also included. The musical score, however, outshines any of the voice work. From light and playful songs, to industrial beats, to dark, foreboding tunes, there is a composition for just about every occasion, and the game’s key events are all the more captivating when experienced in conjunction with the appropriate compositions. Even with such variety, there is a common multi-instrumentational and folky sound that persists throughout the entire soundtrack, which happens to be included with the retail copy of the game on a separate audio CD.

While possibly the weakest aspect of the game, Ar tonelico II‘s graphics are still quite charming. The game makes use of sprites that are reminiscent of the 32-bit era, treading along backgrounds comprised of a mixture of 2D and 3D objects. The sprites themselves are bulky and bland, but the low-angle perspective of the environments, with very near foreground and very distant background layers creates an aesthetic that makes exploring the various locales just a bit more interesting than they would otherwise be. Unfortunately, the technical quality of these visuals is less praiseworthy than the style in which they are put together, and the whole package looks fairly dated. The minimally animated, hand-drawn character portraits that accompany the game’s copious dialog segments, on the other hand, are very nicely detailed and quite appealing. That’s a good thing, considering how often players will be staring at them throughout the long adventure.

Ar tonelico II is a shining example of how to improve upon a franchise’s shortcomings and create a truly high-quality sequel. It is also proof that a game with very niche concepts can be molded in such a way that it becomes appealing to a broader audience than one might initially expect. Ultimately, Ar tonelico II is a great JRPG with a unique, though not exactly cutting-edge presentation, great combat, and an interesting, well-paced story. RPG fans shouldn’t miss this one.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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