Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel Review

Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel

The Ar tonelico series is about as quirky as they come. These games have put a spin on the traditional JRPG unlike any other, with a unique party composition, innuendo-laden dialogue, and a direct approach to plot progression. Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel is the first to appear on an HD console, but that bump in technology does not outweigh the shortcomings in design that prevent the game from matching the series’ apex, 2009’s Ar tonelico II: Melody of Elemia. While Qoga‘s narrative is well paced and entertaining and it maintains strong character development as a hallmark of the franchise, clumsy combat, awkward acting, and immature over-sexualization prevent it from ending the series on its highest note.

This story takes place on Sol Cluster, the last of the three towers of civilization floating high above a once-prosperous, now-uninhabitable planet called Ar Ciel. Sol Cluster’s dominant nation, Clustania, is comprised entirely of Reyvateils, an artificial race that can convert song into powerful magical energy, and this group seeks to "cleanse" the tower of all inhabitants but Reyvateils and "purified" humans. The young steeplejack Aoto finds himself mixed up in the struggle between factions when a group of Clustanian soldiers attack and attempt to kidnap a girl outside the door of his small-town home. The anime-inspired hero comes to her rescue, of course, and immediately vows to protect her and return her home.

Although it is somewhat unsophisticated and draws on many Japanese anime cliches, Qoga‘s narrative is interesting and entertaining enough to motivate players to continue for its 30-plus-hour duration. The story is not disjointed as a result of poorly paced play, but is briskly ushered along from one plot point to the next with minimal RPG slog. In fact, the slowest parts of the game are perhaps the most bountiful; much time is spent developing characters and their relationships with one another through conversation. This may still feel slow to some players, the writing/translation is riddled with errors, and the voice work is for the most part over-acted and otherwise horrible, but the fact that the content is valuable, interesting, and essential information rather than filler makes the time spent between narrative incrementations feel less like waiting than actively participating.

Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel

Aside from regular scripted events, the game develops its characters very well, in two different ways. One is via "talk topics," which are collected like items throughout the game world and then played out at inns and other save points when the party chooses to rest. Aoto visits the Reyvateil girls before retiring, and engages in short dialogues that strengthen their relationships while also giving the player insight into how the characters think. Even more in depth is the Dive system and Reyvateils’ Cosmospheres. Aoto can "dive" into the girls’ minds at special "dive shops" and explore these subconscious "soulspaces" for a far more intimate look into their emotions, insecurities, and inner conflicts. To many players, this will be the most engaging, rewarding, and time-consuming part of the game. Each interaction, accessed with Dive Points earned in battle, occurs at a node on a static map of the Reyvateil’s psyche, and completing these revealing segments unlocks new events and deeper layers of the current Cosmosphere.

Exploring Cosmospheres also provides tangible rewards in other parts of the game. Occasionally, Aoto will unlock Hyumas, who are characters within a Reyvateil’s soulspace that provide passive bonuses during Reyvateil "purges" in combat. Reaching deeper layers of a Cosmosphere will also unlock additional levels of purge for the girl in question. A purge is one of the elements of Ar tonelico Qoga that seems contrived simply as a way to further sexualize the female characters, but with a relevant play-related excuse. Simply, the girls strip additional articles of clothing (with accompanying animation, complete with jiggle) and show more skin with each purge in order to become more in tune with the planet’s energy. With each purge, one of the aforementioned Hyumas’ passive bonuses is chosen by the player and activated, and the Reyvateil’s song-magic power increases in anticipation of her next attack. Hyumas must be programmed into the Reyvateils before they can be used in battle, and wouldn’t you know it, higher-level Hyuma programming requires the girls to strip, as well.

Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel

In general, the game’s real-time combat relies heavily on a pattern of using Aoto and other melee-based characters to stiffly attack enemies in time with the Reyvateil’s song, building her "excitement" and heart meter until she can purge, then either unleashing her song magic or repeating the initial steps to reach more powerful levels of purge before obliterating the opposition with the single song-magic attack available (one for each Reyvateil). Thanks to powerful enemies and mostly weak party members, the plethora of healing items earned as rewards will also be put to good use in the midst of this routine. Combat is not exciting or enjoyable, and is a step back from the series’ previous installment. The anticipation of this combat system, combined with the game’s habit of frequently initiating its random battles, even makes exploration a frustrating, hesitant experience. There is a meter that roughly indicates how soon the next fight will occur, and the number of battles in each explorable area is limited, but the former is imprecise, and the latter is rarely exhausted before the party is done with the area, anyway.

Outside of combat locations, meaning in towns or on the overworld map, navigation is as simple as selecting a destination from a list that is overlaid on a basic background image. Once within the selected location, players then have the opportunity to move the party around in real time. This system helps streamline the travel process while still providing a feeling of interactivity. Towns are important, and contain the aforementioned inns and dive shops, as well as equipment shops (where there is a frustrating lack of comparison data between currently equipped gear and items for sale, making shopping more tedious than is necessary in this day and age) and locations that simply serve as settings for story events. Item synthesis is available at inns and save points, however the system is somewhat shallow and seems to be a side note to the rest of the game. Still, new items and weapons produced here can be useful to those players who invest the time, even if it’s not entirely necessary to do so.

The word "optional" actually seems to sum up much of Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel. The game is a collection of elements that may be explored as much or as little as one desires; it’s up to the player to decide why exactly he or she is playing. Most likely, that will be for the story and character development, which is the game’s greatest asset despite its incessant, blatant, and sophomoric use of innuendo in dialogue and play mechanics. Ignoring that distraction and the game’s less-than-enjoyable combat, there is value in this journey for the right sort of player. UPC: 813633010663

3 out of 5


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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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