Platform reviewed: PS3
Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Ar nosurge. Its continuing mission, to seek out new worlds and new civilizations, to boldly go where no video game has gone before. Cue the title theme! Fun intro aside, Tecmo Koei has released a new installment in their Ciel no Surge series, of which takes many elements and themes from their Ar tonelico franchise. Can the Starship Ar nosurge truly go where no video game has gone before, or will the shields fail under the pounding of a spread of photon torpedoes?
Right away the game hits the player with a complicated science-fiction narrative. You are dropped into a crumbling world where sharl and humans are fighting each other in some kind of religious holy war, with people worshipping technology as a deity. In the beginning you take control of a man named Delta, who is suffering from amnesia and thus goes through events being bombarded with suspicion because of deeds he cannot remember. As the story progresses, the player can switch between the pairings of Delta/Cass and Earthes/Ion. The duo can help each other in completing environmental objectives like opening door locks the others cannot reach, as an example. It is a neat twist on using the cast, and allows the story to even out usage with multiple protagonists instead of focusing on one person.
The game’s soundtrack has been produced superbly. As songs are a focus of the storyline, and are the magic in the game, the variety of compositions is enchanting. The opening theme song’s vocal style had me wondering if I was playing the dotHack series by accident and throughout the game there were many vocal tracks popping up. As music proved integral to both the story and gameplay mechanics, I was relieved the soundtrack was up to scratch.
That said, the story itself is a complete mess. Once starting the game I felt like I was always missing some part of the plot and not in that tricky, allusion kind of way. It actually felt like there were parts of the story missing, like with Delta’s memory in the beginning. I was feeling like I needed to have played a game before this one to be filled in on important details as it was glossed over in a ho-hum sort of way. As mentioned earlier, this is complicated science-fiction which needs a lot of explanation as the material will be brand new and crazy.
That info was not being introduced in a timely manner, which left me confused, disoriented about the plot, and generated disinterest. Events are eventually explained but the player really needs to be committed to get the most out of the story. A casual fan is going to be instantly turned away, but those who can handle the story grind will enjoy a new twist on an ancient tale. To be fair, some of the narrative issues could be due to this being a sequel and the prequel has yet to be released in English, so keep that in mind.
Combat is also a mixed bag. On the plus side I enjoyed the song magic system, especially the soundtrack for each track. It felt crisp to use a spell to wipe out the enemy, hear a special tune, and the moment the enemy died the tune ended naturally like it was only made to be 15 seconds long and not a longer clip cut up. The other bulk of combat got boring quickly, however. You have to fight waves of enemies, with each wave being defeated being replaced by another. The number of waves and their formation can be seen at the top of the screen, along with how many would be defeated by your song magic if used at that moment. This magic kills everything instantly, including bosses, which is going to be a mixed bag depending on how you enjoy your combat. If you just want story, then it is great as it allows you to get through combat quicker and easier. If you want a challenge, then playing on the harder difficulties will be mandatory.
Environments throughout Ar nosurge are basic. Areas are small and compact, and are broken up into sections in a retro-esque manner instead of a contemporary open-world format. The objects and backgrounds hardly push the PlayStation 3’s hardware, which is a shame because it is a science-fiction game and it would have been nice to see some beautifully designed tech. However, part of this is made up by the anime cut scenes scattered throughout the game that give it that Japanese flair that will delight anime fans. Those scenes are top-tier because of the movie-like detail put into them.
Anyone who is familiar with the Ar tonelico series will be acquainted with the dive system. It is where two of the characters link hearts to gain trust with each other, thus unlocking the songstress’s powers. This feature has returned here with complications. As you experience part of the character’s subconscious you will be given a choice to affect her mentality at times. While that is a cool way to customize a character, the issue is some of the choices are traps. Some of the choices that cost dive points don’t actually progress you into completing that level, but instead kick you out, thus having to redo that portion or portions all over again. It makes it a trial and error kind of experience. These levels are also packed full of story for those who love it, but for those just wanting to level up their character’s skills it can get tedious to read through more text than the main story.
Overall, this is an RPG for the diehards. This is the kind of game that separates the men from the boys when it comes to science-fiction and RPGs. The story is long, and at times confusing, so gamers will have to be paying close attention to everything. For those who think an RPG can have too much story, or don’t want to have to deal with an over-complicated plot, then this might not be for you. The musical score tries to soften that potential tedium but how much depends on the individual.