If you never heard of it before, Ar nosurge is a prequel of sorts to the Ar tonelico series and direct continuation to Ciel nosurge. Considering the latter is not even available to the North American region (or any place that speaks English), diving into Akira Tsuchiya’s work centering around the themes of bonds, understanding, life, and relationships is a pretty dense experience in numerous ways. Finally finishing it in all of its entirety, I can say it is whirlwind of a ride, but only a meaningful one for those well-versed in the material.
Title: Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star
Genre: Sci-fi, RPG
Developer: Gust, Koei Tecmo
Length: 55-60 Hrs
Essentially, Ar nosurge tells its story through the perspective of two character pairs: Delta and Casty (Cass for short), elite operatives working for an organization in the city of Felion – where the other pair, Ion (the main character of Ciel nosurge) awakens from her dream world slumber accompanied by her robotic partner, Earthes. With Delta and Cass looking for a means to defeat the Sharl, mysterious lifeforms abducting humans, Ion and Earthes seek away for the two to coexist – the efforts resulting in a journey to learn the truth surrounding their existence. Or that is at least the gist of things. Unless you have read a summary (or better yet, played the game) of the events relating to Ciel nosurge – Ar nosurge will make very little sense. Much to the credit of the game, it does provide a dictionary of terminology that highlights specific phrases you might run across in conversation and look-up on the fly, yet most information provided is more generalized working on the contingency that it is nothing more than a refresher. Through the magic that is translation, Koei Temco does try to rework various parts of the dialogue (especially during the start) to better present the story, but as you delve deeper down the rabbit hole and more characters germane to Ciel nosurge enter the picture with their own motivations playing a role, good luck trying to follow along.
However, for those that can wade through ignorance, Ar nosurge does deliver a fairly uniquely woven tale. One reason in particular, due to the nature of the player taking on the role of an interactive, unseen figure – the second half of the game acknowledges them, characters periodically breaking the “4th wall” to relay information to the player. Of course, besides relaying that information, the player has the power of “Zapping” on their side. Since the two pairs of characters never join up as one (but do encounter and know each other), “Zapping” allows the player to switch between the two perspectives at will. After you play through one pairs journey and achieve an “Episode Clear” or “Episode Locked” you will have switch to the other to move the story along to its next junction or “Phase”. While it does sound like irritable task, it actually plays into the narrative very skillfully and brings the two sides actions into perspective. For a method of storytelling that I’m familiar with, Ar nosurge does at least present it well and kept the concept out of ridiculous territory. No matter what side are glancing at, like a regular RPG, you have the opportunity to visit various towns to shop/craft items as well as areas to explore and battle enemies.
Unlike the Ar Tonelico series (or any RPG for that matter), combat plays out a little different from usual. You use two characters exclusively: The Vanguard who duty is to attack and defend the Singer that uses Song Magic based on your choice at the start of battle. Since you only have certain number attacks you can use in any given turn (indicate by the number corresponding to the four shape buttons), defeating foes in one fell swoop or cripple their numbers enough is key. On the off-chance you string attacks together in the right manner on foes with a “!” mark, you will break their guard, allowing you to attack again – even continuously, if done right (and will want to since battles have a turn limit). With the Singer the only one with HP, the Vanguard has to protect her (pressing “O” at the right time) during the enemy turn. If she dies, it is game over. If you manage to defeat one enemy formation, the next in the wave appears. Once you pummeled the enemy enough to build up enough points the Burst Gauge or reduced the number of waves, you can opt use the Singer’s Song Magic, an attack that will automatically end the battle – taking with it numerous enemies waves depending to the Burst Gauge’s percentage. If you managed to clear the enemy waves down to the last number, you can explore the area freely and if you didn’t, expect to see the remaining number (indicated on top of the screen) during some part of field exploration. Regardless, when a fight ends you gain a score based on how well you did, DP, money, experience points and item drops. As the Vanguard and Singer level up both of their stats increase, but only the Vanguard learns new skills – the Singer on the hand has a different process to learn new Song Magic. It is called Genometrics
Like Ar Tonelico, you use the Dive Points (DP) collected in battle to enter the Singer’s mind or those chained to her. The gameplay then takes the form of a visual novel as you make different choices and proceed through a mini-story of sorts, each action expending DP. If you successfully make it through the vignette, the girl gains new song magic and you might even gain a few gems from the choices made that can be used in purification. However, if you miss any, you always go back to the area to answer differently. In purification, the gems you have can be equipped to either the Singer or Vanguard, each one containing different effects such as: increased singing speed, increased attack, ect. The Singer only has a limited spots open for gems, but as you talk to her – she will eventually allow you place them in other areas. (Don’t take that statement the wrong way). To be honest, unless your playing on the hardest difficult mode – there is very little reason to go this process as regular enemies and bosses alike drop at like files. You can adjust the difficulty in the game at anytime, which does ramp up the boss fights, but makes regular battles more time-consuming albeit, the Genometrics more useful. That said, where Geometrics is helpful to in enhancing the Singer’s effectiveness in battle, it is also a nice reprieve from going through the motions of the main narrative, so you might be doing it either way.
With a franchise known for its soundtrack, Ar nosurge definitely does not disappoint in the music arena – providing plenty of non-vocal and vocal selections for your listening pleasure. With many of the in-house composition veterans making their return like Daisuke Achiwa and Ken Nakagawa (best recognized for their work on the Atelier franchise), most of the music will sound widely familiar to the bulk of GUST’s previous titles. Like Ciel nosurge, ntny reprises the role of the artist and character designer. Personally, I didn’t care too much for the art style in most of the CG’s – yet the in-game character models and concept art look very nice by comparison.
Sadly, while Ar nosurge is a product only for its most ardent fans – I can’t exactly recommend it for the mythos, themes, and story alone. The North American localization is sloppy handled: numerous typos, name inconsistencies, and as always, a load of technical bugs await. For example: there are a couple of characters in the game (Zill, Nelo, Corsal) that periodically have their names change every other scene (Jill, Nero, Korzal) for no reason. A funny instance includes if you try to escape from battle, the screen glitches and you briefly see Japanese text on the attack commands. And then, there are troublesome issues evident of bad programming/lack of quality assurance like the game crashing from attacking specific enemies with specific moves. There are other examples I can cite, none are all that shocking since the localization of the GUST library has been always riddle with such faux pas – but besides that, it is just too nebulous with a proper understanding. By no means is Ar nosurge a terrible game (or unplayable), it is quite the opposite in terms of storytelling and how the PS2 trilogy fits into things – however, unless you have the gumption to go in blind or search for the supplemental resources out there, I highly suggest skipping it. Only the dedicated may apply and sadly, most likely the only ones that will be able to get through a title that deserves a more earnest introduction and attention that is has received.
Pros: Nice tie-in to the Ar Tonelico series mythos, rich narrative and storytelling concept, great music, challenging boss battles on the hardest difficultly setting, adjustable difficulty
Cons: Story heavily constrained by Ciel nosurge, tons of technical and major localization errors, no replayability.
- For those of us unable to experience Ciel nosurge, Blackraen has done a full summary of the story. Please check it out HERE and thank him/her for their hard work. Also check out the AT fan site (aka Reyvateil’s Melody).
- As of current, I’m every aware that a patch is available that is said to fix some the issues with the game, but can’t verify they do since I completed the game a month after the release.