Singing Hill – Harmonics TYRIA – by Akiko Shikata
Lyrics are in multiple combined languages. A translation can be found here.
Welp. This isn’t gonna end well. Today’s Under Your Radar is Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel. To preempt anyone wondering what that means, all but “Knell of” is written in romanized Hymnos, which is a language created for the purpose of this series. To simplify greatly, it means “Yggdrasil Finale: The Chime That Signals the End of the World”. The Japanese title is much simpler, being Ar tonelico III: Sekai Shūen no Hikigane wa Shōjo no Uta ga Hiku (lit. “Ar tonelico III: The Girl’s Song that Pulls the Trigger of World’s Demise”).
In any event, this is the third and final game of the Ar tonelico series, the only one on PS3. The series’ PS2 entries are excellent, as for this one… you’ll see. The Ar tonelico series acts as a distant sequel to the ongoing Surge Concerto series (the second entry of which – Ar noSurge: Ode to an Unborn Star – is slated for Western release at the end of the month). The title was developed by Gust and Banpresto, was published by Bandai Namco Games in Japan in 2010, and was localized for the West by NIS America in 2011. Europe happened to get this game on April Fool’s Day, but I doubt buyers were amused.
The game’s story is both simple and impossible to follow at the same time. We follow apprentice steeplejack Aoto who finds a girl under attack. In this world, some girls are actually reyvateils, beings capable of casting song magic. This girl turns out to be an important one. To avoid spoiling the plot, I will simply say that the story involves picking a girl whose attention you’ll focus on as you learn about the world’s impending doom and avert it.
Each of the leading ladies has a side-story shown in this series’ flavour in the form of diving – a supposedly-intimate process where one enters a reyvateil’s psyche and sees their basest desires. Really, though, you simply see a representation of their internal mental struggles and try to solve the problem.
There are two major road cones in the plot aside from picking a girl. There is a certain boss fight that you need to beat within a hidden time limit (the game will inform you when this happens, but you’ll miss the warning if you’re not paying attention to the plot). If you succeed, an additional reyvateil joins the group for the final act of the game, but first there’s an additional fight against a certain boss with two 2-letter names. You get to make a decision before this fight. One decision leads you to the normal endings no matter what. The other decision leads you to the bad ending if you failed to beat the aforementioned boss quickly enough, but leads you to the true endings and other variable endings otherwise.
Throughout the game, there are three points where you pick between one of the two early-game reyvateils to pay your attention to. You see a special scene for each time you do this, and how many times you chose each girl will affect which specific ending you get. Endings run the whole way from tragic to happy. The normal endings, and even some of the true endings, are quite bittersweet.
The story is honestly forgettable. Not the best, not the worst, though it’s quite… Japanese. What is bad, though, is the gameplay.
The gameplay attempts to be an action adaptation of the usual asynchronous turn-based system in the series, with a minor rhythm game twist. Your three front-line characters, using ridiculous weapons such as a doctor’s bag (actually a cannon of sorts) and a hoverboard (actually more of a club/dual blades), defend the reyvateil, who can cast magic on command. If you don’t have at least one character on each enemy, whichever one is free will make a run for the reyvateil. You can use a gauge to knock any enemies that make it close away from you, but you’re fairly screwed if another enemy gets close while the gauge is refilling.
As with the original Ar tonelico, there is no mana or anything – special skills cost health to use. Additionally, you may notice an odd display at the bottom of the screen. That has to do with the procedurally-generated “music” used in this game (which you can influence by diving). Attacks that are timed with the higher points will get the reyvateil closer to being able to purge. What is purging? It’s a new system introduced for this game involving stripping to raise the reyvateil’s power. If you time your purge with the aforementioned high points, you get a short cutscene of the aforementioned stripping. Towards the end of the game, you are able to use the game’s crafting system to create ultimate attacks where the frontline characters strip as well.
Seems legit, right? Except the implementation was pretty bad. Previous Ar tonelico games had both decent story and good gameplay, but the jump to full 3D action gameplay instead of 2D turn-based caused issues. The game crashes on certain maps with certain battle transition effects, and the attacks lack the feeling of impact that’s expected from action gameplay.
What I’ll give them credit for, though, is that, despite using random encounters, there is a soft limit on the amount of encounters you can have per visit to an area. The encounters do stop eventually, which is nice, but being able to just not have needless encounters would be better.
Let’s be honest: this game isn’t very good. Just go play the original on PS2. I hope Ar noSurge takes more from those than this.