Teen [There’s some innuendo and mild violence]
Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia by Nis America and Bandai, takes gamers on a grandiose adventure through a world that lives in the skies. When a young knight named Lyner Barsett is tasked with returning a crystal to his floating world that has come under attack by mysterious viruses, it’s up to players to uncover the evil behind the attacks and save his world. Lyner also joins up with a number of other characters, including some called Reyvateil, who can use magic using their songs. That sums up the overlying premise of Ar Tonelico. It seems simple and tritely familiar in its plot orientation. However, the game does take some minor risks with a few of the main story lines, but nothing on the grand scale of Bioware’s KOTOR or Square’s latter Final Fantasy games.
What grants Melody of Elemia its flair of originality is in several features that center around the power of ‘song magic’. During the turn-based battles players can use the songs to increase their own abilities, or charge up attacks DBZ style to inflict massive damage on their foes. One of the other key features is the ability to Grathmeld. Now with Grathmelding, (which is another name for crafting) players can create any number of items and enhancements in which they can upgrade their weapons, armor, accessories and the Reyvateil’s song magic. It can get sort of deep, but it’s nothing like Vanguard. You can also increase the Reyvateil’s magic by talking to them in their mind’s by going to a “Dive” shop.
The whole “Dive” jive is based on the Bioware-esque “Love talk” chit-chat that takes place when players have the team to rest. Basically gamers will pick from topics that are retrieved while walking around in the game world, and it means that Lyner can chat it up with one of the girls like a modern day Casanova. These NBC midday soap-opera scenes setup the protagonist to get more “intimate” with the girls. Hey! Clean those thoughts out; when Lyner gets “intimate” it means he can “Dive” into the girls...thoughts. (Geesh, I thought I told you to keep it clean?)
Actually, the whole “Dive” scenario is kind of cool, insofar that players can venture through the Reyvateils’ minds and unlock hidden abilities and extra costumes within their own Cosmosphere. This generally enables stronger attacks, more magical abilities, better team abilities and more powerful songs. The downside to “Diving” is that you don’t actually play – scenarios play out between the characters that don’t involve players...well, playing. A mini-game of sorts would have graciously helped in this way.
Aesthetically, Ar Tonelico isn’t the greatest looking PS2 RPG. The game consists of decent looking sprites, with the majority of its visual splendor coming through with the Reyvateil’s song magic specials. Fighting is a grade above the standard take-turn scheme; combos and counters mixed with flashy skill attacks can create some hair-raising bouts. The voice acting is also sub-par, with hit and miss sequences that are pretty much like the standard fare anime. And the soundtrack is actually darn good enough to round out the game’s old-school feel of immersion. The theme song is especially well done and the world map music is almost equivalent to some of Hiroki Kikuta’s classic work.
Overall, Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia is a decent attempt at being a great RPG. But limited playability (you don’t actually walk around on the world map), constant long dialogue sequences, one too many soap-opera moments, and limited character customization can sort of leave a bland taste in the mouth of gamers who aren’t heavy RPG fans. However, the song magic and Grathmelding add some needed (and addictive) flavors to an otherwise mediocre RPG. While it’s a tough call to make, I must go with my gut feeling on the final verdict for this ambitiously pricey tale. So read it and weep.