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Ar Tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica (PlayStation 2) artwork

Ar Tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica (PlayStation 2) review

"Ar Tonelico 2 took me by surprise. It feels weird to say that given that I played the first one, and I can't really say that the two are all that different. Gust is infamous for making the same game repeatedly but somehow, it just gets better every time. What I expected was a quick cash in, a little game that was thrown out there to make a buck and then fade away. I was right in some ways, but the word 'little' doesn't belong anywhere near a description of this game."

Ar Tonelico 2 took me by surprise. It feels weird to say that given that I played the first one, and I can't really say that the two are all that different. Gust is infamous for making the same game repeatedly but somehow, it just gets better every time. What I expected was a quick cash in, a little game that was thrown out there to make a buck and then fade away. I was right in some ways, but the word 'little' doesn't belong anywhere near a description of this game.

Just like its predecessor, Ar Tonelico 2 takes place on a humongous tower, complete with entire cities, tracts of open farmable land, forests, and other such things that have no business being on what you'd normally think of as a tower. The technology involved in its construction is advanced far beyond what anyone actually living on it understands, but in a nutshell they all live there because the ground far below is uninhabitable.

The game does a pretty admirable job of selling such an alien setting as believable, even in spite of the fact that its graphics are firmly lodged in the original Playstation era. At one point you go to what the party refers to as a desert, but when you get there, there's no rolling sand dunes to greet you. Instead it's flat, rusted metal stretching for miles in every direction. It's as arid and barren as any traditional desert, but it's unmistakably foreign. It makes sense in the context of the world, its an unused part of the tower, but it's a great reminder of just how strange a world this is.

The tower itself was, unsurprisingly, built using magic. This force is still present throughout the tower, but it can only be accessed by female mages called Reyvatiels. With a spiritual connection to the tower itself, they are at the center of the game in nearly every way, be it the plot itself, or the side quests. They are even the dominant force in combat, singing songs of destruction or healing that do most of the heavy lifting for you throughout the course of the game.

In a very general sense, battles in Ar Tonelico are the same as any other turn based RPG where you smack your enemies around, then they return the favor, and you play ping pong with swords until one side falls down. The gimmick that sets the game apart is also a potential downside: The pacing is really weird. The general progression is the same, but somewhere near 90 percent of your damage is done by the spells your mages cast, so what happens is that your melee characters hit the enemy for two or three turns while your mages charge a big spell, which then does ten times the damage your melee did and obliterates the entire enemy force instantly.

The game explains this away by telling you point blank at the beginning that magic is overpowered, but mages are fragile. When in combat, they need guardians to protect them from being smashed into Reyvateil juice by the hulking monsters of the tower. Instead of really looking to your melee for more damage, they serve more as a shield for your mages, and as a secondary method to modify your magic. By having them perform certain kinds of attacks, you can raise the burst level of your spells, increasing their damage or healing effectiveness. Different attack types raise your harmonics level instead, opening up special attacks and abilities.

In this way, your whole team becomes the proverbial well oiled machine, many parts working together towards a singular goal. It's basically a four man magical wrecking ball where everyone has their own part to play in summoning the giant fireball that incinerates your enemy. It's different, it's even a neat idea, but it's probably not for everyone. Battles tend to be rather short, and even bosses generally can't take more than a couple big hits before they throw in the towel.

Really, it wouldn't be too inaccurate to look at the entire game as one long process to create a better fireball. As with most of the Gust games, there is a vast amount of optional content to explore. And the reward for it all is generally more efficient ways to blow up the things that don't like you.

Items can be crafted in any of a number of shops around the world, and every item in the game can be crafted into something different by each of the Reyvateils in your party. Each different item is accompined by a short scene where your characters puzzle over the item they're creating, often with humorous results. There are literally hundreds of these scenes, which quickly piles up into huge amounts of optional character development not only for your party, but for the various shopkeepers you meet. Some of them even turn out to be rather interesting characters.

But the real meat of the character development comes from the Cosmosphere, a world that exists inside each person's imagination. In Ar Tonelico you can dive Matrix style into the subconscious of your Reyvateils, and by helping them overcome their personal hangups, you help them create newer, stronger spells. The whole process involves seeing people as they really are, their best and their worst, and helping them overcome their faults.

It starts out cute and amusing. You help Cloche, the leader of a huge military organization, overcome the stifling nature of her position by convincing her boss that the restaurant in her mind should serve a new dish. Everyone has a laugh, and things move on. But the deeper you get, the more twisted things become. Some of the higher levels of the Cosmospheres are really dark.

There really is a surprising depth to Ar Tonelico 2. At a glance, the whole thing seems really simple. Your first taste of combat ends in two turns, and everything in the game is perfectly square because entire buildings have polygon counts in the dozens. But the sheer volume of the game is impressive, you can veer off the main path for hours if you're so inclined. Yet it's accessible and familiar. No one who's ever touched a JRPG will have any problem picking it up and feeling at home. Just don't get too comfortable. The game is always ready to throw you a curve ball.


dragoon_of_infinity's avatar
Freelance review by Josh Higley (February 20, 2009)

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honestgamer posted February 20, 2009:

Good review, but your last two sentences are both comma splices and I'm not sure what you meant here:

Each different item crafted is accompanied by a short scene where your characters puzzle over.

Puzzle over what?

Anyway, it's like I said: this was a good review. It just happens that it would be better if you tweak those issues. You really addressed most of the points I was interested in throughout the course of the review, but I also found myself wondering how the story here relates to the one in the first game.
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zippdementia posted February 20, 2009:

I'm wondering if you beat the game. A lot of reviewers have complained about the glitch in the last battle, but you don't mention it. Were you lucky, or did you review before completion?
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wolfqueen001 posted February 20, 2009:

He could've just not felt it wasn't that important.
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zippdementia posted February 20, 2009:

A potentially game breaking glitch not being important? Yeah, I suppose.

That said, I'm still hoping I win this game. In every other regards, it looks awesome.
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dragoon_of_infinity posted February 20, 2009:

I never had any problems with glitches during my time with AT2. I've heard about game crashing glitch, and it was a concern as I went through the game, but I played through it and didn't encounter it myself.

After doing some research on other forums in response to your question, the game breaking glitch is there, but it isn't necessarily as devistating as its made out to be. The second to last boss has a bugged skill that it casts on the third defensive phase which will always crash the game. This means you have three offensive phases to kill it. As I pointed out in my review, most bosses don't live very long through a concentrated magical assault, and this is no exception. It's entirely possible to kill it before the third defensive phase, and therefore bypass the glitch.

The bigger problem comes from the fact after you beat it, it becomes an optional boss that you can fight fifteen times for bonus artwork. As it becomes harder to beat each time, it gets more and more unlikely that you'll kill it before the crash the higher you go. I never attempted to fight it again.

So is there a glitch? Yes there is. Is it bad? Apparently, yes it is. But the game is still beatable even with it? Yep. That's why I never mentioned it. I smashed the encounter into the ground and just sidestepped it, and therefore assumed it wasn't as prominent as was being stated.
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zippdementia posted February 21, 2009:

Sounds good to me. Alright, keep me in line for that prize!

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