Initially, I was skeptical about Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica, as it seemed like the game would just be pretty much the same as any other Gust-developed title. Despite this fact, as I started getting into the game, it would seem that the many different systems really fit together to create a mesh for a decent game. While not the most original title in its most basic structure, there are quite a few systems that need to be mastered to get the most out of Ar tonelico II. Of course, the most noticeable feature of the game is the large quantity of sexual innuendo that is used for just about every aspect of the game's story.
"This is where the items being inserted into the body comes into play, as the stones need to be pushed into the installation port of the Reyvateil."
The main draw of the game so far has been the audio portions, as both the soundtrack and the voice-acting has been considerably good. Granted, I don't think that the voices being of a high quality will matter to those that are purveying the love of Japanese voices, there is a dual voice track also. Most of the game is not voiced, however, so this makes little change to how it's played. When it comes to the soundtrack, fans of the original Ar tonelico will be quite pleased with the style of music as it is very similar. To those unaccustomed to the series, though, the music might sound a bit strange at first but it really starts to grow on you after a while.
Graphically, the game is a bit under the curve, as it looks basically the same as any other Gust-developed game. The 2D world maps and town maps are very stylish and nice to look at, but individual maps that players will travel on are quite pixelated and low quality. Character sprites are rather low resolution, which is unfortunate as the artist for this series is quite talented and it's not being translated into the gameplay very well. Cutscenes bring up character portraits that have different facial features based on how they're talking to others.
The gameplay features world and town maps where you choose places to visit by pointing and clicking, with each area tending to have a small space for players to traverse. This tends to lead into shops or houses, while going to an inn places you inside already. Choosing places on the world map usually either takes players to a town or into a dungeon for exploration. Within dungeons, there tends to be multiple paths to follow to find items and eventually the exit. Sometimes there are multiple exits and players must explore each of them to find the correct area they want to find. There are multiple gauges on screen in dungeons, one in the bottom-right corner showing when battles are to occur and one in the top-right corner showing when there are I.P.D. infections nearby. These infections have taken over the bodies of Reyvateils and they have gone rogue, leaving it up to the player to quarantine and cleanse them.
Battles are semi-turn-based, but also similar in style to how the Valkyrie Profile battle system works. There is the attack phase where players choose which Reyvateil will charge their song magic, while the two front-line characters have square and x buttons for their attacks. Then there is the defense phase where hitting the square or x button at the correct time can be used to defend the Reyvateils in the back. Once a song has charged up to a certain point, the magic attack is unleashed, though players can hit the circle button at any point to unleash what has been built up to that point. When battles are complete, the player can see how they fared in experience and items are given based on rarity from each enemy. On top of this, players receive a score based on how well they defended their Reyvateils and are shown their successes, so that players know what they need to improve.
At inns and save points, players can choose to rest, which fills HP and MP, but also gives players the chance to converse with their Reyvateils and get to know them better. Sometimes the Reyvateils take this time to talk with each other, also, which increases their friendship. The sexual innuendo comes into play when talking about the game's dive system and also its power-up bath system. When diving, players will pay to enter the minds of a Reyvateil to defeat their inner-demons and to strengthen their bond and song magic. The bath system has players using a crystal to draw a bath for the Reyvateils, using different stones that affect each of them differently, bath toys, and even bath soaps. In these baths, not only can you make the Reyvateils stronger, but sometimes their bonds with each other will increase through different scenes.
Reyvateils' lives are shortened due to the power of their song magic, and because of this, they need life lengthening stones applied to them from time to time. This tends to be done by someone that is close to them or that is supposed to be protecting them. These situations seem to be the most extreme form of innuendo used in the game, but so far it seems to be done in a way that is to amuse the player. Despite this, these situations tend to upset other characters in the game that may have feelings toward the main character. This is where the items being inserted into the body comes into play, as the stones need to be pushed into the installation port of the Reyvateil.
With the game quickly moving along when it comes to the story, it's hard to imagine that I'm only a dozen hours in. The game's battle system mixed with the dating sim elements found with the Reyvateils are so engrossing that it is easy for players to find themselves sinking hours into it. The cosmosphere mind worlds of the Reyvateils is almost like having a story within a story, giving the player even more to deal with when trying to ensure that their Reyvateils are continuing to grow stronger. So far, the game has been enjoyable and with the music being a strong point, each new area tends to be a joy to find. Hopefully the game will continue to feel as strong throughout as it has at the beginning.