Gust's Ar tonelico series has quite a reputation amongst RPGamers as being one of the most crazy, over-the-top, and most sexually charged RPG franchises out there. These games are driven by hot-blooded youth, sexy Reyvateil babes in skimpy outfits, and a whole lot of action, combined with some majorly cracked out humor. So how does the finale, Ar tonelico Qoga ~Knell of Ar Ciel~ stack up compared to its predecessors? Surprisingly well, at least after twenty hours of play.
"The only thing that RPGamers should be concerned with is feeling like perverts every time they pick up the controller."
Ar tonelico Qoga ~Knell of Ar Ciel~ continues the grand tradition of featuring a clueless protagonist who meets a cute girl and love blossoms. This installment focuses on a young boy named Aoto who dreams of living a far more exciting life than what he is currently experiencing. One day, outside of his house, he meets Saki, a sweet, naïve Reyvateil who is on the run from the Clustanian Army. Saki decides instantly that she wants to protect Aoto from an oncoming force of Clustanians, and prays for a miracle. Instead of summoning a shining ball of light or setting the enemy ablaze with fire, Saki transforms the enemies into cakes, and faints. Aoto realizes that there is something very special about Saki, and decides that he must uncover her mystery and help her avoid being taken captive by the Clustanians. Along the way, Aoto and Saki are met by Tatsumi, a V-boarder, Hikari Gojo, a Reyvatologist, and Finnel, a perky, if clumsy Reyvateil with a dark secret. This rag-tag group of go-getters is on a journey to discover what the true conflict is between the three feuding armies. What they soon realize, however, is that Finnel and Saki may be at the center of it all.
I've been a huge fan of Gust's creations over the last few years, and the Ar tonelico series in particular has always shown great strength with its sense of humor. For those fearing a botched localization, the writing so far has been fairly strong, and the story, though full of twists and turns, has some very tongue-in-cheek dialogue, chock full of sexual innuendos. In a way, Qoga may actually have the most morbid sense of humor of all the Ar tonelico games combined. The laughs are definitely there, and they keep on coming like a speeding train with no means of stopping, especially when roaming through Finnel and Saki's Cosmospheres, where their inner thoughts range from being a 16-bit style RPG heroine to a songtress who has sold all of her clothing just so she and her husband (yes, that's you, Aoto, ya lazy bum!) can eat. Each Cosmosphere manages to top the last in terms of strange new worlds and even weirder consequences.
One thing that I know fans have been worried about is the major change within the combat system. While it is true that the combat system is no longer turn-based, the new action-based system, called the R.A.H system, does in fact hold its own quite nicely. It has a bit of a learning curve, but once you master it, you can manipulate it in your favour. Combat is all about working to the beat, as players control one of the vanguard attackers in an attempt to protect the Reyvateil. As the Reyvateil sings, waves on the Harmograph will rise and fall along to the beat of the song magic. If you attack when the graph is hitting high waves, your attack power increases. The more high waves you hit, the higher the frequency for the Reyvateil to Purge in combat. Purging is performed by holding L1, L2, R1, R2 and shaking the controller. When a Reyvateil Purges, she strips away layers of clothing and is able to provide bonuses to the combat such as an increase attack or defense. Watching these Purge sequences can get very uncomfortable, as Saki and Finnel barely look legal (though watching Sarapatra Purge, now that is a treat). The more times you Purge, the less clothing the Reyvatail has. If you can Purge at higher levels, you are treated to a high level attack called a Flipsphere which can do tons of damage on unsuspecting enemies. The new combat system is hectic, fast, and will keep you on your toes.
Ar tonelico Qoga isn't the most graphically impressive PlayStation 3 title, and does somewhat lack the polish of Gust's previous PlayStation 3 offering Atelier Rorona. That isn't to say it's a bad looking game; however, it lacks the graphical consistency that made Rorona such a visual treat. Still, Qoga is a colourful game, and the still art is stunning to look at. The series' greatest strength comes from its music, and Qoga is no exception in terms of soundtrack. The melodies are powerful, if haunting, and the music continues to showcase a variety of sounds and instruments to bring the world of Ar Ciel alive.
I am having an absolute blast with Ar tonelico Qoga. It has its problems, but they are overshadowed by how much of a hilarious and engaging experience it is. While the silly, overly sexualized humor may not be for some, the game has a lot of charm to experience, even if it somewhat struggles to stay serious when it needs to be. The only thing that RPGamers should be concerned with is feeling like perverts every time they pick up the controller.