Back in 2007, NIS America released Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia, bringing more of the Gust-developed goodness to the American gaming public, albeit full of some very obvious sexual connotations and double entendres, including the tagline of “You never forget your first…”
Two years have passed, and NIS America has now brought out the sequel, Ar tonelico 2: Melody of MetaFalica, with a catchphrase of “..always come back for seconds.” Being the large NIS America fan that I am, it has fallen onto me to review this title and see if Ar tonelico 2 is as much fun as the first one, or if something was lost in translation along the way.
Let’s be honest, NIS America has never been known for high-end graphics. They have stuck mainly to 2D graphics and drawn sprites that remind us of the heyday of PS1 RPGs, although at a much higher quality. This has been true ever since the release of Disgaea nearly three years ago, and little has changed through all of the games NIS America have brought over, many of which have been developed by Gust. AT2 is no different, with beautifully designed characters, and solid 2D sprites that bring back memories.
Unfortunately, after three years of this, and with the PS3 and Xbox 360 taking over the marketplace, this is no longer as attractive as it once was. This is especially true when playing on a HDTV, which can cause the game to honestly look pixellated in places. Some of this is less a failure of the game, which was originally released in 2007, and more a limitation on the PS2 itself. The cutscenes in the game are well-done for the most part, as well, which doesn’t hurt matters, and the backgrounds for the most part are gorgeous.
If this section was based on the music only, this would easily get a 95 or higher. Gust has an amazing sound team, consisting of Akira Tsuchiya, Ken Nakagawa and Daisuke Achiwa, who composed both the first game and this one, and the music is gorgeous. Not only that, but the Japanese singers for the Reyvatails from Ar tonelico have returned for AT2, giving one of the best musical performances in any game not titled Final Fantasy, and possibly better than some of those.
The English voice casting is not bad at all, although there are times that you really wish they could have shown a bit more emotion in their voice-acting. Still, it’s a far cry from games of the past. Still and all, I much preferred the Japanese cast of the game, more due to personal preference than anything else. That, combined with some research, began to reveal some of the cracks in the game. Apparently, in order to fit both vocal tracks on the DVD, NIS America chose to take out nearly half of the Japanese voice track, only leaving what exactly matched the English track. This is quite noticeable, as there are many stretches where the characters are on screen like they would be when they’re voiced, except there’s no voice to be found. More damning is the fact that the entire Japanese vocal track could have fit on the disc with what English track there was.
The controls for Ar tonelico 2 are pretty similar to the original game. The left analog stick and d-pad control your character and make choices in menus, X confirms and performs numerous actions in the game world while directing the combat of the bottom character, while the square button controls the top character in combat. Triangle displays the menu and in-combat battle commands, while the circle button cancels selection, and both selects and activates song magic in combat. Finishing this off, the start button opens a map and pauses in-combat, while the select button opens the Lakra system.
To be honest, the controls are solid and very simple, so there’s not really anything to complain about or anything too outstanding about them. As the saying goes, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
The story of Ar tonelico 2 takes place 400 years after the first game, although in a different part of the world Ar Ciel. You play Croix, a knight in the Grand Bell army, whose leader, the Holy Maiden Cloche, has declared war on the Goddess because she won’t allow the people to create MetaFalica, a paradise-like land. They are opposed by the Sacred Army, who seeks to find another way to create MetaFalica, with the Goddess’s aid. In the middle of all of this is a disease called I.P.D. which affects Reyvatails, causing them to go insane and attack people around them before killing themselves as well. Part of Croix’s job is to contain the infected Reyvatails, although he really doesn’t like performing this, both because his parents were killed by an I.P.D.-infected Reyvatail, and because he rescued his adopted little sister, Cocona, from a similar attack. His childhood friend Luca also had a close experience with I.P.D., as her younger sister, Leyka, was taken away at a young age due to the disease.
Much like Ar tonelico itself, the game consists of randomized battles with a meter showing how many monsters are left in the area you’re in, as well as the likelihood of battle as you go. Added to the mix this time, however, is the ability to subdue infected Reyvatails periodically, with a new radar specifically for that. The battle system is almost completely different this time, eschewing the system from the first game and replacing it with real-time, button-based combat. Each round is broken into attack and combat phases. During the attack phase, you can choose song magic for your Reyvatails, and then attack with X and Square for the two front line characters, creating different attacks with the various directional buttons. These directions correspond with different actions relating to the actual casting of the magic, from increasing the synchronization rate, to saving MP for the Reyvatail’s song itself. Once the timer for the attack phase is over, the defense phase kicks in, where you have to time presses of the X and Square buttons to successfully defend your Reyvatails against the attacks, which can also affect the synchronization percentages.
Diving makes a return into this game, as you delve into a Reyvatail’s Cosmosphere to learn more about them and to help them unlock facets of their personalities while becoming closer to them, unlocking new magic as well as new costumes for the girls. This is complete with the very risque’ yet juvenile humor that we saw in the first game, amplified heavily. In fact, the game almost goes out of their way to make almost everything in the game have a sexual connotation, almost to the point of making the first Dive in the game feel like a form of assisted rape to me. One change from the first game is the fact that you can only completely explore one Reyvatail’s Cosmosphere to the bottom, as this determines the game’s ending, as does a choice that you make about a quarter through the game. A few new wrinkles have been added, including Dive Therapy, as you can assist Luca in curing the infected Reyvatail that you subdue through the game, almost as if you were collecting them and then using them much as Reyvatail were used in the first game to help power up your own Reyvatail.
As with most of Gust’s games, item creation is a big part of the game, with nearly every shop that you go to having recipes that you can make, with different outcomes happening based on which Reyvatail you have assisting you at the time. You also gain various bath-related items, and power crystals, through the game, which leads to the Dualstall system, which allows you to send your two Reyvatail to the bath, allowing them to talk and become more acquainted with each other while leveling them up and increasing their powers; in fact, this appears to be the only way to level up those characters, as they do not gain experience in battle.
This all sounds very nice, but not all is well in NISAland. I’m not sure whether this game was rushed, or the QA and translation departments merely didn’t bother to show up at some point, but the localization of Ar tonelico 2 is one of the worst I’ve seen in quite a long time. The game starts out fine, but the first wrinkle shows up when you face an infected Reyvatail with only one in your party. The game tells you that because you only have one, this fight is going to be tougher, and at the end the characters appear to be squashed together. Unfortunately, it gets worse from here, especially later in the game as the translation goes from rough to completely non-existent in a few places, especially when you add someone to Cloche’s fan club. Also, there are a number of translation errors in the game, from being too literal (translating someone’s name into what it literally means) to flat out being wrong, as a female character is turned into a male, complete with a male voice actor. Granted, it’s not a major character, but it’s also pretty obvious if you pay attention in battle that it’s a girl, not a guy.
This is very disappointing, but not as bad as the glitch that affects the end game. While fighting an optional boss, if you do not kill the boss by the third round, it unleashes an attack that will literally crash the game, every time, without fail. Research on this matter seems to point at it being a buffer overflow error, which simply did not exist in the Japanese version of the game. Worst yet? NIS America is doing nothing about this, other than offering a few workarounds which have proven to (for the most part) not work at all. This is inexcusable. Not only did they have eighteen months to work on bringing this game over, but numerous members of the fan community have not only fixed the buffer overflow issue, but are also working on a complete retranslation of the game. This effort has revealed not only the errors themselves, but how the translation was essentially simplified in numerous places. Also, the game has had its sexuality artificially amped up, as the original script appears to be much more subtle in many respects. Admittedly, this is fan-based work, and no one can really comment on how fluent the translators are in Japanese…but it appears we can’t comment as to the official translator’s fluency either.
If it wasn’t for the major issues with the localization of the game, this would be a must-own for any JRPG fan. The game has four different endings and nearly 100 hours just for the main quest and sub-quests on a single playthrough. Given that the first break that determines the ending is approximately a quarter of the way through, it substantially increases the overall amount of playability, given that the two diverging storylines are not a mirror of each other.
It’s worth a rental definitely, and if you don’t mind the translation issues, or have a way to use the fan translation when (and if) it is completed, then it’s definitely worth a purchase.If it wasn’t for the fact that NISA fell down on the job during the localization process, this would probably be one of the best PS2 RPGs in a while. The game itself is fun, even if the combat does seem to be a bit like random button pushing at times, the voice acting is very solid, the music is incredibly good, and the art is mostly good.
However, with the changes in the script to make this one giant sex joke from beginning to end, the various translation errors and complete lack of translation in certain parts, the game-crashing bug and the overall sense from NIS of “Nothing we can do,” …. it’s really hard to recommend this game in its current state.