Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star

Many enthusiasts of Japanese roleplaying games are likely familiar with the developer Gust’s Atelier series, although they would ultimately branch out into another franchise known as Ar tonelico, which would last for three games. In 2012 in Japan only, they released a title known as Ciel nosurge that takes place in the same universe with many elements, and two years later released a continuation of the title called Ar nosurge. The following year they ported the game to the PlayStation Vita as Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star, which provides an experience very much on par with the developer’s stronger titles.

Akin to spiritual successor Ar tonelico, Ar nosurge sports randomly-encountered enemies in dungeons, with a gauge at the top of the screen gradually turning red to indicate how close the player is to encountering enemies, definitely less frustrating than random fights without such an indicator. Next to this gauge is a number indicating the number of enemy sets in the dungeon, and when the game triggers an encounter, the player first selects one of a few Song Magics that the player gains from progressing through a songstress’s Genometrics and using Dive points gained from killing enemies to unlock various events that ultimately lead to magic acquisition.

Ar nosurge has separate player and enemy turn sessions, with players controlling an attacker in charge of defending their songstress while they gradually sing to empower their magic. Interestingly, the attacker does not have hit points, although the songstress does, and while total depletion of their health results in a Game Over, the player can use one item during each of their turn sessions, with consumable healing items fortunately common. Combat itself borrows elements from the second Ar tonelico title and the Valkyrie Profile franchise, where different attacks are assigned to the Vita’s face buttons.

Players can attack one enemy row at a time, and must kill the front enemy in order to attack those behind. Once the player’s attacker has run out of attacks (although turns can end prematurely oddly against a specific antagonist type), the enemy takes their turn, in which case the player must execute timed button presses that bring up a barrier on the songstress that lasts a second or two. Successful defense reduces the damage the songstress takes, while foes inflict maximum damage if the player fails. The player has only a certain number of turns to kill foes, although luckily, doing well in the area of attack may net them bonus turns.

In a twist, once the player has defeated an enemy set, another comes, the number of encounters in the dungeon decreasing by one, repeating until the player has eliminated all foes or the number of turns expires, in which case the game goes to the results screens for distribution of money, items, and experience. It’s pretty common to gain more than one level for both the attacker and his songstress especially if the player is skillful at fighting enemies, and aside from the oddness of turns ending prematurely against one particular enemy type, the battle system is definitely fast, fun, and inventive, with items also synthesizable at certain shops in towns possibly being the difference between victory against tougher battles, particularly near the end.

Control is superficially decent, with an easy menu system and save points that aren’t too far apart, and while dungeons lack maps, they’re mostly simplistic and hardly troublesome. Another aspect inherited from the original Valkyrie Profile is the ability to view past dialogue during a cutscene, useful if the player accidentally misses something story-wise. Always welcome, furthermore, is the common ability with some exceptions to scroll through dialogue, voice or not, depending upon whether gamers would rather read dialogue than listen to the characters’ voices. The biggest shortcoming in this area, however, is the absolute terrible direction on how to advance the main storyline at frequent points, which necessitated this reviewer to reference a guide; this is not something anyone should ever have to do when playing a game. Ultimately, interaction could have easily been much better.

The same goes to the story to some extent, with the terrible direction definitely being a mark off, although the narrative itself is actually fairly enjoyable, following two different sets of protagonists, with an encyclopedia keeping track of all terms and names encountered in the game, a feature inherited from Wild Arms 3 being the occasional bolded keywords that the player can get definitions of if they’re unfamiliar with the terms. Some kind of synopsis of events from Ciel nosurge would have been welcome and there are some minor parts where the localization seems rushed, but otherwise, the storyline helps the game more than hurts.

The soundtrack is excellent as it was in the Ar tonelico titles, with enjoyable voicework, as well, although characters sometimes have a tendency to say things no human would naturally say.

The visuals use a nice cel-shaded style with rare anime cutscenes, although there are occasional blurry and pixilated environmental textures, alongside occasional choppiness and palette swaps.

Finally, the game will last players somewhere from twenty to forty hours, with various things such as trophies, adjustable difficulty, and multiple endings enhancing replayability.

Overall, Ar nosurge Plus is another solid Gust game, with much going for it such as its innovative and enjoyable battle system, nice narrative, superb soundtrack, good visual style, and plentiful lasting appeal. It does have occasional issues, however, particularly with regards to the common awful direction on how to advance the main storyline, also a mark off the plot itself, some rushed aspects with regards to localization, and some visual choppiness at times. Even so, this reviewer can easily recommend the Vita version to those who enjoyed Gust’s other titles and the Ar tonelico franchise, even if, while certainly being a great game, it falls slightly short of the title of masterpiece.

The Good:
+Excellent innovative battle system.
+Enjoyable narrative.
+Superb soundtrack.
+Great visuals and voicework.
+Trophies, adjustable difficulty, and multiple endings add replayability.

The Bad:
-Frequent terrible direction on how to advance.
-Translation feels rushed at times.
-Graphical choppiness at times.

The Bottom Line:
Another great Gust title.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 8/10
Localization: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 20-40 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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