Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica

The inhabitants of a floating world have long dreamed of a legendary utopia, Metafalica, created by singing a Song in the Hymnos language. They tried to sing this Song several times, though every time they did so, the Goddess hampered their attempt. One day, however, a new political organization, Grand Bell, declares war against the Goddess, promising the people they would create Metafalica by their own hands. Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica, developed by Gust and Bandai-Namco and published in North America by NIS America, proves to be an improved sequel over its predecessor, in spite of a rushed localization.

Like its predecessor, Ar tonelico II features random encounters in enemy-infested fields, with an Encounter Bar indicating how many enemies remain in each dungeon and depleting after every battle; when the Bar is empty, no more battles will appear in a dungeon, although the Bar will refill when the player exits and returns. As the player walks around, the Bar’s color will gradually shift from blue to red, afterward leading into a fight.

The core combat system, however, is significantly different than it was in the first game. Up to four characters still participate in battle, although there is both a front and back row, with a pair of Vanguards occupying the frontline and a pair of Reyvateils occupying the backline. In the game menus, the player can adjust their setup, with Vanguards having different compatibility with the Reyvateils that can somewhat impact the outcome of battle. When a battle begins, the player can select one of the Reyvateils’ Songs to sing, which will become more powerful the longer the Reyvateils sing it.

Battle is divided into two phases: the Attack Phase, and the Defend Phase. During the Attack Phase, the Vanguards can attack the enemy, with both assigned to the Square and X buttons, and the player able to change the targeted enemy by bringing up the battle menus with the Triangle button. In the battle menu, moreover, the player can brush up on what kinds of attacks the Vanguards have, have them use consumable items (which actually won’t be all that necessary during the game), or have everyone escape from battle, with this option mercifully working all the time except in certain situations.

During the Attack Phase, furthermore, a circular timer indicates how long the player has to attack the enemy, with each of the Vanguards having three different kinds of attacks based on whether the player holds the up, left, or down directional button while pressing Square or X, as well as a protection ability that restores some of their partners’ MP, with their singing gradually depleting their supply, which completely restores after each fight. The Emotion Indicator that the timer encircles indicates what kinds of attacks and protection the player should use each Attack Phase, with the player, should they fulfill the Reyvateils’ demands, eventually being able to access Replakia mode to further enhance the power of Song Magic, which the player can execute any time during the Attack Phase, and afterward change, with the O button.

Once the timer expires, the player’s Defend Phase occurs, when the Vanguards must protect the Reyvateils from enemy attacks. Twin block gauges appear for each Vanguard, with the player executing blocks with the Square and X buttons. The player must time blocks right when a moving green line moves over a static red bar in each block gauge. If the player times right, the power of the Reyvateils’ Song Magic will further increase and the Vanguards will take some damage (or none if the player times perfectly), but if the player’s timing is poor, the Reyvateils will receive damage and there will be no Song Magic bonus.

Battles alternate between the Attack and Defend phases until the fight ends one way or the other, with a victory yielding the typical amenities of RPGs such as experience for Vanguards and money, along with Dive Points for each Reyvateil and special Sphere Points that are somewhat necessary to advance the plot at a few times. Depending upon how well the Reyvateils were guarded, moreover, the player may receive rare, semi-rare, or normal items. Leveling up Reyvateils, on the other hand, is a matter of using the Dualstall option at save points, where they’ll take a bath, with the player able to choose Dualithnode Crystals, bath powder, bath toys, and so forth, to view special scenes, after which their stats will increase.

Another significant feature of combat is the I.P.D. Detection System, where the player can search for infected Reyvateils in dungeons and battle them (along with enemy bodyguards) to be able to perform Dive Therapy on them at Dive Shops by paying some money, with some I.P.D.s requiring specific items to have therapy performed on them. Curing I.P.D.s is something of a trial-and-error process where the player can answer their various questions one way or the other five times, although if successful, the player can “equip” one of them to a Vanguard and “level them up” for more support abilities such as inflicting status ailments and elemental damage.

At Dive Shops, the player can also Dive into Reyvateils, with Dive Points being necessary to advance through their quirky storylines in each Cosmosphere to unlock new Song Magic and costumes that affect their stats. Unlocking Cosmosphere levels requires the player to view special conversations with Reyvateils while resting at save points, with some occasional glimmering points in dungeons and towns allowing the player to access a new scene. A special Infelsphere is also briefly available during the game, through which the player can advance with Sphere Points and which is at one point central to the storyline.

Returning to the aforementioned Replakia mode in battle, the player will occasionally be able to access it via the battle menus after sufficiently fulfilling Reyvateils’ demands. Once it’s activated, Song Magic’s power will amplify more greatly than usual, with cured I.P.D.s further powering Song Magic when the player chooses to release it with the O button, after which the player can’t activate Replakia again for the rest of the battle.

All in all, while Ar tonelico II’s battle system is fairly complex, its execution is actually somewhat simple, with most battles normally ending at a quick pace given the greater real-time nature compared to the game’s predecessor. The difficult is also adjustable between Normal and Easy, although the game is nonetheless pretty easy even on Normal, especially if the player spends some time with the many sidequests. The game does make the odd decision at times of making the whole screen shake during the Defend Phase, which can often throw off the player’s timing with defending Reyvateils, but there is luckily plenty of room for screwups, and item usage, given the presence of healing Songs, is at best a rarity. Overall, a solid battle system.

Control, though, could have been somewhat tighter and quicker, given the presence of Gust’s trademark lag in the game’s menus, along with a significant annoyance while equipping I.P.D.s to Vanguards, where the player must slog through separate menus to equip them and view their stats. Frequent loading times also abound, with some occasional backtracking through certain dungeons as well, along with an often-unclear direction on how specifically to advance, with the “Current Objective” clue obtainable at save points sometimes being vague. There are, however, tons of sidequests in the game, and it’s virtually impossible to walk into a shop, where the player can synthesize items from raw materials or other items, without triggering a cutscene. Speaking of cutscenes, a scene skip feature would have also been nice, given the rare tendency of the game, given Gust’s lag, to lock up, and frequent saving thus being a necessity. All in all, control is adequate but still leaves plenty of room for improvement.

On the topic of lag and occasional lockups, Ar tonelico II’s localization actually reaches the point where it somewhat affects the player’s experience, and thus deserves its own section in this review. For one, there are some nasty glitches that weren’t present in Japanese version, specifically in an optional battle near the end of the game and the first phase of the final battle, where in both, during the third Defend Phase, these enemies will attempt to use skills that will cause the game to crash, and thus require that they be beaten quickly (although this actually might not be a problem if the player’s party is powerful enough). The translation is also rough at times, for instance in a few Cosmosphere levels where Japanese honorifics are still present; a recurring string of text, moreover, is left untranslated, which ultimately begs the question of whether this game even had quality assurance.

Ar tonelico II provides a solid foundation upon which to build an epic storyline: politics, religion, an epidemic, and even some description on the various characters and terminology in the game menus. However, the plot’s execution falls somewhat flat, with the narrative often being difficult to follow and frequently leaving the player to guess what exactly is going on if they miss a particular detail, with plenty of bouncing back and forth between the same places, as well. The Cosmosphere stories, though, definitely have their quirks, even if they don’t contribute much to the main storyline. Perhaps it could have been the translation, but the game’s storyline ultimately suffers from the typical convolution of most Japanese RPGs.

As is expectant of a game partly revolving around music, the soundtrack is pretty good, an improvement over the first game’s, with plenty of tracks that either create a nice ambivalence or are full of energy, with the vocal pieces shining the most, such as the operatic Replakia theme. The English voice acting is okay, if a bit miscast at times (Shun the wolf’s voice, for instance, hardly sounds lupine), with the player able to choose the Japanese voices, though oddly, much of the voicework was cut out of the American release. Still, a fairly nice-sounding game.

Ar tonelico II’s visuals combine 2-D and 3-D elements like in Mana Khemia, with many areas relying on static pre-rendered scenery, with some of the town districts, for instance, having various “layers” that provide the illusion of multiple dimensions, along with 2-D sprites; Cosmosphere stages, however, are far more reliant on the art to tell their story, which all in all looks pretty nice. Dungeons, on the other hand, have 3-D scenery and are often nice and colorful, even if some occasional objects in them like pots and chandeliers look flat and pixelated. Battles, though, have plenty of nice effects and fluid animation, and overall, the sequel’s graphics enhance the player’s experience more than hurt.

Given the sheer number of sidequests, finally, how long the player can take to complete the game can definitely vary, with this reviewer, having devoted plenty of time to the numerous sidequests, having finished in about forty-five hours, according to the game clock; however, since the clock is fairly slow, it was actually more along the line of sixty hours.

In conclusion, Ar tonelico II is an improved sequel that changes many elements from its predecessor with fortunate results. The battle system, for one, is quicker and more enjoyable, with a nice degree of complexity but simple execution. The story also has its quirks, even if the main plot is somewhat convoluted. The soundtrack, however, shines the most, with the visuals having their own charm, as well. Still, the rushed localization is well below modern standards, given the mentioned addition of glitches to the American release, and evident lack of quality assurance. In summation, fun game, awful localization.

The Good:
+Vastly improved over the first game in most aspects.
+Tons of sidequests.

The Bad:
-Gust’s trademark lag is present.
-Some nasty glitches.
-Rushed localization.
-A bit of backtracking at times.
-A lot of voice acting cut out.
-Game clock is way too slow.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Playstation 2
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 7/10
Difficulty: Very Easy
Playing Time: 40-60 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

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