Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia
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The Gust Corporation made a name for itself with the Atelier series of role-playing games, which would see release outside Japan thanks to Nippon Ichi Software America. In 2006, however, they developed a game outside the franchise for once with Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia, which would see a North American release a little over a year later, again thanks to the localization efforts of NIS America, and proved to be a good start to the then-new series.

Taking a cue from Atelier Iris 2, the first installment sports an encounter gauge indicating how many remaining encounters are within a dungeon, changing color to indicate the player coming closer to an encounter with enemies. One oddity is that if the player saves their game in a dungeon and quits the game, the encounter gauge will refill completely when the player reloads their save within the dungeon. Fortunately, this doesn’t severely hamper what is generally a solid battle system.

Battles take place with three frontline characters and one Reyvateil, with the player, once the encounter begins, selecting one of many magic spells for the Reyvateil to cast, each of which has a fixed number of uses the player can recover at inns or special save points. In between character and enemy turns, their magic charges gradually with a percentage indicating the spell’s power, the Reyvateil’s MP gradually depleting while they’re singing. Any time, the player can release the Reyvateil’s magic unto the enemy party, with a maximum of four foes per fight. When not singing, a Reyvateil’s MP gradually recovers.

Characters and the enemy take turns depending upon speed, with a turn order meter at the top of the screen mercifully showing turn order. Each of the frontline characters can attack normally, use HP-consuming skills, use an item, or wait for their next turn. Enemies will sometimes target the Reyvateil for attack, in which case each frontline character receives the Guard command, with a certain number of red rings indicating how many characters must Guard to prevent the Reyvateil from losing HP, not to mention Song Magic power.

Frontline attackers are at first limited in which of their special abilities they can use, although as the Harmonics level that increases gradually with increased Song Magic power and increased attacking by the vanguards rises, more of their skills become available. When defending the Reyvateil from attack once an enemy has targeted her and executed their attack, the vanguards take damage, after which each of the defenders can counterattack the enemy. Winning a battle nets every character experience, along with money, items, and Dive Points for the Reyvateils.

To acquire new Song Magic for Reyvateils, the player must dive into their subconscious Cosmospheres, with conversations triggered when resting at inns or save points indicating how deep the player can dive into a Reyvateil’s Cosmosphere. The player uses Dive Points to view story scenes within Cosmospheres and occasionally acquire new Song Magic, with new costumes for Reyvateils that somewhat affect their stats typically unlocked at the end of a Cosmosphere level. At inns and save points, moreover, the player can create items from raw materials, with new recipes found in treasure chests and at shops, not to mention “install” up to four crystals on each of a Reyvateil’s Song Magic.

Ultimately, the battle system works fairly well, with a general fluid pace of combat, although battles late in the game sometimes drag out, and the descriptions for Grathmelded items are sometimes poor, with specific items being extremely useful, such as one that heals all characters on the battlefield that really comes in handy during the last few boss fights. It’s also sometimes possible to miss out on occasional Reyvateil conversations at inns if the player hasn’t visited specific areas, although the developers generally did a nice job putting together the battle system.

Ar tonelico, however, is another one of those RPGs where the interface and controls are superficially decent, what with an easy menu system, easy shopping, and even a convenience during Grathmelding where if a player lacks specific ingredients for an item that they can still produce, the game will automatically guide them to creating a particular item, after which the player will ultimately advance to creating the item they chose to create in the first place. The first installment also sports maps for dungeons and allows the player to get a reminder on where to go next at inns and save points, although the clue on what to do next is often vague, sometimes leading the player to use a guide, which is something nobody should ever have to do when playing a game. Overall, interaction has many things going for it, although the terrible direction definitely hampers the game.

The story is largely solid, with the Cosmosphere scenes being the strongest parts, providing decent development for the Reyvateils, with the main cast being decent as well, and occasional plot branches being present. However, the terrible direction on how to advance is a mark off the plot, since plots of course need good direction, and the translation does have some errors at times, with the battle dialogue being the low point, particularly with lines such as “Healing song!” and “Torch you!” Ultimately, the story is mostly solid.

As is expectant of a game with musical nomenclature, the music is largely solid, with the vocal tracks being the best parts, although the voicework is hit-and-miss at times, with the battle voices being the weakest parts, given the lousy dialogue at times and some glitches such as protagonist Lyner grunting after instead of while attacking enemies.

As with Gust’s other RPGs at the time, Ar tonelico uses two-dimensional graphics with decent character sprites, although they typically don’t show much emotion, with the character portraits narrating cutscenes doing most of the work in that regard. The battle visuals are also somewhat choppy at points, but the game is ultimately easy on the eyes.

Finally, the game is fairly short, taking somewhere from twenty to thirty hours to finish, with the occasional plot branches providing decent replayability. In the end, Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia was for the most part a good start for its series, what with most of its aspects aside from the controls being solid, with two sequels indicating a solid legacy for the franchise.

The Good:
+Solid battle system.
+Decent story with occasional branches and different endings.
+Great music and graphics.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance.
-Somewhat spotty translation.

The Bottom Line:
A great start to the series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 8/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 20-30 Hours

Overall: 8/10

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