Save Point

Money can buy everything except “love”, “friendship” and “exp points”.

The Finish Line February 12, 2009

So, I finished Ar tonelico 2 last week (Cloche’s path, third Reyvateil’s ending). It was a good follow-up to the first and a good bridge for the trilogy, but in my opinion it doesn’t stand well alone.

Initially, I had thought that it had promise to be greater than the first game, but that plateaued around the end of the first phase and it kept up a steady level of similar dramatic tension throughout. Even when the stakes were raised, the emotional investment was not. It was good for world- and character-building, and it probably helped establish some important things in preparation for the third game, but it did not snowball into the high climax that vindicates a 30-hour-minimum work of fiction. I would not recommend it to anyone who had not already finished the first game with the best ending, but it is a worthwhile experience for those who have.

After finishing Ar tonelico 2, I putzed around in the world for a while getting some of the optional things I hadn’t done. Ideally this game needs at least two more playthroughs, three if I want to see every ending, but I need a break before I play it again. Normally I’d even take a break before getting into another RPG, but I had stopped partway through Mother 3, and was eager to get back to it; I’m in chapter 8 closing in on the ending. Since I have a long weekend coming up, I might be able to finish it soon.

I was sick for a while last week, and I couldn’t sleep last night, so I found the rest of the puzzles in Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and unlocked the Riddle Master’s door to get at the last three. Now there’s only one final puzzle behind that door for me to finish and 100% the game– and it’s another sliding block puzzle. Nooooooo! I’ll probably just mess with it until I get the red block out, which is an unsatisfying method of solving puzzles, but I don’t know how to solve this kind (with the differently-shaped blocks) other than brute force or aimless fiddling.

 

If You Die In A Cut Scene, You Die In Real Life January 23, 2009

Filed under: Game tropes,Genres,Specific games — haounomiko @ 10:34 am
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One of my favourite things about the Ar tonelico series is that you can’t dodge the consequences of your actions simply by being the protagonist. You are held accountable to the same moral standards as the enemy, and you can’t just get away with the end justifying the means. Sometimes both sides look like the bad guy, and the game doesn’t try to excuse your side just because you’re on it.

The first game has a little of this, but it was downplayed because the story doesn’t revolve around political factions as much as the second game’s does. AT1 hints at it in the beginning, but you don’t see it really blossom until the end of the game. I think in AT2, the story’s genuine acceptance that both sides have a sincere point, and neither is pure evil but neither is perfect, has finally come into the spotlight.

I’m a big fan of that approach. When I was a kid I didn’t really notice, but nowadays I can’t help being critical of games that oversimplify and let the heroes get away with being as callously destructive as the enemy. Most RPGs tend to let that fly (other than the Suikoden series, which as far as I’m concerned is in a class of its own w.r.t. understanding of politics, morals, and the human heart), and I’m used to putting up with it, but it’s truly refreshing to see a game that applies a consistent set of standards to everyone in the story.

 

Jakuri Pod January 21, 2009

Filed under: Specific games,Translations — haounomiko @ 12:08 pm
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A mini-update, since I know a few of you are big Ar tonelico fans.

Apparently there was some concern that “Musume Power” was going to be translated as “Hymn Code”, which would be weird, completely irrelevant, and misleading since 3rd gens don’t have Hymn Codes. Worry not– it’s actually been translated as “Girl Power”, after all.

Some other translated names: Luca Trulyworth (which I hear is an error, as “waath” is “rebirth” in Hymmnos), Cloche (probably correct), and Jacqli (don’t worry, Ayulsa will brainwash you out of it). Sadly, everyone’s favourite snack is called Funboons.

 

Project A.T.2 begins January 19, 2009

Filed under: Specific games — haounomiko @ 2:14 pm
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The reason I’ve blogged so little this month is that I’ve been spending my gaming time on Second Life, which is a lot of fun but mostly doesn’t spark gaming-related thoughts (unless you count thoughts about its user interface for 3-D modelling). My home internet is currently down, though, and my pre-ordered copy of Ar tonelico 2 just arrived. This suggests a certain obvious activity to keep me busy while I can’t get into Lindenworld.

I’ve only played an hour or so into the game, and most of my comments have already been observed by fandom: the dialogue could use less innuendo, the main character is considerably more sensible than Lyner (although perhaps a little too cool to seem honestly comfortable), and so on. The opening is rather fanservicey, but it can also be read as cooperative and nurturing: two Reyvateils working together, not in competition for the dating sim protagonist. As for the opening plus the game beginning, I’m already curious about a few matters and a few flashes of things I’ve briefly seen. If AT1 is any indication, the briefer the glimpse of something, the more important it’ll be in the end.

 

No Word In Hymmnos For “Wait” October 2, 2008

I want to clarify some of what I said about Professor Layton and the Curious Village. I said that the plot was “kid-simple”, but in retrospect I feel I may have given the wrong impression. It’s not that it’s dull or a bad plot, but rather that it’s easy enough for a child to understand, and some of the characters’ motives are the sort of motives you get in children’s cartoons; one of your first tasks is to find someone’s missing pet cat, Layton often reminds his young apprentice to be a gentleman, and there’s a bad guy whose entire motive seems to consist of being The Villain in a “Curses! Foiled again!” sort of way. Having finished the game, though, I certainly found the story satisfying for what it was. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t a realistic adult story because it certainly wasn’t trying to be, and the plot resolution was just creative enough to feel like a fitting end. I hope I did not give an unduly negative impression of it in my earlier post by skimming over this detail. In contrast to MillionHeir, or, say, Kurupoto Cool Cool Stars, it certainly delivered plenty.

On another note, I seem to have gotten another of my friends hooked on Ar tonelico, simply by showing him the beginning. Again I say that it is a shame that no one has heard of it, because it really is a quite excellent RPG. It started out mildly surpassing my expectations and ended up far surpassing them. If only Atlus would promote their games a little more, this could have been a major hit instead of a very niche cult classic. Ar tonelico 2 is apparently coming out in the US in December, and I’ve already pre-ordered from the company’s website. Get it while it’s so hot it’s still in the oven. After all, there’s no word in the game’s conlang for “wait” (a fact that really amuses me, since it’s also a dating sim.)

 

Do Not Convert the Tower of Ar Tonelico Into MP3 Format September 3, 2008

Filed under: Specific games — haounomiko @ 1:42 pm
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Ar tonelico is a surprisingly long game. I didn’t expect it to be a particularly long RPG; it’s not overly convoluted, it doesn’t throw new plot arcs at you all the time, and it’s a dating sim, for goodness’ sake. However, it’s easily a 60-hour game, most of which is taken up by excessively long random battles, and very little of which is taken up by loading screens or aimless walking.

The downside: the gameplay is too easy, despite how long it takes to finish random battles. Only one boss requires any actual strategy, and everything else can be beat as easily– or moreso– by the obvious standard way of fighting normal enemies. However, this default battle strategy is quite different from most RPGs, and I had at least the chance to try something new and unique; just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it isn’t innovative, and it was still a joy to explore because it was new to me.

On the other hand, though, the story and character development far surpassed my expectations. It started out with your typical group of heroes and heroines, just as I’d expected, acting predictable. However, the characters mature quite well, and the game becomes startlingly insightful about two-thirds of the way through. I had not expected any depth or maturity from the plot– as I said, dating sim whose best marketing point is its audiovisual (if not overly technical) prettiness– but I was quite pleasantly surprised.

Overall, I think I enjoyed this game much more than I was expecting to, and despite the long play-time and the lack of challenge, I would recommend it without the reservations I hesitated over previously. The catch is that it takes the characters time to come to mature and thoughtful conclusions; the player has to be patient with their early foolishness, and willing to stick with it.

 

Cosmosphere: The Dive He REALLY Wants August 25, 2008

Filed under: Specific games — haounomiko @ 5:59 pm
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I’ve been playing Ar tonelico with a friend, and I’m surprised at how good it is. It apparently wasn’t a popular game, but it’s not bad at all. I admit that the plot is nothing to write home about and the characters’ interactions can be horribly stereotypical (particularly in the dating sim way), but the game is so darned fun.

For one thing, although the battle system does have something of an “old routine” to it, the way I have to strategize for the battles is completely different. At one point I was delighted to find myself up against enemies who couldn’t be hurt by bladed weapons, because it made the battles so much easier. In general, I find myself negotiating between building up three different meters with different types of attacks, and trying not to kill the enemies too soon.

There’s also a fun item creation and exchange system, which makes up for the fact that my heroes are always broke. Besides synthesizing items from various unlikely components, there are characters who sell equippable enhancement crystals, and characters who will find treasures in exchange for them. Juggling my inventory isn’t just a matter of accumulation, but of deciding which items to give up in order to synthesize other ones. The items are tagged with funny commentary from the main character, too, which keeps inventory sorting and management from being boring.

The most novel part of the game, though, is exploring the insides of the characters’ minds; it’s fun to watch the characters grow and resolve their conflicts. At first all of the characters seem like tremendously banal stereotypes, but through the dive system they are revealed to be more complex, individual characters, who change more than the average RPG character does over the course of a game. Even the hero develops, and learns to think rather than blindly swinging his sword.

I admit a fondness for the fantasy/futuristic setting of so many RPGs, and this game is drowning in it. Magical beings, artifacts and spells are more often than not conflated with computers, peripherals and programs. Humans can catch computer viruses, especially if they’re good at magic. And, of course, there are airships. Unfortunately, although the worldbuilding has been well-thought-through, the plot events haven’t, leaving enormous gaping holes of the form “Why can’t the characters just do X?” all over the place. A world where too many things are possible is a world where the heroes can’t get stuck on too many obstacles, and the storywriters weren’t very careful about plausibility, or even about giving the characters realistic reactions to the demands of their quest.

At the very least, it is a pretty game. The individual town backgrounds are lovely, but even lovelier is the soundtrack, which is what interested me in the game in the first place. I would have some reservations about recommending the game, particularly to someone who’s looking for a solid, interesting plot and unique characters, but I would have no reservations urging them to buy the soundtrack. The choral music is epic and uplifting, bright and intense, and the lyrics are written in a fictional language that was made up just for the game, which gives it an ancient, traditional feel. Yet it isn’t somber; it’s catchy and swift, with an active energy behind it. Further, unlike some RPG choral music, it isn’t heavy-handed nor meant to intimidate; it’s light, delicate, and inviting (perhaps appropriate given the dating sim aspect of the game). If there’s one thing about this game that’s worthwhile, the soundtrack is it.