By Spencer . March 15, 2011 . 7:25pm
Woken from the middle of a chore dodging nap, the listless Aoto rushes to the rescue of an armored maiden. She’s engaged in a battle with Clustarnian soldiers led by Mute, who looks like a bodybuilder in a tutu. Without any thought Aoto jumps into battle with his sword-like tool. After crushing the enemies the maiden transforms into Saki… a Reyvateil who strips down to her underwear and turns the Clustarnian soldiers changing them into cakes.
The introduction makes Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel sound like a lighthearted game and sure enough it has moments like a wedding scene where Aoto mistakenly gropes a lead character. However, if you look past the silly scenes, Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel’s story takes a dark turn. Sol Cluster, the third tower protecting people from the Sea of Death. has two groups at arms with each other. Clustania is led by Reyvateils and often cleanses entire towns that defy them. Archia and the Think Tank laboratory seem to be friendly at first, but hide perhaps more sinister intentions. Genocide, in Ar tonelico Qoga, is contrasted against events where Finnel, a Reyvateil Aoto and company save from plummeting in a cave, undresses so Aoto can program her song magic. Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia had an undercurrent of innuendo, which bubbled to the surface in Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica. Ar tonelico Qoga replaces the subtle tone with raunchiness.
Reyvateils need to "purge" their clothes in battle to sing stronger songs. Seriously. So, you might be in a fight with tree-like monsters protecting a nurse who is covered only by floating neon blue rings. Gust designed a new combat system for Ar tonelico Qoga, but just like past games the focus is on protecting the Reyvateil in your group. Aoto and two allies, the cold V-border Tatsumi and knowledgeable Reyvatolgist who attacks with a medical kit, can run on the battlefield. While you’re mashing square to dish out a three hit combo, the two other characters act on their own. You can switch control and use items (without worrying about refresh time) by opening the game’s menu. Special attacks, which you learn by synthesizing old weapons with rad videos for Aoto or V-boarding magazines, can be used by pressing a direction on the D-pad and square. Special attacks consume a bit of HP, but that’s not an issue since recovery items are plentiful.
Melee attacks are meaningless, anyway. Even with the strongest weapon you can buy at the time, Aoto acts like he’s wielding a toothpick. The trick to all of Ar tonelico Qoga’s battles is waiting until the Reyvateils are ready to purge. When "purge ready" appears over a giant beating heart, you need to hold a shoulder button and shake the controller. Providing you have a hyuma (think of them as feelings turned into musical fairies in your mind) assigned this move changes the battle music, buffs your party, and strengthens Saki’s song magic. Purge a second time and she can deal out 15,000 HP worth of damage in the first few hours of the game by throwing a cape wearing bomb. Before an attack plays our you might watch one of Gust’s purge moves that zoom in on the disappearing clothes. While characters always have to strip to do more damage, purge movies can be turned off in the options menu. Guys in the group purge too, that’s the only way they can do an ultra supermove.
Building bonds between Aoto and the two Reyvateils, Saki and Finnel, is the main way to strengthen them. Just like other Ar tonelico games players have to dive into their Soulspace and venture into their minds. The Cosmosphere plays somewhat like a visual novel. By spending dive points and picking the correct choices you can see side stories that flesh out both characters. Dive deep enough and you can unlock personae, personalities so strong they change the appearance of both characters. Players can switch personae in the equipment screen – a fitting choice because each personae has their own song magic and area of effect.
As you press through the story, you’ll visit (surprise?) dungeons with random monster encounters. You’ll walk through the typical RPG locations – caves, sewers, and a mountain that uses the same graphics in two areas. Similar to other Gust titles there is an encounter gauge that depletes after each fight. When it’s empty you’re free to explore a dungeon for treasure and synthesis items. Aoto’s floaty jump comes in handy early on since it allows players to explore more areas. Building weapons is much cheaper than buying them, but aside from learning supermoves alchemy isn’t that useful. Reyvateils are so powerful, especially if you spend time at the dive shop. All of the battles really come down to shaking the controller at the right time, which still feels odd to do after spending so many hours playing Ar tonelico Qoga.
Weirder than the classism meets clothes shedding storyline is how vague Ar tonelico Qoga is about the "true" finale. It’s easy to miss it and another playable phase (read: chapter). There are other endings to collect and one helpful design decision lets players skip around the story on their second play through. The focus of Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel isn’t the finale or the combat system (although you will spend a considerable amount of time in combat waiting for the burst meter to fill up), it’s getting to know the Reyvateils. Gust gives players plenty opportunities to do so and you’ll see more of them (perhaps too much?) than any other Ar tonelico game.