So, show of hands—have you ever jumped on the bandwagon halfway through? For me, it was the Mega Man Battle Network games. When I was younger I really liked them, but truth be told, I never played Battle Network 1-3. The first game I played in that franchise was Battle Network 4: Red Sun. Sure, I was confused, but young me was also pretty happy with my purchase. It’s weird now that I look back on it. I’m not quite sure why I chose the newest game at the time instead of searching for the first three, but even if I wasn’t fully ‘in-the-know,’ like Lan and Mega Man EXE were, I still enjoyed their journeys from that point on.
Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star gave me a similar feeling to picking up Battle Network at a later point in the series. I was jumping in at the halfway point, and knee deep in a world I knew very little about, with characters that I am supposed to already know, but don’t. And yet, I still enjoyed their stories regardless.
Ar nosurge is a game that is made up of a lot of different elements all at once. Making it part science-fiction, part rock opera, part JRPG, part visual novel, part in-your-face fanservice, part breaking down the fourth wall, part Freudian dream interpretation, and part encyclopedia reading. This attribute of Ar nosurge—how it is many things all rolled up into one—is both a blessing and a curse, however. It employs a unique and very well-thought-out world that is incredibly interesting, and visually beautiful, with characters that have deep personal relationships to each other. However, at the same time, this world and its story are presented in a fairly confusing manner, especially when the story picks up speed and throws a lot of different elements at you at once.
Throw in the fact that this is also connected to another series, Ar tonelico, and is also a direct sequel to the Japan-only Vita game Ciel nosurge, and you’re looking at a game that builds upon four other past games and their mythologies. For anyone who has never played the Ar tonelico games before, you’re probably in for a lot of head scratching, although those who are familiar will most likely be able to adjust to Ar nosurge pretty quickly.
Now, usually I try to write about the stories in games as in-depth as I can, but given the nature of Ar nosurge, it’s honestly pretty hard to do that. The story is just so thick, and there is just so much to say (and yet even more not to say, so as to not spoil anything). Less is probably more in this instance. The best I can say is that the story is a very strong element of the game, and it really picks up pace and becomes easier to follow after you complete the prologue.
Instead of the story, I want to address something else about Ar nosurge, and that’s the effort required to get anything out of the game. To put it simply, you get out of Ar nosurge what you put in to Ar nosurge. It’s very easy to just blaze through the early parts of the game, and not be challenged. The battle system can be manipulated in such a way that you can lazily mash buttons, and blast enemies away with Song Magic. Stick with it, though, because as you progress through the game, you actually will be encouraged to play it right, which may not be apparent during the early portions.
I suggest you take the time early on to learn your moves, try out combos, and try to chain together as many Break Bonuses as you can. Battles become quite addicting then, and once I had all these finer points figured out and relied less and less on Song Magic, they were some of my favorite parts of the game. So, while initially the battles don’t really present themselves as anything special (especially if you play on the lower difficulty), if you take the actual effort to learn the proper way of fighting, and don’t let the early parts of the game trick you into thinking that this is all it has to offer, it becomes far more rewarding. It’s a great system that’s fast paced, with ways to cancel out the enemies’ moves and increase the length of your turn, and is full of hectic combos, and that’s just the way I like my combat.
Ar nosurge makes you work a little bit for your fun, but it is honestly worth the effort. That’s the key takeaway for me with regard to the game. While it may take work to sift through some of the initial confusion the plot has thanks to the first game, Ciel nosurge, not having seen an English release, I still feel that Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star is a return to the PS2 days of JRPGs, where the genre really flourished. It was the kind of JRPG that I’ve long since been hungry for.
Now, this is somewhat ironic too, considering that Ar nosurge’s localization also feels like that of an older game, in that it isn’t handled very well. The partial English dub is a shame, and has a lot less talking than the Japanese audio option that is also provided. The English dub just falls short; you can go four or five hours’ worth of gameplay without hearing a peep of voice-acting. That’s not to say the acting you do hear isn’t great, as Cristina Vee gives a lively performance as Ion, and while Johnny Yong Bosch plays Delta a little on the plain side, he still plays off of Stephanie Sheh’s Cas really well. No, the only major flaw here is that the voiced scenes in English are just so far and few in-between.
There are also some minor QA slip-ups with repeated text, minor grammar errors and typos, and inconsistent name uses. It’s by no means a bad localization, on the contrary, it’s pretty solid, but it could of used another month or so of polishing. For example; the game dialogue itself spell a character’s name a certain way, while the in-game encyclopedia will spell it differently. And that’s just one example.
If you feel you can look past all the flaws and are willing to try and make your own fun, Ar nosurge might make you feel the same way it did me.
Food for Thought:
1. I couldn’t figure out where to place this up top, but the music is absolutely fantastic! True to most Gust games, the soundtrack knocks it out of the park, and is full of great vocal and instrumental songs.
2. Delta uses tonfas, and Earthes uses guns. It’s interesting to see that both the fighters of this game don’t use a sword as their main weapon.
3. Ciel nosurge would have been a difficult localization release in its original form because of its online nature. There is a rerelease that just came out in Japan that does away with the online aspects. There is also an enhanced port of Ar nosurge that was just released for the Vita as well. Koei Tecmo hasn’t expressed a solid stance one way or the other, but there is always a chance for localization, especially if Ar nosurge performs well.
4. There are loyal fans who have written very long and detailed Let’s Plays of Ciel nosurge in English to better help you understand Ar nosurge.
5. The synthesis dance numbers are amazing! I just love seeing that big lug Delta dance and sing along with the girls.