When you hear the words "music rpg," what comes to mind? To me I thought it would be one part Guitar Hero and one part Football Manager, almost like the type of game you would find on Facebook. What I didn’t expect were cutesy anime girls, their songs making my party stronger and them stripping their clothes in the middle of battle to gain stronger magic.
Ar toneclico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel is the third entry of the series and the first one on the PS3 from Gust and brought to the US by NIS America. Now, I’m new to the series so I’m jumping into this game blind. But it has cute anime girls letting me dive into them so they can get stronger magic. That’s a plus right?
ON THE BEAT
R.A.H. - R.A.H. or Realtime Active Hymnetics is the battle system used, and is one of the more interesting systems that I have seen in a JRPG. What it is that the Reyateil (the game’s mages) use song magic to make their Vanguards stronger, buff their defenses or give themselves more powerful magic. In other words, as they sing the party gets stronger. As for the Vanguards if they time their attacks to the song they can help increase the Reyateil’s power. A "harmogrpah" helps players with their timing. By doing this will have the girls purge their clothes off. The stronger the magic, the more clothes come off.
Diving - In order to gain strong song magic, you will have to dive into the character's Cosmosphere (inner conscience) to unlock their inner powers. There are shops scattered that allow you to go in and try to draw out that magic. The deeper you go in them, the stronger magic you can unlock and even release multiple personas for each character.
Visual Novel Elements - Now these girls are not going to just let you dive into them or strip in the middle of a battle just like that. It takes a bit of smooth talking and some carefully picked choices to do that. Visual novel elements are no strangers to JRPGs, but they are heavily present in this game and it is a nice addition.
Multiple Endings - In keeping with the visual novel formula, the two main Reyateil, Saki and Finnel, each have two endings; good and normal. This totals up to four altogether and so the game will require a couple of playthroughs to see all the endings.
OUT OF TUNE
Battle system - While the R.A.H system is unique, it has some heavy flaws. One of them is having to time your attacks with the music. Sounds easy, right, just feel a rhythm to the battle music and then time the attacks to it. Well, not exactly, players will have to keep an eye on the harmograph rather than listing to the music. This really overcomplicates things. In most cases (or at least in my case) it was filled with low peaks and a few high ones. This is due to the mood of the Reyateil at the time of battle and what accessories she has on. This kind of makes it hard to fight since there is a lot going on during the battle; multiple enemies outnumbering you, party AI dying, and to top it off, the Reyateil are defenseless and need the Vanguards to protect them. Now I understand the importance of defending a mage, but don’t all mages have some sort of defense spell they could cast? Or, oh I don’t know, maybe move out of the way when an enemy gets too close.
Often Useless Party AI - Speaking of the party AI, it is often useless and more than once I had to take control of them. Sure, there’s a setting in the battle menu to have them go on offense or defense, but it doesn’t help much. And speaking of useless, let me bring up the Reyateil again. I get it that she’s a mage and that the party needs to protect her, but come on. Don’t just stand there when an enemy is charging at you. Run, cast a protect spell or a defensive spell. Just do something other than just stand there.
Ar toneclico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel is one of those games that you have to play in order to understand. Explaining it will only just get you lost and confused, just ask any fans of JRPGs when they try to explain a game to the average gamer. While it is not totally a bad game, Ar toneclico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel just wasn't my cup of tea. No amount of fan service can distract me from its useless party AI and overcomplicated battle system. Fans of the series will want to pick it up even if it’s just for the art book and music CD.