lunedì 28 marzo 2016

Ar Tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica

Listening to: Click me and do yourself a favour

(Warning: the following post doesn't try too hard even try to explain some things to the layman, so while I'll avoid spoilers as always, if you don't know already the series, you can just skip this and go play Ar Tonelico I)

So, after more or less forever I finally played and finished AT2 as well as the first one.
Considering how much I liked the latter, I have to say I was pretty hyped up for this. But as it's often the case, the hype backfired at me.
There are some things I want to consider so I'm just gonna make a hopefully short list of good and bad things:

Better game balance
In the AT1 post I pointed out how its biggest problem is that the game's too easy. Although AT2 still kinda is - the only fights where I had problems were a few level 9 I.P.D.s, battles that are definitely optional anyway - bosses at least put up a decent fight.
Speaking of which, another good thing was...

Akiko Shikata performs in it
Wait no, I didn't want to say this. Although this is probably the most valid point.

Better battle system
The other reason I didn't mind fights as much as in AT1 is because the battles were ultimately fun. Not perfect, mind you: things like being able to cure yourself at the start of the battle just to run away (with a 100% success rate) right after that, effectively making healing items almost useless, probably make it broken and definitely a bit worse than the system in AT1. Still, overall I'd consider this as a good thing seeing how I enjoyed battles.

Soundtrack is as good as AT1
Which means it's exceptionally good. Not much more to say. 

Akiko Shikata performs in it
This is just one of the reasons of the point above. But I wanted to make it clear and give it the importante it deserves.

And I think that's actually it. Now for the funnier part of commenting what was bad (or worse than in AT1 anyway):

The new synthesis system sucks hard compared to Grathmeld
In AT1 you traveled across the world, found recipe cards in dungeon and cities, then you enjoyed your stay at an inn where you had fun staying in the girls' room 'til late to talk and making new shiny things with Grathmeld.
Now this doesn't happen anymore. You don't find recipe cards during your travels, nor you can make shiny things at every savepoint/inn. Now you have to progress the plot a little, then go back to every freakin' shop, where you'll have unlocked one or two cutscenes which will result in the shopkeeper giving you a recipe card.
Come again?
This is just stupid. Things like cutscenes for every recipe card given to you and the fact that you can craft more than one kind of item from every recipe card (since it depends on the girl you choose to help you out) might be entertaining and make some sense, but the fact that I have to go back at every shop after every dungeon to craft items of dubious usefulness is just a huge fail.
Gimme back muh Grathmeld.

No more crystals for weapons/armors
This is another case of "fixing what ain't broken". In AT1 I had lots of fun searching for and using the best crystals to put in weapons and armors. So why the hell did they have to remove them altogether in here?
At first I thought it was a failed attempt to make the game a little harder, but then they put things like Replekia (unlocked quite early in the game too) that basically throw the game's balance out of the window. Also if increased difficulty was the reason, they could have just made the enemies more powerful in the first place, so it's not probably that.
So it's just a stupid thing to do.

Plot is meh~ish
To be honest I'm not 100% sure the problem here is the plot or the characters, but I can't say I enjoyed the story that much, that's for sure. And speaking of which...

Characters are incosistent with themselves
Now this is a problem you don't want in your (J)RPG. Especially in the first parts of the game, characters sometimes don't really make sense (yes Luca I'm looking at you most of all).
It might be due to NISA's acknowledged bad localization rather than the screenwriters' fault, but unless you understand Japanese this is a moot point.

Story "phases" don't really make sense
This is probably not very important for most people, but I liked how in AT1 every phase was almost a story of its own. You could take a (long) break at the end of each of them, resume some time afterward, and it'd almost feel like what nowadays would be a DLC. It was nice.
In AT2 this doesn't apply. Every phase is strictly related to the previous one, and they're probably there just to give you an idea of how much you've progressed into the game. 

Voice acting is almost non-existent
In AT2, as in its predecessor, you can select between Japanese and English voice acting. It's kinda useless though, since the voiced scenes in both languages are very, very few, especially considering the amount of text the game has.

Phase 2
No seriously what was that. It felt like the game devs woke up a morning and decided to put random mini-games for whatever reason, only to resume normal game mechanics in the next 3 phases. Just... no.

As you can see, ultimately the downsides weight way more than the upsides. Or well, at least they do for me. Which makes it hard for me to suggest an approach to the Ar Tonelico series.
I'm tempted to say to play AT2 first, so that the first one won't ruin it for you, but going back to AT1 battle system after AT2's might feel awkward, and you'd miss some cameos and references too, so you're kinda screwed in any case.

But maybe it's just me. Maybe for some reason I didn't enjoy this very much but others did/would. I guess the only way to be sure is to give it a shot yourself.

2 commenti:

  1. This was painful to read. Saying the characters are inconsistent is ignoring completely the way they go developing as the game goes on, and Luca's whole point is being a liar and manipulative person who ultimately comes to understand that hiding behind a facade does her no favors and actually becoming honest, all of which is laid on the Hartes ciel, melenas walasye song she sings near the end of the game.
    The same goes with each one of the phases, as they each end after a particular plot point is solved (Phase 1: creating "Metafalica" and discovering it was a failure, Phase 2: saving Luca/Cloche, Phase 3: using Implanta to revive Infel Phira, Phase 4: completing the Infelsphere and obtaining the second Metafalica Hymn Crystal). As for the story, I still don't see how people can consider this as worse than AT1's, since AT1 didn't bring much in freshness to storytelling aside of the fact that the true ending requires forgiving the final boss instead of killing her and the false credits at the end of Phase 2, while AT2 includes political conflict that makes doubt which one of the factions is on the right about how to save Metafalss, deceives the player a couple times when it comes to the Maidens, Infel Phira's purpose, the nature of the IPD outbreaks and doesn't make obvious who is the final boss and what are their intentions until they have almost reached the end. And the AT1 messages are given here in much more clear and impactful way, especially because of how Metafalica requires all the people to have their feelings in unison for its creation to be possible, and also adds one about the importance of being honest to oneself and others when it comes to feelings, especially when it comes to friends and family.

    Phase 2's purpose was introducing the players to the concept of the Infelsphere, and common sense doesn't apply due to Deathlandia being entirely constructed out of one of the heroines' mind, a real-world manifestation of their Cosmospheres' worst parts in other words, which is why it has its own mechanics an even its own world map.

    As for the Grathnodes, it's pretty foolish to be complaining about something that wouldn't make sense in-universe: Enhancements and Installs are only used in Sol Ciel (the AT1 region) due to these crystals being very common over there, while they are almost never seen in Metafalss, and that system ended up being supplanted by establishing contracts with the cured IPDs and the Dualithnodes used in the Dualstall sessions. Besides, for players that have already mastered the battle system, making the enemies more powerful would be moot since all their attacks can be rendered useless by perfectly timing the blocks.
    As for the voice-acting problem, blame NISA for taking over half the Japanese voices out of the game for no reason, which is why the undub for AT2 was made in the first place. The same goes for the translation and why a relocalization project is being made for it, which is already in open beta state.
    The same goes for your complaints about synthesis, as Grathmeld is also a kind of technology exclusive to Sol Ciel and thus it was replaced by the system employed here, which serves to give the shopkeepers their own development and storylines. As for not finding recipes in the game, come again? The Ancient Document and the Fila Theory books don't exist now or what?

    And even advising to play AT2 before AT1 would be ridiculous due to the fact the storyline goes AT1->AT2->AT3, with AT2 spoiling some important plot points about AT1, as well as AT1 giving a better introduction to term specific to the Ar Ciel world when it comes to explaining terms like the Reyvateils, the Towers, Song Magic and such other things.

    1. I feel like they could have handled Luca's character a lot better. Maybe it was because I went down only Cloche's route - and why would you choose Luca's after all, the point of the story when you have to choice makes you kinda biased - but when her real objective becomes clear the characters just felt... off. Croix especially, he was angry at her right after she admits everything, but then he's pretty quick to forget everything and forgive her. Did he care about her in any case? Possible, but it's not really explained that well.

      About the story, it's true that AT2's is much more complex and probably more innovative, if you look at it on paper, but ultimately it failed to emotionally involve me. Heck, I usually enjoy those kind of stories a lot, but that simply was not the case this time. Although I'm actually glad if you and other people got to think more about those things, because I really think they're important themes.
      AT1's message on the other hand came across in a much clearer way for me, and the fact that you had to forgive the final boss for the true ending was just natural considering that the whole game was about understanding why people do what they do.

      As for Enhancements and Installs, I admit I didn't really think of them as in-game technologies, which is my fault. If there's a reason related to the setting, I understand why they're not there.
      The fact that I didn't like the synthesis system and the fact that they're very related to the shopkeepers is ultimately a consequence of the lack of the emotional factor. Aside from Spica, whose scenes with Jacqli I always enjoyed, I didn't grow fond of either Skycat or Cynthia, so I couldn't enjoy their scenes that much.
      As for the cards, it's true that you find the Pira Theory books around in some areas, but if you don't consider the ones found in the latest dungeons (because by that point you're really near the end of the game) we're talking about literally 3 recipe cards, which you can't even use right away. I'm not sure I rembember the Ancient Document though, so either I forgot about it or I missed it altogether :P

      As for the dubbing, are you saying NISA bought the license for the Japanese one and then removed some/most of the lines? I didn't know that. Although the reason doesn't really matter for the player, since whatever it is, you're playing what they published (unless you play the Japanese version of course).

      And yeah, I agree that playing AT2 before AT1 doesn't feel right. I'm not sure the spoilers would be a problem since if you didn't know anything about the world you'd most likely miss them altogether, but in any case I'd think twice before doing that, and that's why I didn't really recommend it.

      Finally, I'd like to say I'm sorry it was a painful read for you. This blog - as I think everyone's? - is about sharing my opinion, and I try to do so in a clear way. Of course that means someone is bound to disagree with me, but as long as they're willing to discuss things I think there's no problem :D