Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: February 6, 2007
Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia is a rather strange game, by any means. For those who primarily play RPGs released in the United States, there is almost nothing like it, and the closest title to which it can be compared is the obscure PlayStation 1 RPG, Thousand Arms. Mixing elements of Atelier Iris with those of the "Date Sim" genre, Ar Tonelico brings a unique spin to the classic RPG formula.
Ar Tonelico opens up in a world already twice destroyed by disaster. The ground has been rendered uninhabitable, and the sky is an impenetrable plasma barrier known as the Blastline. All of humanity is forced to eke out a meager existence in floating cities around The Tower, a technological marvel that keeps humanity alive. The humans are further divided into those who live on the floating island Wings of Horus, known as the Lower Worlders, and those who live in Platina, or the Upper Worlders. The Upper Worlders are charged with defending humanity from the Viruses, evil monsters that can possesses electronics or take corporeal form and attack humans directly. Ar Tonelico's protagonist is a young knight named Lyner, who serves under the Reyvateil Shurelia. When an invincible new Virus appears that the knights are unable to defeat, Lyner is sent to the Lower World to find the key to defeating them.
Reyvateil are magical artificial beings, who all happen to resemble pretty young girls. Although they are human for all intents and purposes, they have two major differences. The first is that they are able to use Song Magic, a powerful music-based ability created from their own feelings, and the second is that they have a life span of about 20 years. The only way the Reyvateil can live longer is with the aid of various human organizations, who naturally eagerly seek them out for their powers.
Despite their powers, Reyvateil are not magicians in a classical sense. Their Song Magic is crafted by their inner feelings, but a Reyvateil cannot craft it themselves. Instead, a trusted partner must dive into their Cosmosphere – inner mind – and help their subconscious overcome its inner turmoil and fears in order to craft new and stronger Song Magic. Lyner takes the role of the partner as he dives into the mind of his Reyvateil friends.
While traveling and fighting with the Reyvateil, they gain "DP" or "Dive Points." Once inside their minds, Lyner can spend these Dive Points to access parts of their minds and witness events therein. Each event requires a certain number of Dive Points to access, with cheaper events serving to flesh out the backstory and personality of a Reyvateil, while more expensive events work through a specific plotline within that layer of the Reyvateil's subconscious, allowing them to craft new magic. Completing enough of a Reyvateil's events allows them to undergo a Paradigm Shift, signifying a great spiritual growth and allowing Lyner to travel to a deeper layer of their subconscious.
Of course, diving is a very taxing and personal experience, so a Reyvateil must trust Lyner before they'll allow him deeper into their minds. As Lyner travels with the Reyvateil, they have shared experiences which bring them closer together. Every time Lyner rests at an inn or save point, one of his Reyvateil friends may join him for a discussion. Different topics of discussion are unlocked by advancing the plot, performing specific actions in battle or visiting certain locations. More intimate discussions unlock further levels of a Reyvateil's Cosmosphere, and the deeper Lyner descends into a Reyvateil's Cosmosphere, the more Song Magic they learn. In extreme cases, a Reyvateil may even unlock a new costume that signifies some facet of their inner mind. These costumes are what replace weapons for Reyvateil, and instead grant them new and improved abilities. The fact that they are all also fan service is, of course, purely a coincidence.
Another way to power up both your Reyvateil and your human fighters is with Grathmelding, which is basically a fancy word for "alchemy." By finding various recipes scattered throughout the world, Lyner can use his Grathmeld ability to create new and exotic items. These items can range from weapons and armor to obscure toys that can be used for further Grathmelding or be converted into Crystals, which are powerful items that can be equipped to weapons or armor to increase their attributes. Some add status effects, improve the overall effect of weapons or even allow for extra attacks; using various combinations of crystals can unlock new and special effects. Crystals may also be "installed" into a Reyvateil who has developed a significant trust for Lyner. Although Installing is actually dangerous for a Reyvateil, installed crystals can then be equipped to a Reyvateil's song, significantly boosting its power.
Combat in Ar Tonelico is unsurprisingly built around the Reyvateil. The player's part is made of up four members: three regular fighters and one Reyvateil. The regular fighters function like you would see from most RPGs – attacking, using items and using special skills. One interesting thing to note is that unlike most RPGs, humans don't have MP, and their special skills use a percentage of their hit points instead. However, the primary focus of these fights is to protect the Reyvateil as they use Song Magic. Their Song Magic gradually grows more powerful the more they sing, and it even evolves into new and more powerful forms at a certain level of power. However, singing drains a Reyvateil's MP, and they lose the ability to control their Song Magic at 0 MP; obviously, stronger magic drains MP faster. Unlike warriors, Reyvateil can use or switch their Song Magic at any time by pressing Triangle, which plays a very important part in the other factors of combat.
Another purpose of the Song Magic is to increase the Harmonics between the fighters and the Reyvateil. As Reyvateil sing and warriors fight, a bar at the bottom of the screen fills up with blue (fighter) and pink (singer) energy. When the two meet, the harmonics of the team are increased. Increased harmonics offer a number of benefits: Song Magic charges faster, the fighters hit harder, and the enemies drop more items. High-level harmonics even change the basic attacks and unlock new skills that can't be used at lower levels. Beware, however – taking damage from enemies can lower harmonics, and too much damage can even decrease them a level. Finally, there is Ambience; the higher the Ambience level, the more offensive damage Song Magic does when used. As fighters consecutively attack an enemy, it raises their Ambience level from 0 to 3.
Ar Tonelico is shaping up to be one of the best-looking sprite-based games on the PS2. The sprites are all large and beautifully animated, with surprising amounts of detail and depth. The character art is static, but very interesting, and the different art for the various avatars of a Reyvateil's subconscious can be amusing.
Likewise, the music is rather interesting, with a mix of quiet melodies and fast-paced rap beats that can be shocking the first time it pops up during a battle. While his particular mix may sound rather strange, it works well for the world of Ar Tonelico and overall fits quite well with the events. For those hardcore fans, don't worry: Yes, much of the game is voice acted, but the voice-acting is of strong quality, and those who prefer the original language may switch the voices over to Japanese, or even turn them off.
Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia is an interesting experiment. Few games like it have made their way over to American shores, and even fewer still have done particularly well. However, those seeking a fun light RPG will be very pleased with Ar Tonelico's ease of play and overall quality, while those hardcore fans who enjoy discovering every aspect of a game will find plenty to discover in the Grathmeld and Cosmosphere sections. While the strange concept may turn off some gamers, Ar Tonelico is shaping up to be one of the best choices to keep PlayStation 2 gamers busy in the upcoming months.