Being of the last JRPG’s to be released on the Playstation 3, Ar Nosurge is one of the many games that fell off the radar due to being released at the latter end of a console generation. To make matters worse, Ar Nosurge just happens to be part of the Ar Tonelico series despite not being named Ar Tonelico which could have also been part of the reason many forgot about its existence. While the Ar Tonelico series has a cult following, Ar Nosurge barely has a following at all, in fact it is actually the sequel to a game titled Ciel Nosurge, a game that was never released outside Japan which caused a lot of confusion over in the west upon its release… to those that bothered to look into it that is.
Those of you who have played the Ar Tonelico games before will likely find Ar Nosurge to be somewhat familiar, yet different. It feels like a spiritual successor in some ways as it carries over many of the gameplay elements of the Ar Tonelico series but it continues the story of Ciel Nosurge and brings back its established setting. As such from a narrative standpoint, Ar Nosurge doesn’t feel like an Ar Tonelico game at all. Despite this, it turns out that Ar Nosurge is actually a prequel to Ar Tonelico and takes place many years before the events of Melody Of Elemia which you would never have guessed if you hadn’t reached the latter end of the game’s story.
The first thing that caught my eye about Ar Nosurge was its premise. After the destruction of the planet, people inhabited a space vessel known as the Soreil and have lived on it ever since in their journey to find a new world to call home. Over time however, people forgot about their search for a new world and transformed the ship into a huge colony in which two races battle for dominance over the vessel. Now if that isn’t an interesting premise, I don’t know what is. While the first Ar Tonelico also had a pretty ambitious narrative concept, it had a more conventional cyberpunk/fantasy setting whereas Ar Nosurge throws the fantasy out of the window and feels more like a sci-fi game which is ironic considering the fact that it is a prequel.
Upon hearing that Ar Nosurge has a sci-fi setting, you’re probably expecting lots of space travel and futuristic aesthetics. While there is plenty of the latter, space travel isn’t exactly the main focus of the game, rather the story focuses on the conflict between the two races. In addition, the environments in the game are pretty varied, offering the more traditional bright and colorful grassland in addition to the futuristic aesthetic of the ship’s interior. As for how grassland appears in a game that takes place predominantly on a space ship, Lets just say that you’ll have to willingly suspend your disbelief for most of the game.
Unfortunately however, the level design itself is pretty bland for the most part. Each of the locations you visit are usually 1 or 2 screens large, even the dungeons/field areas (aside from a few pointless secret areas that are accessible later on). I personally believe that this was partially due to budget constraints but also due to the way the game is designed as each dungeon/field area serves no other purpose than to give players a place to fight enemies and considering the way Ar Nosurge handles random encounters, there would be little point in panning out the levels. Nevertheless I personally believe that many of the game’s design choices stem from budget constraints and that the developers goal was to do as much as they could with what little they had. This is the impression I got while playing through the game.
In terms of visual aesthetic, the levels look nice enough for what they are even if they seem a bit dated for 2014 standards. Yet another sign that the game was designed on a budget but nevertheless I didn’t find the visuals to be unappealing or bland, they were just ok. Like the Ar Tonelico games, towns are navigated via a menu which isn’t surprising but just like in Ar Tonelico, you do get to walk around in tiny areas inside each town but don’t expect too much. Ultimately if you’re looking for exploration, you’re going to be bitterly disappointed with this game and it definitely isn’t going to be for you. While Valkyrie Profile 2’s environments may have been limited by side scrolling, the game made up for it with its highly detailed aesthetic design which this game lacks. I strongly believe that Ar Nosurge would have been better suited as a side scroller rather than trying to have full 3D movement as the freedom to move in all directions doesn’t really add anything to the game.
Speaking of Valkyrie Profile, the combat in Ar Nosurge is similar to it in the sense that it is a turn based action RPG where each of the attacks are mapped to a face button. The similarities end there however as Ar Nosurge has a rather unusual battle system that can be pretty overwhelming at first but is actually pretty simple once you grasp the mechanics. Before I can talk about Ar Nosurge’s combat in more detail, I need to explain the game’s most distinguishable feature. One thing that has always bothered me in JRPG’s is the monotony of fighting one random encounter after another. Ar nosurge circumvents this issue by allowing you to use powered up song magic to defeat every single enemy in the dungeon at once, in fact the entire combat system revolves around this feature making it important to explain it in detail.
The way this works is that all the enemies in the dungeon are separated into waves. By defeating a single wave of enemies, the player is then introduced to a completely new wave of enemies to defeat. The player has a limited number of turns to defeat as many waves as possible. Turns are consumed each time the number of available attacks are reduced to zero. Now you are probably wondering how you manage to defeat 10 waves of enemies with so limited attacks. This is where breaking attacks come into play. By breaking/defeating all of the enemies that are preparing to attack on each turn, the number of attacks replenishes to maximum meaning that you essentially skip a turn but the enemies do not and thus some of the remaining enemies will prepare to attack in the next turn.
This forces the player to think carefully as to how they approach battles as they have to not only consider the harmo gauge boost for chaining together attacks but they also want to consider which attacks they use and who they are targeting. Once the burst gauge reaches 100%, the player may activate a song to automatically end the battle, killing every single enemy in the dungeon, doing so rewards you with an experience multiplier which allows you to level up your characters insanely quickly should they manage to dispatch all enemies in a single battle by properly managing their turns and abilities. I love how the combat manages to keep players on their toes at all times with this system as it makes battles quick, yet exciting. This is something many JRPG’s need to learn from when it comes to fighting standard enemy encounters.
Of course there are some flaws to this system. For starters, I personally think that there aren’t enough enemies to fight in each dungeon. As such, while the idea is great and all, I find that it is a bit too easy to dispatch every single enemy in dungeons, at least on the lowest difficulty. This means that the game offers barely any combat at all when it comes to standard progression. Thankfully once you leave an area, enemies will respawn, this allows players to grind for as long as they desire but in doing so, it kinda diminishes the challenge of the game. This didn’t bother me though as I love power leveling in games, especially when I can do it quickly. If you’re the sort of person who is looking for a challenge however, playing on hard/veteran difficulty is an absolute must, fortunately they are available at the start so you do not need to unlock them.
I also find that many of the game’s boss fights are pretty underwhelming due to the fact that the battle system is designed around fighting waves of enemies and since bosses are generally just a single wave, sometimes with only a single enemy, you will often find yourself repeating the same strategies against them making boss battles feel a bit tedious at times. That’s not to say that all the bosses are like this as some boss fights include multiple enemies which can spice things up a bit and can be pretty fun to fight. I think the issue ultimately lies in the wave based battle system as the combat is designed around killing waves of enemies as opposed to a single enemy.
In addition to this, I also found quite a few spikes in difficulty at times. This is likely due to the encounter system since fighting a single battle can level you up a ton, making certain boss fights a lot easier. That being said, if you didn’t fight any enemy encounters, you are going to have a very hard time against certain bosses, at least on the higher difficulties. This happened to me at the beginning of phase 2 where following the main story quickly threw me into a boss fight. This boss fight kicked my ass a ton of times but that was because I didn’t realize that there were new synthesis items available to craft at the beginning of phase 2 and as such I had to beat up more enemies to farm experience and items to do synthesis. Upon returning, I defeated the boss very easily.
Equipment in Ar Nosurge is also a bit unusual as there aren’t any weapons or armor in the traditional sense. Your front line fighter can equip cathodes and your song mage can equip bios. Cathodes are used to modify the properties of the attack associated with the face button it is equipped to. Up to three cathodes can be equipped to each of the face buttons allowing for multiple modifiers to be applied to your attacks. Bios are used to enhance song magic at specific harmonics levels. Like cathodes you can equip up to 3 bios for each harmonics level.
Unfortunately there appears to be a bug associated with bios which renders the level 1 slots completely useless, this bug causes the bios to be triggered one harmonics level higher than the current harmonics level. As such at harmonics level 1, you will activate level 2 bios and at level 2 you will activate level 3 bios. Put simply it is impossible to trigger level 1 bios for this very reason and as such the level 1 slots should be ignored. Both characters can also equip RNAs which are used to increase base stats as well as offer additional effects.
Now you’re probably thinking that you can purchase new equipment from shops but aside from the most basic of equipment, most of it is acquired through synthesis. On the surface, synthesis is just your typical crafting system, which it is. However, like in Ar Tonelico’s grathmelding, every new item that is created through synthesis triggers a conversation between characters. In Ar Tonelico, this was perfectly fine and all as the crafting materials were obtained through fighting multiple battles but since the battles in Ar Nosurge have you fight against every single enemy encounter in the dungeon simultaneously, you will likely have all the materials you need to synthesize a ton of items after a single battle, making synthesis a tedious ordeal to acquire new items for people who are uninterested in the conversations that revolve around each one, as a single enemy encounter can give you enough loot to make several synthesized items, usually to the point that you end up synthesizing all of the available items in one sitting.
As a result, synthesis feels somewhat tacked on and only serves to add more dialogue to the game. While the additional dialogue that comes with it isn’t necessarily terrible and can be comedic, it tends to take up a lot of the player’s time. If you aren’t content with reading large amounts of dialogue in bulk, I can safely say that synthesis is going to be one hell of an ordeal for you. Conversely, those who are looking for a more dialogue heavy experience can rejoice as Ar Nosurge inserts dialogue into every nook and cranny to the point that you are literally drowning in it. It’s pretty easy to tell what the developers were trying to do with this game as everything from the random encounter system, to the synthesis system and more is designed to get players out of the action and into the dialogue as quickly as possible. If you ask me, this is where Ar Nosurge takes focused game design a bit too far.
Sure, there is an audience for what Ar Nosurge is attempting to cater to but the question is, is the material itself worth all the hassle of reading layers upon layers of incessant dialogue? That’s a good question. While Ar Nosurge’s world is a very ambitious concept, the story itself is actually quite straightforward for the most part, at least early on in the game. I think that while Ar Nosurge doesn’t have a terrible story, it does get a little bit ridiculous later on and whether or not you enjoy it will ultimately come down to how you handle the game’s plot twist because Ar Nosurge may have the craziest plot twist I have ever seen in a videogame.
Ultimately though, despite not having played Ciel Nosurge and not having any understanding on what went on in that game’s story, I personally found that the story of Ar Nosurge was decent. I wouldn’t say that it was groundbreaking but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it was completely terrible. It definitely has its weird bits in there to help spice things up a little and I think the game handled its themes rather well. Still, as much as I don’t want to believe it, I think that most of the story was just an excuse to ship the characters which is a little sad but then again I could say the same about the first Ar Tonelico so it’s not like it’s all that surprising.
In addition to the main storyline, the cosmospheres from Ar Tonelico return but this time they have been renamed to genometrics. Genometrics are a little different from the cosmospheres in Ar Tonelico as you are able to dive into multiple characters as opposed to just one. I also noticed that there are a lot more multiple choice branches in the genometrics which gives players an illusion of choice. Perhaps this is what the developers meant when they were calling their game an “A Deeply Immersive 7th dimension RPG” but I think that’s a load of bollocks to be honest. As I’ve mentioned before, immersion is about making meaningful choices and these choices are anything but meaningful. Sure some choices award you with crystals which can be used to… uh, I’ll get to that later but most options just eject you out of the dive session and force you to restart the dive all over again.
Thankfully all of the dialogue is skippable in genometrics which is a life saver because had I been forced to read all of the dialogue all over again due to picking the wrong choice, I wouldn’t even be writing this review right now, as I’d still be struggling through the ordeal of mashing the X button to skip through it all to this day. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little but I want that thought imprinted in your mind, because it certainly feels like an ordeal at times to get through the layers upon layers of dialogue just to unlock song magic. Speaking of which, there aren’t any support song magic to be found in this game, pretty much all of the song magic is used to nuke enemy waves, probably to befit the nature of the encounter system. As such you can only acquire one piece of song magic for completing a character’s genometrics as opposed to acquiring multiple songs within the cosmospheres themselves.
The only other reason to do genometrics aside from experiencing a visual novel within a game is to acquire crystals and this is where the game gets weird. Once you have dived enough into your partner, you are able to perform purification. Now truth be told, I didn’t experience purification myself, mainly because the game makes it pretty obvious as to what I would be getting myself into should I end up experiencing it myself. Let’s put it this way, purification is cringeworthy to the point that I’m not going to go into too much detail on it. Put simply it’s just another excuse for the game to shove more dialogue down your throat as well as being able to equip crystals in an unusual manner. Talk topics are acquired though exploration but considering how simplistic the level design is, they are often very hard to miss.
Now with that aside, lets talk about the characters of the game. Considering the fact that Ar Nosurge prioritizes narrative above everything else, you’d expect to have a strong cast of characters. Well I’d argue that the characters are kind of a mixed bag in this game as while some have interesting personalities and are well-developed, others are just dumb anime stereotypes that get kind of annoying after a while. For starters I want to talk about Delta and Casty. These two characters are completely pointless and did not need to exist at all in the game. Not only do they barely have any connection to the plot but as Delta is pretty bog standard for a protagonist and Casty plays the generic tsundere role for the majority of the game, it’s difficult to see any value in these two characters. While these two characters aren’t exactly terrible, nor are they completely unlikable, they do not really offer much to the plot and are kinda just along for the ride.
Conversely Ion and many of the NPC’s in the game are pretty well characterized and fit in really well with the plot. If they removed Delta and Casty from the story, literally nothing important would change. I can kind of see what they were trying to do though, they were trying to implement multiple perspectives into the game which I can praise them for trying, however I personally find that this doesn’t really add much to the game other than having to level up two sets of characters separately which can be a bit of a nuisance at times. Had Delta and Casty had a stronger connection to the plot and were more interesting, I probably would have appreciated this design choice more. It’s not as if it’s a major issue that the game tries to offer multiple perspectives and it is a cool idea, It’s just that it felt like a last-minute addition to the game, even if it wasn’t.
I’m not saying that the Delta and Casty added absolutely nothing to the story, there are sections where the two parties encounter one another and you can clearly see a strong contrast between the two, I just think that Delta’s side needed to be fleshed out more for me to care. One thing that I didn’t give Odin Sphere’s story enough credit for was that it had you rooting for pretty much every side. In Ar Nosurge I didn’t really give a shit about Delta’s side because they weren’t fleshed out enough and didn’t really have a big enough stake in what was going on. The thing is though, I get what they were trying to do and in theory it’s brilliant but in practice, not so much. If the main story was all there was, I’d argue that the plot clearly outweighs the characters in terms of value.
In the genometrics however, things get a little bit more interesting as you are able to see the characters inner thoughts. While this appears to be a clever way to develop the characters, it can feel a bit disjointed from the main story at times, kind of like that feeling after you’re walking out of a cinema after seeing a movie where it’s hard to connect what you have just seen to reality because it is completely different and that’s kind of what genometrics is trying to be, it feels like a sub plot or a re-imagining of the characters rather than natural character development with loose connections to the plot. That isn’t to say that it is a re-imagining of the characters, rather it feels like it is because of how separated it is from the story.
I prefer natural character growth over simulated character growth personally and as such, I cannot ignore this point. Regardless, I get what the developers were trying to do, I really do. They were trying to make a point of illustrating how characters inner thoughts differ from their outer selves. I just don’t think that this is everybody’s cup of tea and as such I feel the need to bring it up. Nevertheless I think that the genometrics really brings out the best of the characters. Funnily enough, I found myself caring more about the NPC’s than the main cast as they really put a lot of effort into designing their genometrics, not to say that the main cast didn’t get the same treatment, I just found myself caring more about the other characters personally and it was a nice surprise to see them getting fleshed out instead of just having the main cast develop.
Perhaps the developers had planned to have multiple party members at one point but later scrapped it in favor of focusing on having one front line fighter and one song mage for each side, this is heavily implied by the game’s friend skill ability which allows you to summon friendly NPC’s to attack enemies with a one time super move to deal a lot of damage to enemies which can be handy in a pinch though nothing beats the power of song magic. Speaking of which, there is a harmoburst ability that can be acquired later on which is similar to Valkyrie Profile 2’s break mode in the sense that you can use your abilities freely within a time limit. Unlike break mode however, this attack comes with a super move at the end and you will automatically unleash your song magic afterwards making it the ultimate finishing move. This can only be used once you have fully maxed out your harmo gauge and as such you will need to do a lot of genometrics to unlock it.
I think that if you want to enjoy Ar Nosurge to its fullest, genometrics might as well be compulsory as it the only way to acquire new song magic and increase your harmo gauge. Conversely I never felt the need to equip the crystals I received from genometrics so purification isn’t really all that important and can be completely ignored should you wish to avoid it. As for whether you will enjoy genometrics or not, that depends on how much you care about videogame narrative. Regardless, most of it can be skipped anyways after seeing it for the first time but it must be viewed at least once. Bear that in mind if you aren’t looking to play a dialogue heavy game because this game has no shortage of text boxes to button mash your way through.
Had it been for the gameplay, story and visuals alone, I would have probably given Ar Nosurge a satisfactory rating as despite its shortcomings, there was some fun to be had here but it wasn’t a groundbreaking experience… well it wouldn’t have been had it not been for the game’s incredible soundtrack. The Ar Tonelico games have been known to have amazing soundtracks and Ar Nosurge is no exception. Electronic music makes up the bulk of the game’s soundtrack which is no surprise considering the game’s sci-fi setting but there’s also plenty of other genres on offer too.
I find that many of the tracks were well thought out and befit their roles rather well. The music that plays during the synthesis dialogues is so relaxing to listen to that it makes reading all of the dialogue a lot less of an ordeal, same goes for the music that plays in the genometrics, as there’s some really underappreciated songs that play in there and it makes the experience so much more enjoyable as a result. Generally speaking, Ar Nosurge’s soundtrack builds a very relaxing atmosphere that when combined with the game’s overall design, ultimately makes for a very relaxing experience. I cannot stress just how relaxing this game is to play once you get into it, nothing ever feels too overbearing and the pacing is on point thanks to the game’s unique encounter system.
Much like in Ar Tonelico, Ar Nosurge features a lot of hymnos music. Hymnos music is essentially vocalized music that is used to represent the song magic being sang by the characters in-game. I usually consider vocalized music in games to be the videogame equivalent of doping. It is a cheap way to get players to be in awe of your game’s soundtrack and these song usually get way more attention than they deserve, at least in my opinion. The Ar Tonelico series is the exception to this as the vocals fit in with very nature of the game due to their representation of song magic, the core of the series’ narrative, making the existence of vocalized music plausible.
The Ar Tonelico series has a pretty good track record when it comes to its vocalized music but does Ar Nosurge manage to live up to the series’ standards? Hell fucking yes! The vocalized music in Ar Nosurge is simply put phenomenal, so much so that it feels a tad awkward when accompanied with the game’s low-budget presentation. What makes Ar Nosurge’s vocalized music stand out from other game is its use of instruments and the overall composition. There’s also quite a lot of different genres too, of course you get your generic Jpop but there’s also some metal tracks in there too as well as some orchestral tracks. It often seems as if the instruments and the vocals are fighting a constant tug of war in each track in an attempt to dominate the listener’s attention. While there are some tracks that focus primarily on the vocals, most of the songs have a good mixture of instrumental and vocals in them.
“I cannot stress just how relaxing this game is to play once you get into it, nothing ever feels too overbearing and the pacing is on point thanks to the game’s unique encounter system”
One criticism I do have though is that some of the boss theme’s were a little too flamboyant to the point that the final boss theme felt disappointing in comparison, not that the song was bad or anything, rather the music that played in other battles would have fit the final battle a lot better. In any case, you’ll have a tough job finding a game that can match Ar Nosurge’s vocalized music and if you do manage to find one, chances are it’s an Ar Tonelico game.
Ar Nosurge likes to masquerade as a deep and immersive JRPG. Its unique battle system is brimming with inherent complexity and the narrative needlessly complicates itself in order to maintain this facade. While it may not appear to be a simple game at first glance, players will eventually realize that the game isn’t really as deep as it first appears. The game suffers from what appears to be a lack of budget and there are a few annoyances in the game as well as some really awkward moments that envelop you in cringe. That being said, Ar Nosurge manages to make up for all of its shortcomings with its spectacular soundtrack, quirky design choices and its steady pacing.
I think there’s a lot that can be learned from Ar Nosurge, particularly the way it handles the issue of random encounters. I think more JRPG’s need to employ systems designed to circumvent this issue in order to better optimize pacing. I still enjoyed the game’s combat despite its lack of depth as I found that it synergized with the encounter system well enough to create a really unique and rewarding experience. As for the story, If you’re a fan of visual novels, I think you’ll probably appreciate it quite a lot. Conversely if you’re not a fan of visual novels, you’ll probably have a harder time getting into the story as most of the game’s characterization is found within genometrics. All in all, I think that this game definitely deserves more attention as it has quickly elevated its way to being one of my favorite JRPGs on the PS3 (exclusive to Sony consoles at least).
Lifespan: Decent Length
Would You Replay? No