Posts Tagged ‘gust’

Previously:

Now, one more post to set the record straight.

My first playthrough of the game was with Saki, who I expected to like better than Finnel. In the end, I found that neither of them had grown significantly or exhibited any captivating or admirable traits. The word that H and I kept coming back to was “childish”. In a story like this, I want to meet characters I can look up to, or at least sympathize with.

Tilia redeems the game. Her “Normal End” hugely short-circuits the storyline of the game in a bittersweet way. Her “True End” had me feeling way more invested in the main storyline, once I was able to see the two main heroines just as well-developed NPCs. Even the unsatisfying combat was saved by her superior battle song choices.

Most of all, Tilia’s Binary Field storyline (the visual-novel segments of the game) had me as engrossed as any Cosmosphere or Binary Field sequence in the whole series. It recalls a crucial time in the history of Ar Ciel, injecting humanity into what was just some background lore about the origin of the towers and the reyvateils. Not only that, but through the magic of the Binary Field conceit, it puts you right into that 700-years-past story. I loved the blending of mythos and personal relationships, the deliberate thrice-over revisiting of the same few days, and, well, the pleasure of listening to Sakamoto Maaya talk a whole lot.

Even the lackluster character art in the game was replaced in my mind by this true-to-form portrait in the official design works book. It was presumably colored by Nagi himself, which makes all the difference. I did the best I could to reproduce it here via photograph and heavy iPhoto adjustments. [Edit: I found a proper reproduction of the original art!]

So, thankfully, I think I will be able to maintain fondness for the entirety of the Ar tonelico trilogy after all.

I have had a hard time understanding precisely how I feel about Ar tonelico 3. Perhaps writing a traditional Button Trance article about it will help me figure it out.

From early on, there was a miasma of frustration hanging around the game for me. The friend in Japan I was counting on to send me my Saikyou DX Combo box still hasn’t. After a few weeks without a sign of it getting shipped out any time soon, I broke down, spent another $40 on top of the $200 I had already paid for the deluxe edition, and bought a Korean copy on eBay. When that finally arrived, my mental state was already far from the brand-new-game excitement I had initially planned for. I tried not to let it color my impressions, but the final result was disappointment anyway.

Immersion

Ar tonelico 3 sure has a lot of high-tech bluish platform complexes and tunnels. Thinking back across the entire game, almost all of the dungeons that come to mind fit that description. Few give any impression that anyone had ever been there, or that they served any purpose.

The towns were as lively and fun as ever, islands of flavor among a thoroughly unmemorable world map. There was nothing like At2’s gorgeous panoramic views of Sol Ciel or its fascinating “Matairiku” worlds. I came away with almost no sense of what At3’s Sol Cluster even looks or feels like.

For much of the storyline, I had little clue of what I was doing or why. I was just getting bounced around from errand to errand, without any sense of importance to my goals. In At2, the game is right up front with its campaign against god and the realization of an ancient dream to create a new paradise. In At3, you are just kinda some dude. And you are helping some girls who are getting chased by some dudes, for some reason. Eventually you get caught up in a war, even though there don’t really seem to be many people around to fight it. Way later, when you’ve run enough errands back and forth across the tower to clear that up, you at last get to run the last few errands necessary to save the whole world.

Ultimately, I did not ever feel really present or emotionally attached to the story except for inside Tilia’s Binary Field. That was one storyline that didn’t feel like I could have made it up myself, given a couple of hours.

Infatuation

I can’t say I feel any closer to any of At3′s characters than I did at the beginning of the game, with the exception of Tilia. I followed Saki’s path, and made it all the way through her Cosmosphere, but she still seemed like exactly the same person at the end of it. I had nothing like the affection and respect I had for Chroche-sama at the end of At2, or for Shurelia-sama at the end of At1.

As for Tilia, It was lovely to participate in the story of her last days as an ordinary person, which was also the most compelling bit of mythos in the whole game. It was easy to get attached to her in the main story, too, probably because she stuck around as herself while the other heroines were cycling through their relatively shallow, mutually unaware alternate personalities. The result of the multiple personalities conceit was not a varied and deep main character to fall in love with, but a clique of minor characters to get acquainted with. Saki’s Cosmosphere was not an exploration of her psyche so much as it was a side mission to poke around in the mechanics of the Cosmosphere itself.

As for the 3D costume purging scenes, they ended up more tiresome than exciting. I would have much preferred some proper hand-drawn costume portraits and reward images by Nagi.

Completionism

Something about the balance of item and recipe distribution around the shops and dungeons, and the apparent irrelevance of equipment and items in battle anyway, made me pretty much uninterested in crafting items at all. At some point I must have missed some important chests in some dungeon, because for the latter part of the game almost all of the recipes depended on stuff I had never heard of.

The hyuuma “collection”, which happens pretty much automatically during Dives, didn’t encourage exploration like At2′s Replekia IPD collection did. Its resulting benefit amounted to some different music during battles and some barely noticeable effects on the physical combatants, who don’t make a difference anyway.

And yet,

After all that complaining, for some reason I still have fondness for the game. It is still an Ar tonelico game. The music is as brilliant as ever. I still feel like going back and completing Tilia’s path, some day when the frustration has worn off and I can play with a fresh mind. I truly hope for downloadable content and for more games in the series, hopefully with some more of the magic that they poured into the first two games. I have faith that GUST can succeed in bringing Ar tonelico to current-generation hardware, even if they didn’t quite do it this time.

Immediately after posting those complaints, I started truly enjoying At3. I do not know what kind of mechanism is at work here, but now I can’t play enough of it.

I gave up on the guy in Japan sitting on my Ar tonelico 3 Saikyou DX Combo box, and just ordered another copy of the game. Now I’m about 30 hours in, having forcefully inserted some gaming hours in the cracks of my iPad development schedule.

First, the artwork. From the first Famitsu scans that came out, I was kind of worried about the visual style of the game. It seems so flat and imprecise, compared to what we expect from Nagi. It’s most obvious in the portraits for the Origin Reyvateils in Ar tonelico 1 and 3. Nearly every surface of Shurelia’s Linkage suit is rendered with a continuous, careful blend of highlight and shadow, creating a hyper-idealized, tangible presence. Tilia’s Linkage, in comparison, looks like a sketch, with either flat fields of shading or indistinct gradients.

Origins.jpg

Perhaps Nagi had to rush through the greater number of significant character portraits this time around. Whatever the reason, this is part of why I’ve had trouble getting very attached to any of the characters. The other part is the multi-personality heroines: instead of spending the game with one heroine, discovering her complexities, you spend it meeting a small crowd of one-dimensional characters.

Gust’s forte has never been real-time battles, precise control schemes, or solid character movement. Ar tonelico 3′s real-time battle system seems to be a random number generator, with your button presses as the seed. When my characters die, I don’t know what I did wrong, other than fail to spam healing items. When I win, I don’t know what I did right, other than to stare at the Harmo graph, ignoring the actual battle, and mash Square whenever I see red. Ultimately, I don’t feel in control, challenged, or powerful, which are the most important things to feel in a battle system. I wish Gust had stuck to adding their own twists to traditional RPG battles, rather than trying for the action RPG.

The notorious Purge mechanic is, even considering its questionable premise, disappointing. The goal is titillation, but the reality is monotony. I’ve seen precisely the same costume-disintegrating animations, from precisely the same angles, with precisely the same absurd boob-jubbling effects, enough times for them to be more irritating than alluring.

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The dungeons are are huge, desolate, featureless mazes. The world map is weak, offering the tower no sense of grandeur. The floaty, misanimated jumping could be the most embarrassingly bad character movement I’ve seen. What I’ve seen of the Cosmospheres is more silly than engaging. I might have had more fun meeting the more mysterious characters, if every one of them hadn’t been completely exposed on the web site first. At least the towns are gorgeous and loaded with personality.

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A baffling extra failure is in the interface design, which shouldn’t be difficult for a company that’s been creating RPGs for a decade and a half. Some of the simplest conveniences we take for granted are inexplicably missing. At a shop, you expect to be told how the selected item compares to what you have equipped; if you buy the item, you expect to be able to equip it right away. Here’s how you figure that out in Ar tonelico 3:

- Open the store menu, and select an item.
- Memorize the stats of the item.
- Leave the store menu.
- Open the equip menu and navigate to the character.
- Memorize the name of the equipped item.
- Leave the equip menu.
- Open the Items menu.
- Locate the item you have equipped.
- Check its stats, and compare them to the shop item.
- If it is more powerful, buy it.
- Leave the store menu.
- Open the equip menu.
- Find the item you just bought, and finally see the numerical comparison to what you have equipped.
- Realize you miscalculated, and you didn’t want to buy that item after all.

So, there is my complaining, for now. I actually hope, almost *expect,* to be proven wrong. Gust has a history of introducing surprises well into a game, and negating my negative impressions. I still haven’t got the third Reyvateil (though I am fairly sure I have met her). There could still be a lot more story, a lot more Cosmosphere, a lot more enjoyment to be had. My secret wishes are that there are *two* secret heroines, that all of the heroines’ personalities will end up having Cosmospheres of their own, and that there are way more main-story Phases than we think. Any of these could still be true. They could even release a patch that fixes some of the technical problems. There is downloadable content in the works. Ar tonelico 3 still has a chance to live up to the lavishness of At2.