"Atelier’s charisma and charm occasionally surface here and there, but the game does little to captivate its audience."
Developer Gust has an obsession with complicated alchemy and item-crafting systems. The entire Atelier series relishes in complex gameplay mechanics while its narrative serves as nothing more than background noise. But what Atelier lacks in storytelling, it makes up for in personality. Going back to their older and lesser known series Ar tonelico (created in collaboration with Banpresto), Gust hopes to deliver a more engaging storyline while maintaining their unique gameplay style. Unfortunately, taking risks doesn’t always pay off. The developer's charisma and charm occasionally surface here and there, but the game does little to captivate its audience. Die-hard JRPG fans may tolerate the shallow plot and cringeworthy dialogue, but the derivative grinding is harder to overlook. Ar nosurge’s most praiseworthy quality is the presentation, but even with Gust’s gorgeous signature anime aesthetic, Ar nosurge doesn't offer enough to warrant a playthrough.
Ar nosurge makes a terrible first impression. The intro consists of abstract sliding images and music awkwardly juxtaposed with terrible AI voice-over, making it difficult to pay attention. Once upon a time humans peacefully coexisted with a spiritual life form known as Genoms. The fictional planet Ra Ciela (in other words, earth) fell into decline and the humans began fleeing in search for other inhabitable planets. Strange hostile life forms known as the Sharl started appearing and the human race divided between those who worship the Sharl, believing they are some type of angels, and those rebelling against them. Apparently, the game’s theme is about “human bonds” and the power of “song magic”, which can be used as both a weapon and a means of connecting hearts. At least that’s what I got out of it.
"When it comes to combat, Gust typically delivers solid RPG mechanics. Unfortunately, Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star doesn’t know what it’s trying to accomplish."
The problem is in Ar nosurge’s narrative presentation. It’s unnecessarily convoluted and complicated. Gust wants to go for that bizarre Final Fantasy angle, but fails by pouring endless lines of confusing dialogue. The plot may have been more interesting if the actual setting wasn’t so shallow and lifeless. Most environments are either completely empty or have NPCs standing in place like statues. The lifelessness of Ar nosurge’s world makes it hard to care for its inhabitants. Even the beautiful art style can’t mask the poor level designs and lack of interactivity.
When it comes to combat, Gust typically delivers solid RPG mechanics. Unfortunately, Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star doesn’t know what it’s trying to accomplish. Players control two characters during battles, the protagonist and his heroine. The goal is to protect the heroine while waves on enemies slide across the screen. While battling, the heroin sings Song Magic (selected before each encounter), which can be used as a special attack when the Burst Gauge fully charges. There are varying degrees of Song Magic. Some can wipe out all on-screen enemies while others are used as support spells. There’s more to the system, but those who actually choose to play through Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star are better off discovering the rest on their own. There are some undoubtedly interesting ideas here, like the Genometrics, which allow players to dive into a character’s mental world in order to strengthen their relationship. The gameplay in these sections is more akin to a visual novel and is honestly far more intriguing than anything the main game has to offer. Then there are the awkward Purifications. These are hot spring ceremonies where the protagonists and heroines take baths together. These can only be initiated if the relationship between characters is strong enough, because otherwise they feel uncomfortable switching to their swimsuits…because Anime. This is another bonding mechanic that allows players to install new Genometrica Crystals acquired via the Genometrics dive.
"Gust is a great developer and they truly know their stuff, but they’re better of refining their already successful Atelier series."
Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star tries hard to be weird just for the sake of being weird. Gust is a great developer and they truly know their stuff, but they’re better of refining their already successful Atelier series. Ar nosurge is a mess that’s difficult to recommend, unless you are a die-hard JRPG devotee and have completely exhausted your library. While the recent Tales of Xillia 2 was a beautiful portrayal of everything that makes JRPGs so interesting, Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star is representative of all JRPG clichés that are taking the genre out of the spotlight. The game has its moments every now and then, and some might even enjoy its absurdity, but players should expect much more from such a prestigious developer.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 3