Off the Grid: Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia
Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia was certainly a unique title, developed by Gust (also known for its Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia franchises). What made it unique? Several things, but all of them revolved around the Rayvateils. Rayvateils are all female creations that have a special bond with the Tower of Elemia – they communicate with the tower and support your main characters through song.
For the most part, this first Ar Tonelico title is your standard JRPG, so anyone who’s a fan of the genre shouldn’t have any problems here. But singing girls supporting you in battle? Not what most people think of when they want to play an RPG, right?
What I enjoyed about this game beyond the story – which has its high and low points, as well as an overly dramatic main character – is the use of these Rayvateils.
First off, they do support you in battle by singing songs that give you buffs, hurt your enemies, heal and other things. The Rayvateil herself can’t be directly attacked by the enemy with standard abilities as long as any of your other characters protecting her are alive. She’s free to sing her little heart out. However, she can be targeted by chain attacks. If this occurs, targeting circles form around her, which indicates the number of your party members that must protect her during their next action phase. If not, she will be attacked, and she’s not as strong as your front line fighters. If you successfully defend your Rayvateil, you get the option to retaliate with a more powerful combined attack.
I thought this mechanic added an extra bit of strategy and depth to the otherwise standard battle encounters and, in some way, made me feel like it was worth it to have this girl along – that she was so important that the little enemy minions felt the need to attempt to take her out.
The other aspect I really enjoyed about Ar Tonelico was that each Rayvateil had her own story, and you could get closer to her by learning about her past and taking a “dive” into her subconscious. When you dive, the game seems to take the form of highly popular Japanese visual novels, focusing not on battle or fast-paced action but on character development instead. There’s quite a bit of dialog during these sequences.
Being, in a way, part dating sim, you have to improve your relationship with the Rayvateils before they trust you enough to delve deeper into their subconscious minds. To do this, you can spend time with her in combat or have conversations with her at various locations throughout your journey, such as inns.
Despite me referring to these mechanics as a “dating sim”, there really is no dating involved, unlike, for example, the Persona titles, where you can date someone if you have a deep enough relationship with them. Here, the point of all this character development is to resolve issues that the Rayvateil is having, helping them cope with various concerns that may be a burden to them. Basically, your goal is to become their BFF and, by doing this, they can learn new song magic and become more powerful in battle. This is what you ultimately want, right?
The Rayvateils also gain new outfits every time their equipment is upgraded, so that’s a plus if you like dressing up moe-themed digital girls. Can’t complain about that, eh? Don’t judge me!
So, along with a fairly well crafted JRPG story (much of the story and characters are cliché, even if the world and the Rayvateils are not), you get these interesting new mechanics, which propelled me through the game and pulled me deeper into it. If you can get around the sometimes shaky dialog, the story sequences when dealing with the Rayvateils aren’t that bad, either.
Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia has two sequels, which don’t hold much in common besides the Rayvateils and the game mechanics behind them. The second title is Ar Tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica and the third, which hasn’t yet been released, is the franchise’s first foray into the current generation consoles – Ar Tonelico III (no English sub-title has been given yet). I have to admit, I played an enjoyed the first game, but I haven’t played the second one yet. I suppose I should get on that, right?
Am I the only one who enjoyed this quirky, overly-feminine RPG or are there others out there like me who just don’t want to admit it?