The latest exclusive title to help extend the life of the PS3 is Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star, a JRPG from genre veteran Gust. The game mixes a variety of different elements to make for an experience that certainly rather unique, but does this wind up being a good thing or not?
The game boasts a fairly complicated story that revolves around the people of the corroded planet Ra Ciela and their interactions with an alien race known as the Sharl, capable of wielding song magic. Sharl and humans don’t get along very well and thus is the source of the ongoing conflict between an emergent church which worships the Sharl and the rest of Ra Ciela. However, certain humans are capable of using song magic as well, including half of both pairs of characters players will control in the game.
Dialogue scenes are long winded and a bit grating, and although an in-game glossary keeps a record of key terms and events mentioned, one could still be forgiven for becoming utterly lost among all the talk of Genoms, Purifications, Geometrics and the like. This disconnect leads to times where it seems like the game just drags. I found it hard to stay motivated much of the time and the heavy-handed romance scenes were a complete turn off.
Although it is no graphical powerhouse, Ar Nosurge manages to be rather nice to look at thanks to interestingly designed stages and characters with enough detail to be memorable. Players will encounter anime tropes and fan service bits galore, including cat girls, bat girls, female characters with impossible proportions and an abundance of characters wearing panties or thongs and very little else. The character Nay doesn’t seem like she’s older than 10 but her costume exposes most of her butt.
Although clichéd isn’t something I feel you could call the game in general, some of the enemy designs could certainly have been a bit more inspired. However, it does feature a wide variety of environments, from futuristic cities to quaint villages. There is a lot of sharp artwork depicting the various cities and towns, which gives a feeling of immersion. I do give Ar Nosurge extra credit for breaking out actual anime scenes during different points in the story, which blended in wonderfully with the regular story scenes.
One area where the game excels in my opinion is in its soundtrack, which is perhaps expected given the title’s heavy focus on music. Although I’m impartial to most of the vocal tracks, I am a fan of lots of the instrumental pieces used for exploring certain areas and scenes. The soundtrack features some ambient music but also tracks with jazz and classical influences, as well as some more techno and electronic flavored stuff.
That’s all in addition to the Jpop akin vocal songs I mentioned before, so I guess the soundtrack really just wins using great diversity. The game features dual audio with both English and Japanese voices for the characters, which it wouldn’t have been complete without given its very Japanese nature.
While exploring you can talk to the members of your party and collect items. Battles are randomly initiated and players can use various items dropped by enemies to create consumables at shops in the game. Each item in the game has its own illustration and a bit of blurb written about it, which is an appreciated touch. As I mentioned before, after you reach a certain point you’ll be able to switch between two pairs of protagonists. You’ll need to, in fact, to progress the game at certain points. Although this appears to offer diversity on the surface, battles play out the exact same way so you don’t really get the feeling that switching characters really affect the combat much.
Combat in Ar Nosurge is turn based, but during the player’s turn you’ll be able to chain attacks on the enemies as well as guard to reduce damage from enemy attack sin real time. The player’s party consists only of two characters, and as you pound away on the enemies with the main attacking character, your singer partner gradually charges strength for her song.
You can activate the song magic at any time but the more damage you deal and enemies you destroy before you use it, the more powerful the song will be. This is important since you fight waves of enemies in this game, and while a song of any strength will apparently instantly finish most regular scuffles, you get better rewards after the battle if you destroy several separate waves with a well charged song.
You will eventually unlock some friends skills to use in battle as well. The friend skills basically summon an ally to use a powerful attack on your enemies. These skills initiate full on anime sequences that are of a surprisingly high visual quality. The mechanics combine to form a combat system that is certainly different from most other RPGs I’ve played, but I still found battles similarly too easy.
Through all my hours of play, there was only one instance where using the song magic didn’t instantly defeat all of the enemies. Even against bosses the attacks are so strong that battles are virtually drained of all challenge. That said, the fast paced nature of the battles is definitely refreshing given how frequently Japanese developers lean on plain Jane turn based combat systems for their RPGs.
You will not need to outfit your characters with new weapons or equipment to strengthen them. Instead you can unlock new song magic, stat modifiers and bonuses through Geometrics. This involves “Diving” into the minds of the game’s various female characters. These segments of the game contain lighthearted comical side stories featuring the cast, such as a war between the “Tsun” and “Dere” kingdoms. These segments are also rather long-winded however, and the whole process of Diving was something I had to come to feel unenthusiastically about, rather than excited about.
The pages of dialogue just tended to bore after a while and I wished the segments were over much more quickly. Once you fully complete each segment you’ll not only unlock a new song to use in combat, but also unlock the crystals which modify stats and add bonuses as you progresss. These crystals must be inserted into various parts of the characters’ bodies via purification, which is for all intents and purposes just another reason to strip the girls down to their unmentionables.
In the beginning you can only insert crystals into a couple of places on your characters, but you can unlock more insertion points by developing the relationship between your characters via chatting. The chats are brief and oft times about uninteresting topics, but you’ll have to endure them to unlock the insertion points. This combined with the dives makes it feel like you’re forced to drudge through waves of dialogue that you may or may not care about.
I found most of the side stories irrelevant and thought the main dialogue scenes were so long that nothing to the effect of a side story was needed. It basically makes strengthening your characters a bit of a chore and adds a pinch of confusion to initially figuring out how you’re actually supposed to make them stronger.
Ar Nosurge features a unique battle system, a charming visual style, interesting settings and a winning soundtrack but is hampered by the utterly boring yet completely necessary Geometrics mechanics, super attacks that instantly end most fights and a story so inflated you’ll find it difficult to care one way or the other. I definitely do recommend Ar Nosurge, but only if you’re prepared to bear with the negatives.