Push harder! HARDER!
At some point, my brain started to think of Japanese RPGs as a kind of serious narrative, where the interesting or comedic pieces of dialog would only occasionally be placed precariously on the edge of a scary situation or intense battle to (slightly) lighten the mood and endear the character to the player. And then... I played Ar Tonelico II. Boy, for a game that seems completely innocent, I've never heard so much filth!
[image1]Ar Tonelico II is unabashedly a JRPG, complete with all of the genre's staples: cliché main characters (stoic and bland), big boobs (though weird enough, the little girl that follows you around is actually proportional), tons of not-even-rational technology (let's "dive" into somebody's head!, weeeeeee!), the most saccharine-filled graphical style I may have ever seen... and, well, it all fits into place. It starts off as many JRPGs do: Your avatar, a soldier, is responsible for something he finds reprehensible, and thus his internal struggle outwardly begins.
First, the good news - at first glance, this game is pretty. The few animé cutscenes sprinkled into the mix are vibrant and nicely drawn, some of the best I've seen in a game. Same with the backdrops - the static town environments are absolutely gorgeous, finely painted, and the depth and feel of every setting are palpable. But the main avatar, especially when he's walking around the streets of each town, is almost minimalistic in artistic direction, and while the characters are adorable, it does take something away from the overall visual effect.
Also, each environment has its own set look about it that, the longer it goes on, will just make you grit your teeth. Since the game recycles these environments, they're easy to get sick of. As for the explored areas themselves, they also tend to repeat, which leads to a serious feeling of monotony. Even with the pretty backgrounds, the graphics feel a bit like an upgraded PS1 or Saturn RPG, the traditional, classic look with only a minor face-lift.
For a game that prides itself on taking advantage of the power of music, the soundtrack is fairly disappointing. The tracks are hummable but only while they're playing; the rest of the time they're simply forgettable - standard fare, no more and no less. They work for what they're supposed to do, and that's it (like background music for you to act like a badass in front of the mirror when everyone else has gone to bed).
[image2]But what's always great about these games is the translation. Usually, it's either very good or very bad, right? Here, it's a little of column A and column B. In all of my years playing games, I have never heard anything close to some of the things that come out of these character's mouths. Seriously, one character actually said, "This'll probably be the first and last time I stick something in you", and meant it. For one of the most sugar-filled titles, it's dirtier than Conker's Bad Fur Day, which is really more a lot of blatant WTF. Ar Tonelico II just makes you think dirty thoughts. (Kids, don't play this with parents in the room. You'll just make them cry.)
The dialog surrounding those “outbursts” is usually all right, but when the script is actively trying to push the story along, it basically falls apart. It's easy enough to follow, but it's uninteresting. This title is as linear as they come, which makes it not only predictable, but keeps you moving through the story only to read the next odd thing that comes out of their mouths.
I can't believe that NIS, with the abilities they have and the talent they're capable of demonstrating, chose to make these characters as flat and bland as they did. Really, the big muscle-bound captain is sad, but thinks it's best to keep fighting. The nice girl has some inner turmoil that she hides by being so sweet to everyone, no matter how mean they are. And the main character has the personality of a wet sponge. It's a Christmas miracle!
The battle system has a lot of promise, but in the end is just too easy. You take control of four characters: two fighters up front and two (sometimes just one) songstresses in the back. The object is to defend the singers in the back by absorbing damage with the fighters up front. The mix between real-time and turn-based combat is unfortunately somewhat broken. No battle, even the ones considered “difficult”, makes you feel as if you'll lose. It also doesn't help that someone almost always levels up after every fight.
[image3]That said, it's still an enjoyable experience for a little while. It doesn't take itself seriously, it's pretty early on, and the one-liners of dirty-dirty-dirtyness are pretty amusing ("I was polishing a sword and thinking of you, then the recipe popped up." What am I supposed to think about that?). In the end, there's enough to keep your interest for a few hours. But with the translation problems – typos, grammar problems, THE GAME POTENTIALLY CRASHING ON THE FINAL BOSS – it really is hard to be interested in it for as long as a serious JRPG like Disgaea (or most of the NIS line-up, honestly).
Pretty girls? Check. Effeminate guy? Check. Enthralling experience? Mehhh, not really.