Sometimes a "surge" is just a surge.
I do have a soft spot in my heart for games like Ar nosurge, namely the traditional JRPG with the stereotyped cast of characters, a very Japanese feel in both dialog and visual presentation, and the “gotta save the world from the overwhelming power about to destroy it” story. It’s a classic trope of the genre, and I hope there’s always a place for it… maybe it’s just the nostalgic bastard in me, I dunno. But sometimes I don't feel as though I've really been given a new game, and that gets on my nerves. Case in point, I've been given a game just like that, with one of the most pretentious-sounding names I've ever heard: Ode to an Unborn Star.
The business here is a confusing conflict of ancient powers: humans who wanted to escape a doomed world and the trouble that found them out in deep space. They, and fairy-like beings called the Sharl, have been warring for longer than anyone can remember, and there are a few “ancients” still left with the ability to combat them. These ancients are able to connect with a single partner capable of using “Song Magic," which manifests when two people really love each other… wait, sorry, when two people really tolerate each other. Because of course, our protagonists—strong, amnesiac Delta and his best female friend who loves him (but not really, please believe me) Cass—have to have some fake-feeling tension, don’t they?
As they travel throughout the bland, empty, and invisible wall-laden environments, they meet new characters with the same inadequate level of depth. Like Nay, for example, the princess who just wants to live her own life (dammit) and save people her way, even if she’s entirely ill-prepared for the task. Or a big robot that defends an awakened goddess(?) from attacks and somehow speaks and understands perfect English/Japanese (depending on your audio settings) and common speaking patterns. Or Sarly, the easily-underestimated brainiac with glasses who looks twelve but is actually of legal age. Or the bent-on-destruction lady named Zill who simply can’t fit into that bra.
The whole production screams cookie-cutter. Looking at the way the world is presented, like the way the characters interact with each other during story sequences, or even the more benign level of foot-sliding when characters walk or run around the uninteresting landscapes, the only “new” things here are that these characters have different names and wear these supposedly futuristic outfits. There doesn’t appear to have been any care in the crafting of this world, so the game instead relies on the story being told to draw players in. This may have worked had they actually put effort into the story at all.
Characters are pretty to look at, I will admit. The anime appearance is always top-notch in titles like these, which is likely where the majority of the budget is spent. Their faces when speaking to one another is awkward at best, but that’s because they’re moving their mouths up and down (and sometimes into an “O” face). There’s little other animation, and never in action, only static faces. It feels so PS2, it hurts my last-generation PS3. And with the whole idea of Song Magic, you’d think the music would have to be good. While the tracks are an acquired taste, I do like them, though they feel less like new music and more like variations on a theme. Each song, whether it’s a battle track or the background for the world menu, simply reeks of déjà vu. With a song so bent on focusing on music, I was hoping there would be some interesting variation on the older themes, but this is just another example of the cookie-cutter concept I laid out earlier.
What might be the laziest thing about this entry in the Ar-something-something series may be the writing. For a series that wants to tout itself as a dirty-but-not-dirty game of double-entendres and risque conversations, the chats you can have are some of the most boring I’ve read since the novelization of Snakes On A Plane (it was a birthday gift, I swear). With the ability of Delta to “Dive” into his partner Cass, for example, she may say to him after an exchange: “It’s OK, you can dive into me as often as you want. But you know what I mean!” Between conversations about being afraid of heights, houseplants—seriously, they’re in the “Purification” pool nearly naked and bring up their house ficus—and whatever else, they get to know each other better, but totally not talk about sex. Or anything else interesting. I started skipping all of that dialogue altogether once I started to feel my brain leaking from my head.
But the single most unfulfilling, unsatisfying thing about the game is combat. The system only offers a few options: attack using one of three buttons or hold the L1 for some additional, temporary attacks, or press Start to select Song Magic once it’s charged up enough, Items, Friend Skill if you make any friends, or Run. Players can pinpoint one of the three rows of enemies that may appear, and start attacking; once they have either broken the enemy’s concentration so they can’t attack you back, you may earn another turn (which is an incredibly common occurrence), where you can simply repeat the process. The more you attack and cause those breaks, the higher your meter with your Song Magic provider grows, and when it reaches a certain point, you can press Start, select Song Magic, and win the battle. By that, I mean not "do a metric shit-ton of damage," just "win."
Basically, you attack until you’re kinda bored, then use Song Magic. This works in every battle, from the weak and easy baddies to story-specific boss battles. And after the battle is over, you’re scored on… honestly, I can’t figure out what. I earned either a 'B' or 'C' grade on every single battle I played, and I still have no clue at all as to why. Nor did I even know what most of my items do. The battle system took about ten minutes of PowerPoint to explain at the beginning of the game, and even after reading it over, I’m still as lost as I’ve ever been. But when the battles are that easy, and that easy every single time, it’s not like you need to worry about a “Game Over” anyway. Believe me, I tried. It didn’t happen. It’s a hard game to totally suck at.
There’s even a synthesis system in here for creating new recipes that can be created as items for battle, but as I didn’t know about—nor use—any of the items I was picking up anyway, even going back to look at it only led me to more uninteresting dialogue. It’s an entirely useless system. I think it’s in there for a way of including Nay as a character and providing some useless background info on Delta, but there simply isn’t any bite to it. If items were important to battle, then this would certainly bring some battle tactics and some classic JRPG grinding into play, but there simply aren’t enough battles, and I found myself with plenty of miscellaneous items in my bag from wandering aimlessly. Not that I was grinding—only a few enemies will show up in a given space before the area is outright empty, making grinding impossible—just going through the paces.
In short, this game is entirely underwhelming. The storyline tries to be interesting, but just appears a muddled mess of stereotypes; the characters themselves look alright, but set pieces are empty and boring and littered with invisible walls pointing in only a few directions for exploration; and the battle system isn’t much for “battling” at all, even against the “tough” boss characters. If you need a way to waste your time, I suppose this would work. But if you’re looking for something to grab you for hours on end and make you care about anything, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Code provided by publisher. PS3 exclusive.