Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel ReviewSkyler Bunderson
There are some games that are not simply bad. No, their lack of quality goes so far that even calling them terrible would be a grand understatement. There is only one word that properly captures just what these games are, and that word is, "Insulting."
Ar Tonelico Qoga is insulting. That such a game was released says a lot about what NIS thinks of their fanbase, and what it says isn't good. Where the game isn't poorly designed, it is creepy and voyeuristic. More often than not, it is both at the same time. Even what good ideas it could be argued to have are poorly executed.
The game starts off on the wrong foot by completely failing to explain its world. Especially in the beginning, there's very little that can be gleaned from context. It's fairly easy to understand, but the world feels more a piece of incongruously stitched together environments than an actual world.
The characters are flat, uninteresting stereotypes, from the cutesy, lovestruck Saki to the backtalking Finnel. The main character is little more than a cardboard cutout whose job is to fall in love with one of the heroines and save the day on a regular basis. As is the norm in such games, every single member of the cast has a tragic past that they keep locked away until it's narratively convenient to reveal that past.
Such a bland setting would be bad enough on its own, but it is accompanied by constant, unending, shameless fanservice, to the point that fanservice is a game mechanic. Several characters in the game are what are called Reyvateils. Reyvateils use special songs to draw power from the Earth and cast spells. Perfectly fine, if unoriginal, on its own. The insulting part enters into it in that their magic is more powerful the more naked they are.
Rhythmic attacks in battle build up a meter until the player can use "Purge," which will remove a layer of the Reyvateil's clothing. With each Purge, her magic charges faster, and the higher number it charges to, the more damage it does when she casts a spell, which the player can do with the X button. Purges are semi-regularly accompanied by short cinematics that attempt to be as arousing as possible, but come off as incredibly shameless and creepy. This is worsened by how young several of the characters appear to be.
There's a game mechanic built around leveling the player's relationship with the Reyvateils via diving into their minds and getting to know them better. It's a metaphor for sex, and were this a better game one might think such a metaphor is actually clever. Instead, it's nothing more than a backdrop for more fanservice and poor characterization.
Otherwise, the combat is incredibly dull. There is the aforementioned rhythm meter that players can try to land their blows in time with, but the attacks combo so poorly and the rhythm is so irregular that players might as well just mindlessly mash the attack button. Not that this is at all a problem because the game lacks any challenge whatsoever. Every battle is easy, be it boss fight or random encounter. As a result, every battle the player is stuck fighting due to random encounters feels like forced tedium keeping them from simply moving the plot forward.
Visually the game is mediocre at best. One scene featuring a night sky had a flat, starry sky texture so obviously pasted onto a wall that it was possible to actually see the edges of that wall. The character models are poorly animated and the cel-shading on them feels off in some basic, unnamable way. The environments often look fine, but the resources for those environments are overused and give the game a very repetitive feel.
There are, perhaps, two redeeming traits in the entirety of the game. The English voice acting is average at best, but players are able to switch to the original Japanese VA, which is at least pretty good. The character portraits used during many of the cutscenes are well drawn, even if the fashion of the game is idiotic.
Two traits that are simply pretty good are not enough to redeem this experience. It's creepy, boring, and ugly. While there have been more than a few terrible jRPGs on current generation consoles, Ar Tonelico Qoga is easily among the worst. It's an experience that cannot even be recommended to the most obsessive jRPG fans. It is in no way worth the time or money it takes to experience it, especially when the company that made it has put out vastly superior titles in the past.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
"Skyler has been reviewing games for over three years, and hasn't seen the sun once in all that time. He's an avid gamer with a special fondness for flawed masterpieces."
About the Author: Skyler Bunderson
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