So in my cravings for a new game to play, I went and bought Ar Tonelico 2. This is partially because I saw some people praising it on some forums I frequent and became curious... I'm a sucker for interesting battle systems, so I decided to take a look. I've never played the first Ar Tonelico, but seeing as most JRPG sequels rarely have anything to do with previous installments in the series, I don't think this will be much of an issue.
Keep in mind, I did buy the game new, so I do have the manual. However, I was curious to see how the designers approached the in game lessons, so I have yet to read the manual.
After about two hours of play, my feelings are mixed. So far, the battle system seems to resemble what I've encountered playing the first Valkyrie Profile-- buttons are mapped to a character and the user goes takes turn with the enemies, alternating between attack and defense. It seems pressing the directional pad while pressing a button does different moves, but I've yet to figure out how strategy factors in to this... some attacks just seem to do more damage, but they take longer to execute (so they eat up time, which determines whose turn it is) In Valkyrie Profile, different attacks could stun the enemy, get you behind the enemy, or send the enemy flying into the air, which gained you more crystals if you hit them while they were air born.
I do like the mechanics behind defending the person behind you. It's an active procedure that also requires timed button presses. I like it when games give me some control over this. Reminds me a lot of the Mario RPGs.
Story wise, it seems to deal a lot with the main character's relationships with various girls. We have a stereotypical uptight hero who does his best to make sure his companions (all of which so far are female) are satisfied. And these seem to be quite the stereotypical anime female archetypes: the angry girl who trusts no one, the cute childhood friend who is obviously in love with the main character, and the very direct kid sister.
Apparently, it's necessary to spend part of the game getting to know the girls better. This is done by "diving" into their minds and essentially helping them with various psychological issues that haunt them. The result of doing so is that they learn better spells that can be used in battle and work better with those protecting them. My first encounter with the dive system has me under the impression that it's essentially like playing a visual novel, except with points. Doing certain things consumes points, and if you run out of points, you're kicked out of the mind (although, other characters seem to be hinting that you could also die if you run out of points... I wonder if that's the case). Anyway, so far as I can tell, this addition of psychological diving just seems to be an excuse on the developers end for adding more reason to see cutesy female magical characters in funny costumes and try to add some legitimacy to it.
Of course, being an Asian game comprised of a single man interacting with several young women means that in game conversations are going to be weird. As I am writing this, I've just encountered a young woman in a bar who is asking one female character if the main character is a gigolo >.>;; And before my first aforementioned dive session, another character used the phrase "Croix, I demand that you dive into me!", which I'm sure the localization team meant as some sort of double entendre... I do wonder about game writers some times.
I'm equally mixed on the artwork for the game. The sprites are nicely done, but the way the environments are constructed makes them look like a popup book, and not a very good one in my opinion. The assets are 2D elements that are layered in 3D, but the results are none too pleasing. Often times, there seems to be issues with characters overlapping parts of the environment that they really shouldn't.
I do like the simplified interface for navigating from one place to another in towns and on the world map. This is something I personally feel is a lot more satisfying than having to walk all over an extensive world map. So far, its difficult to get lost and I like that.
I'll continue playing the game later tonight. If something noteworthy does come up, I'll be sure to write more about it.