RPGs are a wonderous thing. They show us a myriad of worlds full of creatures, characters and chaos that has no possible chance of existing in our own. So we play these games, escape the daily grind. But have you ever wondered about the view from the other side of the screen? What would these characters think if they knew they were nought but playthings for himanity? What would they do once they found out?
Welcome to Ar nosurge, a complicated story that contains within it one of the most interesting concepts I have ever seen in a game. Now this facet of Ar nosurge isn’t explicitly revealed until a ways into the game, so if you’re not one for spoilers, maybe skip to the next paragraph. Hinted at with the introduction of the playable character Earthes, Ar nosurge features a powerful plot device known as Interdimend. This force is one explained to connect the dimension of the game to one higher: the 8th Dimension. Or, more specifically, our dimension. Yeah. As in you, me, this. Earth. Reality. So I welcome you again to Ar Nosurge, a world where you are just as important as the other characters…because you are one. Fourth wall be damned. It is due to the power we have to view this world that we can assume control of Earthes, our avatar. Having built said robot, Ion is more than aware of our involvement, putting her just a step ahead of some of the other characters in formulating a plan. But what of the other character we can control? What of Delta, one with his own identity, his own thoughts? That my friends, is where Interdimend takes a dark turn. That is where we are shown the reality that does/would/could exist for a sentient game character. Throughout the story, Delta often spaces out, coincidently right after we are forced to make a dialogue choice. Putting two and two together, its not to hard to realise what is going on…then the game puts it into words. Delta eventually reveals that has been drifting further and further away from his body since we’ve been in control, to the point that he can no longer see, instead being guided by an unseen force throughout his journey. Way to make me feel like a monster, game. So for the first time I can recall, we find ourselves with a protagonist who actively fights against you. It’s meta personified.
Thus concludes my probably-too-long description of Interdimend. It’s just that it’s such an interesting concept, I really enjoyed that aspect of Ar nosurge. Unfortunately for the rest of the game, they didn’t do the greatest job at holding up against this.
Story. Story, story, story. It’s a crucial part of any RPG experience, it’s what keeps us truckin’ along between each enemy encounter, each dungeon crawl, each increasingly aggravating fetch quest. It leads us in, engrosses us…or at least its supposed to. Now in all fairness I did learn that this game is a sequel to another title, but in all unfairness said game was never release outside of Japan. So don’t be too alarmed if it feels like you’re jumping into the middle of a story, beacause you are and it will feel that way. Despite the game referencing events that have already occurred in the timeline, it never really felt like they wanted to put aside the time to tie stuff together. You can certainly play through this story without too much trouble, but it wasn’t until well into playing that I started to get a handle on things, however tenuous that was. Even events that occurred within this game, separate from its prequel felt a little confusing at times, most of this stemming from a distinct lack of impact when it was needed. Moments that turned the tide of the plot were glossed over, brushed aside or just straight up ignored. The game also seemed to have too many climactic style moments too early on. Both boss fights and dialogue near the start of the game felt like they would be better suited for later on. I’m all about characters actually defining their relationship instead of beating around the bush like far too many others do, but I hadn’t learned to feel for these characters yet. Not as much as was needed for a proclamation of love to really possess the emotional weight it deserved. Though I suppose this could be the side effect of joining the second game in a series.
Another factor that caused Ar nosurge’s lack of impact were the visuals. Now on their own there isn’t anything wrong with the visuals presented, the environments and character models (of the main cast) are varied enough to remain interesting, whilst still feeling like they belong together. So no problems there. The issue more lies in the implementation of sequences. Dramatic exchanges are relegated to the realm of near static character models, who occasionally break into predefined animations. This is especially apparent when characters are supposed to be engaged in combat, as it is represented by one model sliding over to the other while an explosion occurs. Now I understand the visual novel style of some RPGs, but when combined with the overall lack of impact within the rest of the game it’s sort of hard to look at these moments favourably. Though, ironically, the few sequences that feature no movement at all do stand out as positives. The screen will sometimes cut to a 2D still of whatever is happening, whilst the text continues to scroll. It allows us to witness some actual emotion come from these characters since, now that I think about it, the 3D models don’t exactly convey emotion too well.
I think some of the blame for the luke-warm execution of events would also have to go to the voice acting or, more specifically, the lack of it. Though characters all had a voice of their own, I feel that they didn’t really get enough of a chance to show it. Dialogue is important to this game, they even specifically make a point of allowing your travelling companions to chime in with thoughts as you explore the overworld, though none of it is voiced. Ok, I understand that some lines just aren’t spoken in RPGs, but there are too many moments left mute that could’ve been made better with voices. Namely, every word spoken in the Dives (Which I’ll explain in a bit). They were prime real estate for holding back tears and smiling despite yourself. They just could’ve used that extra little push that vocal talent provides. On a more positive audio note, the music used throughout the game was pretty damn cool. Due to the nature of characters powers (Song Magic), the songs utilised ran the gamut of musical styles, adding a bit more personality to the already unique Magics used in battle. Plot related songs tended to lean towards the operatic spectrum, providing echoed choruses and rather haunting enunciations. It’s no real mystery why they didn’t mess with any of the songs, leaving them in their original Japanese form. Though I will admit that the game had a tendency to play these songs with a volume equal to, or louder than, the characters voices. So it can be a bit of a strain to hear dialogue.
Ok, gameplay. Despite my rather negative points thus far, the gameplay of Ar nosurge was not an issue with me, on account of it being pretty fun. The game takes a traditional turn-based stance, pitting you against wave after wave of enemies that you randomly encounter in the overworld. However, unlike most RPGs, each area contains a counter that announces how many waves of enemies are present. Reduce this number to zero and you’re free to run around without fear of attack, until you move onto the next area of course. Continuing this trend of being different, Ar nosurge also challenges you to fight every single wave in one glorious battle. Defeating one cluster (placed on a 3×3 grid) will cause the next to slide forth (though the game is nice enough to give you an overview of how many enemies will appear in the upcoming waves), repeating until you beat them all, or until the turn counter runs out. Yeah, each time you fight you are given a limit of seven turns to win. Fail to defeat every enemy and the battle ends, netting you whatever experience you accrued and sending you back to the overworld. Though your struggle was not for naught, as the enemy counter will go down, along with your chances of running into the remaining enemies.
Combat itself is fought with a predetermined set of attacks, each locked to the cross, square, circle and triangle buttons. Each of these attacks possess a counter, showing you how many times they can be used per turn. Use up all your moves and it’s the enemies time to stike. However, during your turn it is revealed which enemies will attack next, allowing you to focus your strikes and, should you break their defence or kill them, extend the duration of your turn. Whilst you (via Earthes or Delta) attack, your partner (Ion or Cass) will stand behind you. As you increase the Burst Gauge and build combos, your Harmo Level with them will increase. Once a certain level is reached, they will begin to cast Song Magic to damage the enemy. A secondary gauge, represented by a percentage under the enemy wave overview, will also continue to increase as you fight. Once it reaches 100% on a wave, it will begin again on the next. Once your happy with how much the gauge has grown, you can activate your final Song Magic, a powerful attack that decimates the enemy, dealing damage equal to the percentage that has built up. Thus, should you notice the gauge max out, you can effectively eradicate every single remaining wave in one glorious attack. It is immensely satisfying.
With Song Magic being so important, there is more than one available to you for use in battle…you just have to earn it first. At specific shops, you are able to Dive into your partner’s mind, initiating a visual novel style investigation into their psyche. These stories often feature exaggerated representations of characters and give you some insight into the character you hold closest. Dialogue within these worlds often branches down multiple paths, forcing you to make choices in order to progress the enclosed story. Should you manage to find the correct path, you will be rewarded with a new Song Magic to use in battle. It’s honestly a pretty cool way to strengthen your character, providing a more in depth look at the character’s own insecurities, presenting them as more complete personalities. This concept also carries over into the Purification Ceremony, in which you can view numerous conversations between partner characters, revealing more about themselves and their bond with one another. As their bond grows, their hearts open and you are able to attach more stat boosting crystals to them, which are obtained as side effects of the Dive. Combat enhancements on the other hand follow a more traditional, less emotional route…kinda. Through Synthesis, you are able to take objects found in the overworld, or won from battle, and forge new items to assist you, such as healing packs or attack boosters. More permanent items may also be created and equipped to you character, drastically improving their combat efficiency. Seriously, do not forget to do this, it’ll help a lot. As you unlock more Synthesis options in each of the four shops, a side story will also unfold around you, hence my statement about it being kinda less emotional than Diving. Not that it isn’t a nice touch.
Well, there you have Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star, a game that presents one of the most interesting plot points I’ve ever seen. Period. Unfortunately, there are a number of other factors holding the game back from being as great as it could’ve been. Though not a bad in itself, the execution of the game’s plot left much to be desired. Moments that should’ve left me stunned were severely muted, rarely receiving the attention they deserved. Which honestly upsets me more than it makes me angry. I can see the potential that Ar nosurge possessed to be a game that everyone talked about, that made everyone rethink what they assume about games and showed that stories can still surprise you. Unfortunately it just fell shy of that. Existing instead as a good game that could’ve been great.
Dive into the official site and Weave your own Song. Or buy the game. Either’s fine.