Although most game critics claim to be free of bias, complete impartiality is near impossible. When a journalist reviews a sports game, the degree of enjoyment of the diversion will likely factor into the critique. I’ve spoke to a few reviewers who have knocked a baseball game, as the title failed to simulate the minutiae of the beloved pastime; less savant-like fans wouldn’t have noticed any mishandlings. My bias is niche games- the greater the risk a title takes, the more likely I am to enjoy it. Perhaps this stems from the countless hours spent reviewing formulaic titles; I find a bit of novelty quite refreshing. While journalistic integrity prohibits me from enjoying a title on originality alone, I can’t help but adore Ar Tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica.
As the game opens, two factions have divergent opinions on how to deal with a tyrannical goddess that is limiting the fertility of their lands. The Grand Bell seeks to obliterate the goddess, and create their own kingdom, free of oppression. Conversely, the Sacred Hand wants to avoid any conflict with the goddess; they believe that eliminating the deity may initiate the destruction of their existing world. At first, the game’s narrative seems convoluted. I didn’t initially comprehend the concept of Reyvateil- artificial life forms that can dabble in ‘song magic’. As I learned the vehicular of the game, I found myself becoming more drawn into the plot, and relished in its moral dilemmas.
One of the most obscure elements of the game is how Reyvatail are leveled up. Unlike Vanguards (humans) whose experience growth is accumulated in typical RPG fashion, you have to venture into the minds of these ladies. Reyvatail’s grow stronger as they bond with their partners, so players must navigate a grid of conversational elements. Your partner will make a comment, and the player must pick an appropriate response. Choose a reply too jarring, and you’ll get kicked out of her mind. While this element could have easily seemed unnatural and creepy, the game carefully avoids awkwardness.
Ar Tonelico 2’s battle system is nearly as unique as its mind probing. When battle erupts, your fighters hold the front lines, while the player’s Reyvatail are in the flank. Conflict is divided into two sections: an attack and defense stage. During the attack stage, players can choose from an array of attacks while a counter rapidly drains. Heavy attacks take more time, but deliver more damage so an intriguing risk/reward system challenges players. When the enemy attacks, players must sync the timing of the square button with on-screen meter. If your timing is correct, damage may be reduced or nullified.
Graphically, the game has some minor blemishes. Character art is stretched quite thin- there’s plenty of Vanguard and Reyvatail duplication. While individual units show a respectable amount of detail, each character was a minimal amount of animation frames. The game allows either English or Japanese voice work, but dialogue is inconsistently delivered. Some scenes feature spoken conversation, but others didn’t. The only other gripe was the occasional battle that presented an unforeseen spike in difficulty. The old RPG adage of saving at every available location should be heeded here.
Overall, Ar Tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica is one of the most original JRPGs we have played. The title is delightfully niche-y, and is a welcome alternative to the typical cookie-cutter fantasy dungeon crawl. From probing the minds of the game’s protagonists, to its rhythmic battle system, Ar Tonelico 2 offers a unique role playing experience that PS2 fans shouldn’t miss.