Title: Ar Nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star
Developer: Gust, Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 3.0 GB
NA Availability: Digital Download | Retail (Limited Edition only)
EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes
Gust is one of those developers that have really catered to the handheld market in the West not only in this generation, but past ones too. Last gen, they made Mana Khemia: Studient Alliance for the PSP and Atelier Annie for the Nintendo DS. With this gen, well, you just start counting the Atelier games on the PS Vita. Totori, Meruru, Rorona, Ayesha, Escha + Logy, Shallie in Japan. Firis that just got announced. The list goes on and on.
Apart from the Atelier games, the PS Vita has also been graced with some more Gust RPGs set in the same universe as the Ar Tonelico series that primarily released on the PS2 and PS3. Serving as prequels is the “Surge” series, as I like to call it. This began with Ciel Nosurge in Japan and its sequel that got localized on both the PS3 and PS Vita.
Diving into a Gust RPG series that plays like a traditional RPG with combat as the focus as opposed to item synthesis, here is my review of Ar Nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star!
The story of Ar Nosurge takes place in a world where the human race no longer has a planet with which they can live on. As their previous planet began to die, the leader of the humans known as the Divine Empress used powerful magic known as Song Magic to convert their planet into energy as a means for transporting them to a new planet for them to live on. However, as this was in progress, it failed, effectively destroying their planet and forcing the rest of humanity to live aboard a giant spaceship.
Several hundred years later, humans are at war with a race of aliens known as the Sharl. While humankind is sealed inside a magical barrier around the city of Felion on their side, the Sharl and the human followers they’ve recruited into their own church are constantly attempting to get inside. You begin this game as Delta, a man whom is a former military soldier for the forces of Felion as he begins traveling to help end the Sharl threat but also to find out the true meaning behind everything that’s going on with the ship, their planet, and more.
The story of Ar Nosurge is often perceived as skeptical because it is actually a sequel to Ciel Nosurge, which never came to the West. Some believe that knowledge of Ciel is needed and, while it does help with the secondary protagonist, there are scenes that explain all you truly need to know within Ar Nosurge.
Ar Nosurge plays out like a traditional RPG with a few twists. It has turn-based combat and dungeon exploration, while the combat itself is kind of a cross between being turn-based and action-based (mostly resembling that of Valkyrie Profile). But, as far as a genre is concerned, let’s just call it a tradition console RPG.
Progression through Ar Nosurge goes in chapters, but not like normal RPGs. In Ar Nosurge, you have two teams of protagonists journeying at the same time, but in different places and following different story events. These two separate scenarios often cross with one another, with one group finding items needed to proceed the story for the other group. With the ability to “Zap” or switch control between them, completing the game is a matter of navigating through both scenarios until the game informs you that there is nothing you can do to proceed through the story until you do more with the other group.
Progressing through each group’s chapter is in the form of exploring dungeons, fighting enemies, and progressing the story. This is pretty standard for an RPG. As you play the game, more dungeons and towns will become available to you, each with shops and story-based locations for you to go to and explore.
The two biggest focuses of the game are Diving and Combat. Diving is somewhat similar to some gameplay systems of Ar Tonelico. As you talk to NPCs, you will gain the ability to “link” with the other person’s mind. You can then go to a Dive Shop and pay money you earned from battles to dive into that character’s sub-conscious mind.
These dives play out as individual storylines that showcase the character’s personality as well as being like a story arc in and of itself. In each dive, you will be introduced to that world, learn about your role and the other characters, and be forced to take action to solve those problems to gain that person’s trust. You do this in the form of dialogue choices. In many scenes of a dive, there are dialogue choices, that sometimes cost points you earn from battle. There is one “right” choice which pushes that story arc forward. You do this until it is finished.
The interesting aspect of this dive system is that it is the only way for you to learn new skills for combat and the amount of time they can take. One of the first dives I participated in I stayed and completed in one shot, which took me over an hour to do. When I say they’re like their own stories, they truly are. They aren’t two or three scenes and a skill. It’s long and in-depth to really immerse you in that character’s mind.
Aside from skills, these dives also give you special orbs based on memories you can use to “Purify” a group. This entails going to a purification site to talk with various characters about story events as well as using the orbs to give special stat boosts and effects to your playable characters.
Combat is another thing. Above, I mentioned it was similar to Valkyrie Profile. When you go into a battle, you will choose a Song Magic skill to use for that battle. You only have one by default and earn others by completing Dives. Once you choose a skill, the battle begins where there are waves of enemies in front of you, representing all of the random encounter enemies for the entire dungeon.
When your turn comes up, you have limited numbers of attacks and your end goal are to “Break” enemy defenses. This has two benefits. First is that a broken enemy has their defense severely damaged, making all of your attacks do huge amounts of damage. However, if you complete an entire wave before the enemy goes or are lucky when a broken enemy is destroyed, the turn restarts, giving you an extra turn.
This is important because non-boss fights have turn limitations. Every time the enemies move, your max number of turns decreases. So, if you want to knock out everything at once, you have to be good at strategizing and getting those breaks easily. There’s also a gauge showing how much your Song Magic has grown in the form of %. You can unleash Song Magic at any time once you fill up a gauge by fighting. Once unleashed, the song will wipe out whatever % that enemy gauge is on.
Defending is also important, as only one healing item may be used per turn. When the enemy moves, you will have a certain number of defends to defend against their attacks. Timing is key here and the four health bars that are taken down from enemy attacks are barrier-locked. This means that if you take damage just past the first barrier, no healing item can restore that lost barrier. You have to be careful about this, especially in boss fights.
After a battle is over, you gain money and experience. You’re also graded. The better you do, the better multiplier you get. The multiplier will increase Experience gained. If the battle gives you 500 EXP and you get an S Grade on the battle, it’ll give you a 4x multiplier, giving you 2,000 EXP instead of the 500.
This is also where I need to tell you about difficulty spikes. Normally at the end of a chapter, there will be sections where you will gain huge amounts of experience from battles. When this happens, it means that there is about to be a huge difficulty spike in boss and enemy alike. In these situations, it is best to take some time to grind for levels to prepare. I’m not talking hours of grinding, but enough to take advantage of that higher EXP. Some of the areas where the difficulty spikes happen upgrade all normal enemy hordes to be a lot harder as well, making leveling for a boss very difficult. Just a piece of advice. When you suddenly get a lot of EXP, either make a backup save or take advantage of it.
There isn’t a whole lot else to say, so let’s get to length. When I finished up the game, my save file was at 34 hours. Granted, I did not work very hard at getting items for the extra endings, so if you do want a full experience and want the true ending and I was just barely leveled enough to handle the final boss, the game may very well take a good 40 hours to complete.
After you complete the game, there is no New Game Plus. You just unlock artwork among other things in the EXTRA menu of the Title Menu. All you do after is on previous save files to work on different endings, or start the game from scratch.
Ar Nosurge is fully compatible with the PlayStation TV (While the Japanese Ciel Nosurge is not, just in case you’re thinking about importing it), though it doesn’t use any special buttons. The game doesn’t use any touch controls, so there’s no need to worry about an awkward PSTV experience.
The D-Pad doesn’t do anything outside of menus, but the Analogs have the common features. The Left Analog moves you around while the Right Analog can zoom with the camera. The two triggers are used for combat, allowing you to access powerful skills once your Song Level is high enough. X lets you talk to NPCs or choose options in the menu while the Circle button lets you jump in the field or cancel menu selections. Triangle brings up the customization menu and the Square button lets you see small dialogues between party members in dungeons.
Visually, the game looks great, as all Gust PS Vita games do. There is a lot of detail and the cel-shading is done really well. Just as the Atelier games do, Ar Nosurge looks visually beautiful on the PS Vita and PSTV both.
I will also note that the game has a really immersive soundtrack. For a game about using Song for magic, it does have some brilliantly-composed vocal pieces thrown in. From Class: Ciel no Surge to Class: Expaja, there’s a lot that a game music fan can enjoy.
Now let’s get onto the issues present in the game. First, audio. I don’t have many complaints about the voice work, but there are a lot of scenes where the voice-work do not match the dialogue they’re supposed to be saying. If you read along and listen to the dub, you’re going to get confused.
Now, the big problem is frame-rate. I recently reviewed Atelier Sophie, which had a much smoother frame-rate than past Gust titles, but Ar Nosurge does not. There are a lot of frame drops and some of them are pretty substantial. At one point, I was in a battle and the game would literally drop down to 0-5 fps for a couple seconds for the course of the entire battle. Granted, this didn’t happen very often, but it gives you an idea. The Vita struggles to run the game.
Ar Nosurge is one of those games that I really had the feeling it was a special kind of RPG. While the Vita version suffers quite a lot from big frame drops and mismatched voice-work, I think any Gust or science fiction fan should take a look at it. Technical problems aside, it’s one of those stories that you just don’t come across often in gaming anymore.