Grief brings us together, it’s part of the human condition and what makes us the creatures we are. Sadness is no stranger to video games either, the many flavors of sorrow have painted a picture of dejection on screens almost since games first became a storytelling medium. The entirety of the Shin Megami Tensei series and its spinoffs, a few of the Final Fantasy games, Metal Gear Solid, and the Silent Hill series are all perfect examples of the different shades of misery that developers have employed to give their games that extra punch, that permanence in the mind of people who play them by associating the games with a heartache leaves an impression on all but the most stoic people.
“I won’t scatter your sorrow to the heartless sea, I will always be with you.”
One might remember the Ar tonelico games, the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 RPG series that, while no stranger to despondency, wasn’t particularly acclaimed or even well known in the west as the games previously mentioned. The Ar tonelico series was, however, fairly unique in the way dealt with concepts that few games had dared to explore to such a deep extent back then. Morality, the power of bonds, the schisms between different cultures and societies, psychological voyages to deep within the minds of our protagonists that change the way the see their world, an absolutely biblical amount of side materials that explained the universe of EXA_PICO, and a veritably gripping story were all elements that felt right at home in Ar tonelico. It was then, once NIS America localized the games, that Ar tonelico gained a fiercely loyal and extremely dedicated niche following in the west.
The developing team at GUST had been silent about the Ar tonelico series since the game on PS3 had, for lack of a better term, completely flopped. But they broke the drought and the skies opened in 2012 in Japan with the release of Ciel nosurge. Ciel nosurge was an odd game, and perhaps its oddness is a story for another day, but to make a long story short: The game was not a continuation of the Ar tonelico series, as it took place before the events of any of Ar tonelico games. However, Ciel nosurge does take place in the same universe as Ar tonelico, it deals with a fair amount of the same elements and greatly expands on the mythos and history of the series. Considering how it was a “life-sim” (think perhaps a Tamagotchi with RPG elements), the west never saw Ciel nosurge. But not all hope was lost for fans of the EXA_PICO universe. Soon after the release of Ciel nosurge was finalized GUST announced that they were working on a sequel to the game that would be a bit more traditional in terms of a Role Playing Game.
And then there was Ar nosurge. The game was released stateside fairly quietly in September 2014 for the PS3, it wasn’t advertised very much, if at all. Ar nosurge was not your standard JRPG from the seventh generation, compared to games such as Xenoblade, Ni No Kuni, the Final Fantasy 13 trilogy and the dozens more that saw English releases during the lifespan of the Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The closest comparison that comes to mind is Atlus’s masterful Persona 3 and 4 games from the PS2, seeing how both are immersive, text heavy RPGs that focus on character development.
Ar nosurge’s male protagonists, Delta and Earthes.
Ar nosurge begins with an incredible opening, a tinge of malevolent tribalism in its notes. You can feel almost as if you’re being captured or drawn into this world that, according to EXA_PICO lore, lies beyond the Seventh Dimension.
The setting of the game is not as straightforward as one might think. We learn from the first pair of protagonists, rowdy Delta Lantanoil and his partner tomboyish Casty Rianoit, that the game takes place in the Soreil, a massive colony ship in the middle of an interstellar voyage searching for a new planet that its residents may call home. However, all is not well in town, as strange creatures known as the Sharl have attacked residents in the Soreil for unknown reasons. It is then, that the player’s adventure in the world of Ar nosurge begins, as Delta and Casty search for a lost friend in the vastness of the seemingly hostile and unforgiving Soreil.
The combat is fairly simple, nothing really to write home about and standard JRPG fare for the 7th generation of consoles. You have a limited amount of attacks, that once exhausted will prompt the enemy to take their “turn” and attack in return. If you have successfully destroyed all enemies marked by an exclamation mark, you will gain an extra turn and an extra set of attacks, thus making it possible to destroy the enemy without taking any damage. Once the player is well acquainted with the gameplay, the game becomes a relaxed, downhill coast.
Ar nosurge in action, note the buttons corresponding to each attack on the lower right side of the screen.
However, one of the most remarkable and intense things about Ar nosurge is the absolutely beautiful soundtrack. The excellent song during the opening draws a picture that the rest of the game flawlessly colors in with a stunning plethora of emotional shades: a sensual passion, a deep and intimate heartache, the hooks of despair that sink into the flesh and rip through skin and tendon alike, a cold melancholy that gives you gooseflesh and runs shivers down your spine, and a pure fury that glows white hot and pristine like the beat of thunder.
Ar nosurge’s soundtrack truly runs the gamut. The track linked above, “yal fii-ne noh-iar” is one of the pivotal moments early in the game, just after the second set of protagonists, robotic knight Earthes and the innocent maiden Ionasal, are introduced. The momentous crescendo in the song ties into the end of the first “phase” of the game. It is after this introductory part that the story begins to hit you with tragedy after tragedy. The game overall is extremely text heavy, and the player is expected to do a lot of reading to fully understand just what is going on, but the plot and the characters are engrossing enough that it doesn’t seem to be an issue. With time, one begins to think of the characters in the game as old friends, and care about their ultimate fates in or out of the Soreil.
Not everything is gloom though. Another great thing about Ar nosurge is how it still manages to have excellent moments of comic relief every so often; usually in the “Synthesis” screen, where the player creates useful pieces of equipment and items to help throughout the journey to save the Soreil.
Don’t ask what Silent Green is made out of.
Without spoiling much more of the story, let it be said that Ar nosurge is not a perfect game, far from it. It clearly suffers from budget problems, as some enemies and NPCs are recycled throughout the whole game. It also has some pacing problems, as the game instills upon you a sense of urgency to finish the main task while at the same time punishing you for not taking it leisurely and crafting the best equipment before continuing. That is not to say that these faults make the game unplayable, or even bad. Ar nosurge is a complete experience, the amazing soundtrack, the touching story, and the surprises along the way make this game a must get for anyone who enjoys Japanese RPGs.
Verdict: Recommended for JRPG fans, someone looking for more action or not wanting to invest 50 hours of their life towards a game might want to look elsewhere.
Playing video games since he has a conscious memory, Bernard has fond memories of the Super Nintendo and the 16 bit MIDI symphonies emanating from it. Since then, he has acquired fairly atypical tastes in games and game music. Nowadays, you can find him dodging bullets and bobbing his head to the music in the Touhou Project, or fighting against gigantic monsters in Monster Hunter, God Eater, or Toukiden. Deep down, he believes portable consoles are king, long live the PS Vita and 3DS!