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Ar tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica
Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Gust
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia was a pretty unique game, even for the typical JRPG. Although it was still tradition RPG, it leaned heavily towards the dating sim side of things and included loads of innuendo. For the sequel, Gust could have easily upped the quirk factor - after all, it managed to grab the original a decent amount of attention. While there's a fair amount of boundary pushing, Gust instead decided to focus on the original's weaker areas, resulting in a surprisingly well-done sequel.

Ar tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica isn't a major improvement over the original's visuals, but when you consider how far it managed to push the PS2's 2D capabilities, it's understandable. Overall, the game keeps the same general style and feel; characters still have a big, bright anime feel and environments retain their combination of 2D and 3D elements. Both are a little sharper this time around and feature animation similar to Odin Sphere, so while battles aren't fast-paced, action-packed experiences, they still move really well.

Audio is a major step-up from the original. The voicework barely approached decent in the original, but with the sequel, it is top-notch. The same goes for the soundtrack, which, unlike the original, manages to establish it's own identity while still offering a wide variety of musical types.


Gameplay:
Ar tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica centers on Croix, a young knight who is charged with finding a solution to Infel Phira Dependency, a disease that affects only Reyvateils. If you played the first game, you'll remember that Reyvateils are a race of song maidens who can cast powerful magic through their songs. These songstresses were a big part of the original and find their roles expanded even more in the sequel.

The first, and perhaps biggest, change is that you now have two Reyvateils in your party instead of one. Battles are divided into two phases, attack and defend. During the attack phase, you have to press buttons in time with on-screen prompts before time runs out. Once the meter is depleted, a similar button-matching system pops up, only now you have to keep the Reyvateils protected. Timing plays a major role during this phase; screwing up the timing of a button press will tick off your Reyvateils (who will happily show their displeasure), which, in turn will affect how powerful your attacks are. The happier a Reyvateil is, the more powerful she is.

Aside from the more traditional JRPG structure, Melody of Metafalica also features a fairly in-depth dating sim. Reyvateils are sort of like pets in that the more they trust you, the more you'll get out of them. In addition to earning their trust during battles (i.e. not getting them killed), you can also speak with them at save points. As you build trust, you'll earn the chance to "dive" into your Reyvateils' subconscious, known as the Cosmosphere. While in the Cosmosphere, you will face off with the Reyvateil's inner demons and help her resolve her issues. Successfully doing so strengthens her link and unlocks new spells. At times, you'll even use the Sphere to bond your Reyvateils. Though this usually relates to story elements, it will also unlock powerful dual spells.

Melody of Metafalica continues the first game's incredibly suggestive mood. There are a few lip-locks, some highly provocative language and even a mechanic that involves bathing. It's kept PG-13 and well within line of the game's "T" rating, but even then, the game attempts to get away with as much as it can.


Difficulty:
When it comes to difficulty, nearly all RPGs have a bit of a "get what you put into it" style. This is perhaps even truer with Ar tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica. As with the last game, Reyvateils aren't incredibly strong; they won't go down as easily to enemy attacks but you still need to do everything possible to protect them.

The defense phase of combat plays out like a rhythm game. When defending, a meter appears above your characters with a series of lines, which represent enemy attacks. Pressing the face buttons in time with the lines blocks attacks. The entire system is fairly interesting, though it does require a fair amount of coordination and rhythm. While it doesn't go to the extremes as Guitar Hero or DDR, it is still challenging. Limiting the system to two buttons helps, though if you have trouble tapping your foot in time with music, you may have some problems. It won't cripple your enjoyment, though you can expect some pissed off Reyvateils.

The "dating" aspect is a major part of the entire game; it's the only way to access more powerful spells and will even impact the story. If you aren't willing to spend time developing relationships and thinking about them, you'll likely have a really tough time getting through the game.


Game Mechanics:
During battles, fighters stay in the front ranks, while Reyvateils stick to the back ranks. During the attack phase, fighters can attack or use a Reyvateils to cast a spell. When using physical attacks, you can unleash different attacks with the face buttons. You can either stagger the blows with individual presses or double-up the attacks by pressing two buttons at a time. The goal is to get as many blows as possible in before the timer runs out. This requires some thought since some attack methods are more effective on certain enemies than they are on others.

When casting spells, you can either cast it immediately or wait. Instantly casting a spell results in less damage while waiting increases the damage, but takes away from your attack phase timer. Eventually, you are introduced to dual-casted spells. There are only a few of these spells in the game, but they are extremely powerful, especially when coupled with a "boost" ability. Of course, dealing massive amounts of damage requires a certain amount of skill.

Compared to the original, Ar tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica is an remarkable improvement. The theme and look will probably still keep a few players away, but if you enjoyed the first game or are just looking for something different, Ar tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica is a good pick.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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