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Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star
Score: 75%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: KOEI TECMO America Corp.
Developer: Gust
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star, a prequel to the Ar Tonelico games, (itís pronounced ARE NO SURGE, by the way) is a JRPG based in space, in a futuristic realm. As such, there are plenty of appropriately futuristic looking settings, but with a bit of flair of the busy, crowded atmosphere of a city like Hong Kong or Tokyo. Thereís a hint of a cel-shaded look to the game, with anime style character designs. Symmetrical outfits are apparently looked down on with disdain in this world, as the main characters Delta and Cass seem to refuse to allow their shoes or pants to match. Oh, and butt cracks are in style.

Yes, it has to be said, thereís a lot of strangeness about butts half hanging out of some of the womenís outfits in this game. Underwear is apparently a precious commodity. Or butt cracks are looked at with, uh, respect. Perhaps in some obscure line of dialogue in the game, itís explained in the context of the world, but I didnít get to hear or read that part myself. Iíll revisit some clothing (or non-clothing) issues later, but suffice to say it wonít be long before you encounter it.

As for sound, the game starts out with ancient, tribal sounding singing in the intro. It shifts from a grand and orchestral chorus to the voice of a lone female singing and back again. For a game that relies on singing (called song magic in the game) as a game mechanic, it's a very fitting, very inspiring opening. It gives me vibes of Macross Plus, Macross Zero, and probably a dozen other games and anime where there was beautiful singing. Full disclosure: if you can link anything to the Macross universe, youíve instantly gained bonus points with me.

Many areas of the game are fully voiced, with the option of English or Japanese audio. The voice acting is decent enough, with most people sounding pretty realistic. There is not much "reading off a page" feeling here. The background music of the game is also sufficiently futuristic sounding, with hints of Star Ocean and Phantasy Star. It doesnít quite reach the brilliance of those soundtracks, but that should give you an idea of the ballpark the sound of this game is in. Then thereís the singing mechanic of the game, which I was bit disappointed with when it came up in the actual game. For the most part, song magic ends up being a cutscene with silly cartoonish singing, j-pop, or a snippet of a techno song. I was ready for some amazing, awe-inspiring vocals after that grand intro, so that was a bit of a let-down. It seems there is a lot of goofiness injected into other parts of the game, including funny dancing scenes that are triggered when you construct or cook things. I was looking for a few more serious moments after that intro, but alas, Ar Nosurge often has other ideas.

Some of the intro story for Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star is a little confusing, and seems to get contradicted later in the game. For these reasons, it takes a while to get the ball rolling, but generally the story follows a people fleeing their dying home world. When all should have been safe, they found themselves attacked by the mysterious Sharl, an alien race that resembles different kinds of fairies. A faction of the survivors split off, and began worshipping the Sharl. The group known as PLASMA now protects the city of Ferion from the Sharl and watches over the barrier that keeps them out. You come in as Delta, an ex PLASMA member, and Cass, a member of PLASMA who possesses song magic, who work together to run a mission for PLASMA. All is not as it seems, and as you infiltrate the opposing Sharl supporters, you discover that there might be deception on both sides. You also discover that there might be more to Cass and Deltaís relationship than even they realize.

Thereís some interesting world-building here as you discover what song magic really means, and how the people are connected to the ancient world they had to flee. Delta and Cass become unlikely partners. The two have to connect in whatís called a "Dive" into the songstressís head. Think drift compatibility from Pacific Rim. The more the partners sync, the more embarrassing, awful, and unsightly parts of each other they see, so it ends up being a trust issue that is hard for many to get past. Itís all set up in a way that gets you invested in learning more about Cass and Delta, and trying to persuade her mind to let you in. And thatís a great way to get you invested in the gameís dialogue and story. The relationship between the singer heroine and the defender hero should be familiar to anyone who has played Ar Tonelico or any of the other Ar games.

It should be mentioned that dialogue with anyone other than the main characters is a little pointless though. Talking to people on the street (NPCs) has a long tradition in RPGs of yielding valuable information or interesting side stories. Unfortunately in this game, it seems that people often have split personalities, talking about one thing and then switching suddenly to completely different topics. After a while, it feels like talking to them is a bit of a chore since itís hard to decipher whether their dialogue was written intentionally or just pasted together from different grab bags of dialogue.

Another thing to mention is that a lot of Japanese cultural elements in this game are left pretty much untranslated. For anime fans and JRPG fans, it should be no problem following terms like tsundere and moe. For everyone else, however, youíre going to want to keep a Google search handy as you traverse through this game.

Thereís a pretty ugly issue hiding in this game though. So this is the type of game that goes to the "peek in the shower" scene more than once. It's pretty clearly intended to be voyeuristic. What makes it a problem and not simply naughty fun is that thereís some "underdeveloped" looking girls in a lot of these scenes. Many companies who try to import materials containing this sort of content from Japan to the US often try to say the girls depicted in the scenes are over 18. But itís a cartoon, so how can you really tell but from the appearance? One particular scene depicts a girl who, in the game, is described to be of an unknown age, but older than the two main characters. Sheís also not fully human, but sheís depicted as such. It may be a gray area for some, but there are problems here, and theyíre big enough that it was difficult for me to continue playing this game. In many games, thereís adult content, thereís mischievous perverted undertones (the game has those too), and games are rated as such. But these scenes are just plain disturbing, and ratings donít tend to make fine distinctions on things such as child nudity. And no, you canít really skip these scenes when you stumble upon them. Theyíre accompanied by fairly lengthy conversations that take a while to skip through.

Itís a shame because despite that drawback, and in addition to a good story and world, thereís also a really good fighting system to this RPG as well. Again, longtime fans of the Ar series will be familiar with this, but thereís a lot happening during fights that will keep you engaged. You essentially need to protect your heroine at all times. She possesses powerful song magic that can wipe out scores of enemies, but it takes a while to charge this magic. During this time, youíll control the hero, who has several decisions to make. You can build combos to maximize damage to enemies. You can also selectively take out enemies so they wonít be a problem during the next turn. The hero can also put up a barrier to prevent damage to the heroine, but like the combos, it requires good timing to pull off. You wonít be falling asleep during any of these fights, to say the least. Then of course, thereís the satisfaction of taking out scores of enemies with song magic at the end of the fight.

There are three difficulties to choose from in Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star. Choosing the lowest difficulty, Normal, means that the game really wonít ramp up in difficulty until much later in the game. It gives you plenty of room to figure out the game and get used to it. Hard and Veteran are there if youíre really not being challenged at all. You can also change the difficulty at any time without penalty. Really, the main thing youíll notice as the difficulty goes up is that you canít quite manage to wipe out all your enemies, though that often doesnít really matter since thereís a turn limit on battles. Much of the difficulty lies in trying to improve your score, and wanting to try just one more time to do better than your last battle.

Game Mechanics:
Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star functions just fine, without many of the roadblocks that RPGs tend to run into. There are even mechanics in place to prevent you from making accidental choices when youíre clicking through a lot of text. Navigation and battles function just fine, and it doesnít feel like a chore to get from point A to point B. With a combo system that requires some pretty intense attention to timing at times, youíll appreciate that this game has its act together in that area as well.

Though there are some pretty big elephants in the room, Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star is a really enjoyable RPG. It may not be completely new to fans of the series, but then thatís not always a problem for fans. The connections between the characters kept me wanting to know more, and the battle system has some interesting complexities that make it fun to go back to.

-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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