Ar Tonelico Qoga : Gameplay
First and foremost, something that all players HAVE to know. The game takes place over the span of 4 phases, which are like chapters of the story. ATQ features multiple endings, two of which end at phase 3 – the normal endings. It leaves many loose ends, and you’ll never get to complete either heroine’s Cosmosphere.
For the true ending (i.e. proceeding to phase 4), you are required to beat one of the bosses of phase 3, MYU, in under 6 minutes. There is no timer during that battle, and the game doesn’t give you any hints either. Took me slightly under 4 minutes on Normal difficulty (thanks to the reyvateil’s charging) at around level 40, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. The rest of the choices that are required should be PRETTY obvious even to the uninitiated.
The good news is ATQ has a new game+ feature that allows you to start from the beginning of phase 1, phase 2 or right before that very battle (with your party’s experience, DP and money intact – and the added benefit of skipping dialogue and movies). You could say that’s the biggest hint the game will offer to you. And get the true end you must, for you’ll lose quite the chunk of story otherwise.
That’s all for the important bit.
Now to begin the gameplay review proper. Each of the towns featured in ATQ can be navigated over a menu, and making a selection takes you into a small area which allows you to roam around.
The camera cannot be rotated, so it’s essentially a 3D movement grid on a 2D background. Not that there’s too much to do in towns. Item stores, weapon stores, inns and dive stores will be present in every town, but each town is uniquely designed enough to stand out from each other.
Exploring dungeons in ATQ is similar to its predecessors. You run along a generally linear map to your destination. Encountering foes are based on a colored gauge on the bottom right that changes from blue>green>red as you move, indicating the % chance of encounters. Every battle reduces the gauge and resets the color until the gauge is emptied, where you’ll be free to roam around without encounters.
So a simple strategy would be to find a save point (that allows you to rest) to empty the encounter gauge before doing miscellaneous activities like hunting for treasure chests.
Battles take place on a 3D plane in real-time, and you are able to switch between vanguards, though I hardly ever see the need to. However, despite the shift, the formula to beating battles remains unchanged from the previous series.
- Stall time with vanguards to boost the reyvateil’s burst gauge
- Unleash the battle-ending song.
This is especially true later in the game, where enemies have so much health it is simply too time-consuming to chip away slowly with vanguards. A reyvateil at 2nd level purge with about 30,000% burst will wipe the floor with almost every random enemy encounter right into the final dungeon of the game (less if you’re at 3rd level purge). The vanguard’s only saving grace is their super attack that can be used once per battle and drains 30,000% of the gauge to allow them to hit for over 100k damange, important against boss battles where purging from the beginning can be a major pain.
Which brings me to the unavoidable topic when dealing with ATQ. Purging, or the removal of clothing, is probably what earned the game its mature rating, all other things considered. Basically, the ladies (and even the guys in their special moves) get stronger by revealing more skin. Though at its maximum, you’re only going to see them in swimsuit-level attire, so it’s not as bad as they make it sound.
The different personalities of the reyvateils each have a different attack animation and area-of-effect (which increases as you purge), so you get a pretty varied mix, although you will likely stick with your favourite few after a while.
Outside of battle, you also need them to remove their clothes to program higher level hyumas you unlock in the cosmosphere (more about that below). The reyvateils are not always willing, so you can give them presents to coax her into garment-removal, which is the only time where those key items (food) you buy from NPCs come into play. By the time you find the need to equip higher level hyumas though, they’ll probably do so without you asking…so it’s almost a pointless addition.
Now to talk about diving. It’s the act of getting into the minds of your reyvateil partners (called a cosmosphere) and helping them sort out their mental issues. Essentially, it can be likened to a standalone visual novel, which remains closely connected with the main story. You spend dive points (DP) obtained in battle to visit different parts of their mind, and by solving their issues you unlock hyumas, which give you bonuses for when you purge, such as increased healing.
They even included an amusing feature in the cosmosphere as seen in the screenie above – a panic button that can be activated with the press of select. It turns any screen you’re currently viewing into one picked from a series of random photos that’s totally unrelated to the cosmosphere, just in case you’re on something naughty and someone walks in… which doesn’t really happen, but they put it in anyway. 🙂
The game also includes synthesis, the only other thing in the game that uses DP and allows reyvateils to help Aoto synthesize items or combat skills (almost a must if you wish to tackle the aforementioned boss in 6 minutes). Unlike the Atelier series however, it’s a very simplified variation.
You cannot fail a synthesis, and the only point of switching between the reyvateils to perform synthesis is simply so that they can give the item a different name. Whether or not you want to use that name or the item’s original name also will not affect your relationship with them in any way.
The extras are unlocked in the main menu after you complete your 1st playthrough of the game, and offers quite a bit of everything. You can view all talk topics, movies, music and additional CG that you’ve unlocked from the game, and even revisit the cosmosphere down to the level you finished the game at.
- Story: 8/10
- Audio: 8/10
- Gameplay: 7/10
- Replay Value: 7/10
- Extras: 8/10
- Overall (not an average): 8.2/10
Ar Tonelico Qoga brings a magnificent conclusion to the Ar Tonelico series. It corrected many of the flaws of the previous games and the multiple endings will give you decent mileage with about 40 to 50 hours in your initial playthrough (till phase 4), and a good deal longer if you decide to try for all available endings.
The jRPG scene hasn’t seen a good release in a long while now, and this timely addition to the PS3 is well worth the purchase. Sifting through the innuendo will net you a well-executed story that’ll take you on an emotional roller coaster ride you’re unlikely to forget.