previews\ Dec 4, 2008 at 7:00 pm

AR Tonelico 2: Melody of MetaFalica - PS2 - Preview

Nearly two years ago, NIS America released an eclectic, classically designed RPG called Ar tonelico. This unusual game told the story of the Reyvateils, a unique sub-species of humans that could cast magic with the power of song. Though not a success story on the level of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, Ar tonelico managed to captivate the hearts of those who took the time to play through its journey.

Ar tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica continues the saga with an epidemic that threatens to wipe out the Reyvateils. Known as Infel Pira Dependency, the reason for the infection has yet to be determined. But there’s a cure and it’s applied in a very strange way, one that makes me wonder what the ESRB rating will be for the final version, if that’s any clue. This isn’t the final build but there has been quite a bit of innuendo thus far.

Whatever path the game takes in this area, the overall story is coming along nicely. The dialogue is pretty good, and there are considerably more story sequences interspersed between missions than you’ll find in the average RPG – a definite plus for those who want to be swept away by something other than a battle system.

But actually, it is very easy to get swept away by these battles, which use a system that could be described as an intriguing variation of the “Tales” series from Namco Bandai. Battles feature two distinct phases: attack and defend. The first is where you’ll attempt to damage your opponents using the X button (for one character) and the square button (for another character) to launch individual attacks. The attack phase does not end after a certain number of attacks – instead, it concludes when a short, six-second timer runs out. In that time, players can attack in combination (press the X and square buttons simultaneously) or stagger their assault to form a different strategy. Both have their advantages, as you’ll want to get in as many hits as possible before the attack phase has ended.

The two main attack (and defend) characters stay in the front during battle but players can also cast magic using a Reyvateil. At any time during the attack phase, press the circle button to bring up the magic screen. Every available spell will be listed here and may be selected. But selecting an attack now will not necessarily trigger a launch in combat. First, its power begins to charge. You may unleash the spell instantly by pressing the circle button again, but that will take time away from your attack phase. Also, the spell will be its weakest at this time. However, if you select a spell at the beginning of the attack phase (the selection process does not count against your attack phase timer) and spend the rest of your time attacking physically, you can unleash the spell just before the timer ends for a powerful last-minute blow.

Once the attack phase ends, you’ll be tasked with the job of defending your Reyvateils. This occurs during the defend phase, where two small meters appear over your two physically-attacking characters. As the enemy strikes, thin lines scroll across the meter. Just like a music game, your job is to tap the X and square buttons (often simultaneously) as the lines pass through the defend area (basically a thick line) of the meter. Each line that passes through counts as one individual attack, so it’s important to stay active. Miss and the enemy attacks with full force. But if you’re successful the damage will be somewhat reduced.

It’s hard to say if this system – which may be perceived as a mini-game – will have what it takes to keep the player entertained for the entire duration of the game. But it has been very engaging in this preview build, and is a nice change of pace from the usual breed of RPGs.

Graphically, Ar tonelico fans can look forward to more of the same. The in-battle animations are solid, and the adjusted exploration layout (the levels are now played from a side view – you can still go into the environment like a 3D game but they have the appearance of a side-scroller) is superior to the original.

Due for release in January 2009, Ar tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica looks to bring another round of role-playing greatness to PlayStation 2. Stay with GameZone for more in the coming weeks.

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