previews\ Jan 7, 2007 at 7:00 pm

Ar tonelico Melody of Elemia - PS2 - Preview

What's the best thing about a Sony console reaching the end of its lifespan? You get a ton of great RPGs. Ar tonelico, the latest from publisher NIS America, is a delightful tale based on the art of singing. As crazy a concept as that sounds, it doesn’t have anything to do with Karaoke Revolution. No actual vocal performance needed. Most of the time you won’t have to use more than one hand. 

Turn-Based, Retro, and Magical

Ar tonelico is primarily a traditional console RPG. Battles are turn-based, attacks are conducted with ease, and the graphics look like they came from the 16-bit era. You won’t see anything advanced from the magic attacks – they’re strictly retro.

Ar tonelico Melody of Elemia screenshots 

The “song” element is really just another word for “magic” or “special attack.” You have your main playable characters – the ones who do most of the work. Each is able to attack with his or her designated weapon(s). Items may be applied to those weapons to increase your attack power, max HP, max MP, and to influence other character traits. It’s similar to Materia, but appears to have a limit of only four equip enhancement options. This is expanded slightly with one piece of armor, which may also feature four equipment slots, and one accessory.

Since battles are turn-based, you get to attack once for every strike your opponent makes. If you’re lucky you’ll get to strike first; that way opponents will be following your every move.

Party members who have the power to sing – a rare art that is said to have saved the world from extinction – are vital to your survival. They are the most powerful characters, but also the most vulnerable to attack. Misha, one of the warriors with miraculous vocals, may attack enemies or heal comrades during combat.

Predictable? Yes. Misha’s moves are not that different from any RPG with characters who can cast magic. But there is one notable difference. Her powers are far superior to the others, and as a result, you don’t select her every turn. Instead, players summon her powers by tapping the triangle button whenever they need a stronger ally to help them win the battle.

Ar tonelico Melody of Elemia screenshots 

Players can call upon a vocalist at any time so long as two conditions are met: (1) there must be a performer in your party, and (2) she must have MP. (Right now it appears that there are not any male vocalists.) If her MP runs out she won’t be able to sing any additional songs, crippling your combative strength.

Unlike the rest of the party, who must replenish MP (magic points) by resting at Inns or by using items in battle, vocalists regain MP automatically. They do this overtime as the others attack. Once summoned, their MP begins to drain. That’s where the risk comes in, but also where you most benefit. The potency of her attack starts to multiply as soon as the attack is selected. It is not actually used until you press the triangle button a second time and activate the song command. Watch the MP gauge closely and trigger the song just before her magic is fully depleted. As experience points are gained and her level grows, her MP will grow, increasing the time that you can spend building her attacks before unleashing them.

Land Hopping

Unlike most RPGs, where the world map is a large, central place for battle and exploration, Ar tonelico gives you a simple hub that lets you instantly jump from one place to the next. Land hopping occurs on two levels – first on the world map, and then in each individual location (forests excluded). Once inside a city or a village, players will continue to click their way through the area. There is a little exploration involved within each sub-area, a concept that will hopefully be expanded on in the final version.

Ar tonelico Melody of Elemia screenshots

Identity Theft

There once was a man named Item. His identity was stolen, and when he went to the police, they filed his case under “Item Forgery.”

Jokes aside, Ar tonelico does put a strong emphasis on item forging, a task you’ll complete by scavenging the world for recipes and the key ingredients that go into making items. Some of the items you can forge can be purchased. But if you make them yourself, you know exactly what ingredients are used – and how much potential the item may have. By forging items yourself, you may maximize the effect it has on your party members.

Ar tonelico Melody of Elemia screenshots

Rushing into stores next month, Ar tonelico’s retro gameplay (and graphics, music, and everything else) should appeal to nostalgic role-players everywhere. Look for it in early February.

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