Now I know I’m way behind the curve on this one, but a while back I decided that I practically live like a hikikomori, so I might as well see what their games are like. Not dating games mind you, since I consider that particular brand of storytelling to be suicide inducing. There have been all these funny hybrid titles like Hero Breeder(aka Record of Agarest War) and Ar Tonelico where there is normal jrpg-style gameplay mixed in with the romancy bullshit so I figured I would just wade in.
First I took a detour to Xenosaga, but found the actual gameplay to have aged badly to the point of being unplayable. Eventually I ended up at the Domo Carrier fight and didn’t want to continue.. around that same time I found all kinds of crazy playthroughs and even an animated series online, so I opted to go that route to finish up.
Then I tried Record of Agarest War, and I still haven’t recovered. I got like 15 hours in playing it like a normal JRPG, then had to consult a walkthrough for something I was stuck on, and it told me I had so thoroughly screwed myself by using too many turns that I could not get any but the bad ending, and I would miss about half of the triggered events. Well golly game, thanks for telling me there was a turn limit.
Getting back to the point, though, Ar Tonelico is a PS2 title that has surprisingly aged well with regard to gameplay. This is because the gameplay is for the most part fluff. None of the battles I’ve been in so far has been hard, their main purpose being to earn items and Dive Points so that you can rape the minds of your little willing caster girls. By this I mean Reyvateil, who are girl-robots who sing spells to save the world etc. Still, the way various functions and character upgrades and so on work well and intuitively, which is the exact opposite of Xenosaga. The load times are curiously bad on certain menus, but it is liveable.
Inside each reyvateil is a Cosmosphere, which is the ‘item world’ inside of their mind. Unlike item world, there is no series of battles or any of that, just a bunch of click through dialogs that consume your dive points and tell an ongoing story of the reyvateil. This is where the problems start. Contrary to all logic, sometimes your dude, Lyner, is just outright unsupportive or does the opposite of what he should in order to support the reyvateil, but somehow it always works anyway. Aside from being somewhat infuriating, it seems almost as though the authors are trying deliberately to break the way your brain processes logic. Either that, or Japan is way more messed up than I thought and this is just how things work there. Patriarchal overtones are splattered all over the place, as in ‘Don’t do what you think is best, do what Lyner thinks is best.’ The way the reyvateils eat it up raises the creepy scale to uncomfortable levels for sure.
Out in the real world, it’s about the same.. Lyner goes out of his way to be a jackass, the reyvateil either fawn over him or are play-mad at him, or the contrived shy-shit, with the same inevitable result: You take them out on a few battles, then you’re inside their brain, then you’re shoving phallic crystals into their bodies. It’s ok, though.. according to Aurica, it only hurts the first time.
Creepiness vs curiosity is an ongoing battle in my mind about continuing this thing, I’ve yet to see which will win.