This is the sequel to the first Ar Tonelico and improves upon it in almost every way possible. Although it does tell a standalone story, playing the games in order is still recommended because the worldview in the series is very intricate and terms and locations are expanded on from AT1. Either way, the fantasy sci-fi setting is highly detailed and the dynamics between the heroines are better.
While the first game took place on the Tower of Ar Tonelico and the floating land that it supported, AT2 brings us to a far away floating land called Metafalss, where the Tower it surrounds is nowhere to be found and the citizens are set on going to war against the Goddess. Metafalss is a piece of artificial land where crops barely grow and the population is becoming too high for what the land can sustain. Long ago when they tried to sing Metafalica to bring upon a land of paradise, they were denied it by the Goddess, and the world today is run by two opposing factions: the Grand Bell who rules the land and is trying to wage war against the Goddess, and the Sacred Army who supports the Goddess.
In addition to the war against the Goddess, the world is also plagued by IPD outbreaks, a disease limited to Reyvateil that will cause them to lose control of their emotions and unleash destructive power. The Grand Bell is in charge of subduing and quarantining IPD Reyvateils, and included in their teams is the rookie knight protagonist, Croix. However, his mission changes when he gets called to protect the Holy Maiden Cloche from assassination attempts by the Sacred Army. They find refuge with his childhood friend and sort-of girlfriend Luca, and try to make their way back to Pastalia, where the Grand Bell resides. However, none of the organizations are what they seem like on the surface.
The story maintains a good pacing for the most part (exception is phase 2), and has a much more engaging and grandiose plot than its prequel. The details are more complex and the plot elements are a lot less cliche. It might lose some of the traditional RPG adventure charm introduced in the first game, but the story is better paced on a whole and the fantasy sci-fi setting is expanded on even more. The game does more interesting story-related things with its Cosmosphere system. The game is also around 10 hours longer.
The game is structured so that you can only fully complete one Cosmosphere per playthrough and you are locked out of the other girls’ Cosmospheres’ later levels so the protagonist never gives off the dense and indecisive impression. It is possible to delay making a decision until the final save point, but at the very least, one of the four total endings will be locked out each playthrough due to an early-branching plot.
Croix is a rather likable and unusual protagonist compared to the oblivious Lyner who was about as interesting as a log. Croix is more observant of his surroundings, a good deal less dense, and maintains a cool and calm demeanor even if he gets his hot-blooded protagonist moments. He is also very snarky when it comes to the synthesis conversations with heroines, and actually shows emotion during key romantic scenes. Overall quite a good protagonist who is entertaining when he needs to be, but never steals too much of the spotlight. He’s also got an unusual character design. A main character with a bowlcut, spear, and actually changes into casual clothes with glasses when not fighting!?
This time the heroines are more interesting because of their strong interactions with each other and not just the protagonist, and there is a good deal more tsun than the previous game (bonus point for me). The two main heroines are, simply put, polar opposites. Whether it be social standing, values, surface personality, or hidden sides, they are completely different and the two hardly get along. As a result, they give a much stronger lasting impression than the previous game.
Luca is Croix’s childhood friend who is pretty much his girlfriend at the beginning of the game. She works as a Dive Therapist, which is an illegal and apparently immoral job as seen by Cloche. If I had to describe Luca, I would say she is like a “real girl” as opposed to a 2D ideal that one would normally expect in a galge. Although she acts sweet on the outside, Luca tries to pursue nothing beyond superficial relationships with others. She isn’t above acting nicer than who she really is to get what she wants, even to Croix. With a believable cynicism that comes with her poor upbringing and cold relationship with her mother, Luca is an interesting take to the supportive childhood friend archetype.
Cloche, sitting at the opposite end, is the prideful Holy Maiden with a high social standing and a huge political burden under her. Having to live with high expectations, lack of personal freedom, and acting against her personal wishes for the people and the “greater good,” Cloche is torn between her obligations and personal desires. Believing her title as the Holy Maiden to be her entire identity, she is more fragile and pure than she lets on. Even so, she truly wants to bring forth Metafalica for the people, and clings on to her strength and beliefs even when under pressure. I went for Cloche at the route split and have no regrets because she is a great heroine.
The Third Reyvateil is introduced much earlier this time, and has a full Cosmosphere with actual costumes to be used in battle, feeling much more like a proper heroine. She is also my favorite character due to her awesome conversations with Croix, and plot relevance for anyone who has played Ar Tonelico 1. It’s hard to say a lot without spoiling, but Third Reyvateil is the best girl. Damn, I’m seeing a pattern in my preferences here…
The other party members all have their moments, but generally take a backseat to the heroines. They have more involved backstories than their AT1 counterparts, but their personalities are less entertaining than Jack and Krusche from the first game. Best vanguard party member is Cocona because twintail imoutos are great. Plus she’s a Reyvateil who learned physical combat because she’s not old enough to properly use song magic, and manages to keep up with trained knights in battle.
This game got a complete overhaul in terms of battles. Instead of the 1 Reyvateil + 3 Vanguard setup in AT1, you now have 2 of each, and one Vanguard is supposed to protect one Reyvateil. The battles are a sort of turn-based real-time, where you have an Attack Phase and Defense Phase. In attack phase you use the X and square buttons to control the Vanguards and the O button to change/execute the Reyvateils’ song magic. The Vanguards will execute different attacks depending on the direction button you press in combination with X or square, raising either Harmoics, Burstech, Psyche, or Care. Fill them all out before the phase ends and you can execute an EX attack.
In Defense Phase, the Vanguards must guard the Reyvateils, who will be constantly targeted. Enemies will tend to attack in some rhythmic fashion, and guarding works like a simple rhythm game where you hit the X or square button when the bar reaches the right spot in order to guard. A perfect guard will result in taking no damage, whereas a great guard reduces damage taken and the good guard reduces less. Bad and terrible guards will result in both the Vanguard and Reyvateil taking full damage. For the most part the guarding patterns are not too hard, but the game likes to lag during flashy animations, which tends to throw you off rhythm.
It’s a more involving battle system than AT1’s that tends to get button mashy, but is rather unique. Difficulty is still low, and there’s even an Easy mode (which I never needed to use because Normal is easy enough).
Synthesis + Customization:
This is the one element which AT1 did better. The customization has a lot less freedom due to completely doing away with Grathnode crystals, and synthesis no longer has quality levels. You can only craft your items inside certain shops, and usable recipes are spread out across 4 shops instead of being available at any save point. The fun thing is that each recipe will turn out different depending on which heroine you make it with, and everything comes with a funny conversation involving Croix, the heroine, and the shopkeeper. Some shops limit the heroines that can synthesize there (for example, Luca cannot make weapons and Cloche cannot cook), so if someone is out of the party you will find yourself unable to make things you need.
Reyvateils level up and gain temporary magic upgrades by bathing with Dualithnode crystals, which also results in some coversations amongst them but has less player control and freedom compared to AT1’s Grathnode crystal insertion. Vanguards are powered up through the Girl Power system, where they equip a supporting IPD who has been cured by therapy and they give a fixed set of bonuses.
Throughout the various dungeons you will run into Reyvateils who are infected with IPD. You can fight them, contain them, and later give them therapy so they can join you for Girl Power support, giving your Vanguards bonuses such as added elemental attacks or increasing the timeframe for perfect guards. The IPDs range from level 1-9, with level 9’s being incredibly strong until late-game. The fights are fun when you first fight a strong IPD, but they eventually turn out to be all the same.
Visuals + Audio:
The vocal tracks are still just as great, and the normal battle BGM has gotten better since they did away with the annoying rap battle music. There are more vocal tracks here and they ended up being more memorable because the game as a whole is, but that is highly subjective.
The visual style is the same as the first game’s, but the sprites and backgrounds are sharper and the 3D parts look more polished. Character designs got more detailed, and the artist’s art style is beginning to look more delicate with thinner lines and cleaner coloring. The sprites still have the oddly large hands and feet, but that’s easier to ignore with time.
A great improvement upon the first game, which I already liked despite its flaws for its setting and characters. This time the battle system is faster and more unique, the protagonist is more likable, and the heroines have more memorable interactions. The plot has a certain grandeur and complexity that was missing in the first game which excelled in traditional charm, as well as good pacing (especially in the beginning).
One thing to take note of is the shoddy localization job, which introduces some bugs and freezes, as well as awkward wording, mistranslations, typos and inconsistent terminology use, and severe quality drops at several points. They try to ramp up the innuendo even though this game is actually more serious than the first, and plenty of sentences simply don’t flow well. There are also a good deal of pronoun errors like using “he” to refer to a female, and they cut out a good chunk of Japanese voice acting to either match the English or give it more space to fit the English voice. I tend to put my games on Japanese voice so I can follow the original script during conversations while comparing it to the translation, so that was a disappointment. Plus the English script ranges from mediocre but functional to outright terrible, and barely even tries to convey the nuances and distinct elements in each character’s speech. The localization quality declines as you progress further.