Button Trance: Ar tonelico 3May 8, 2010
I have had a hard time understanding precisely how I feel about Ar tonelico 3. Perhaps writing a traditional Button Trance article about it will help me figure it out.
From early on, there was a miasma of frustration hanging around the game for me. The friend in Japan I was counting on to send me my Saikyou DX Combo box still hasn’t. After a few weeks without a sign of it getting shipped out any time soon, I broke down, spent another $40 on top of the $200 I had already paid for the deluxe edition, and bought a Korean copy on eBay. When that finally arrived, my mental state was already far from the brand-new-game excitement I had initially planned for. I tried not to let it color my impressions, but the final result was disappointment anyway.
Ar tonelico 3 sure has a lot of high-tech bluish platform complexes and tunnels. Thinking back across the entire game, almost all of the dungeons that come to mind fit that description. Few give any impression that anyone had ever been there, or that they served any purpose.
The towns were as lively and fun as ever, islands of flavor among a thoroughly unmemorable world map. There was nothing like At2’s gorgeous panoramic views of Sol Ciel or its fascinating “Matairiku” worlds. I came away with almost no sense of what At3’s Sol Cluster even looks or feels like.
For much of the storyline, I had little clue of what I was doing or why. I was just getting bounced around from errand to errand, without any sense of importance to my goals. In At2, the game is right up front with its campaign against god and the realization of an ancient dream to create a new paradise. In At3, you are just kinda some dude. And you are helping some girls who are getting chased by some dudes, for some reason. Eventually you get caught up in a war, even though there don’t really seem to be many people around to fight it. Way later, when you’ve run enough errands back and forth across the tower to clear that up, you at last get to run the last few errands necessary to save the whole world.
Ultimately, I did not ever feel really present or emotionally attached to the story except for inside Tilia’s Binary Field. That was one storyline that didn’t feel like I could have made it up myself, given a couple of hours.
I can’t say I feel any closer to any of At3’s characters than I did at the beginning of the game, with the exception of Tilia. I followed Saki’s path, and made it all the way through her Cosmosphere, but she still seemed like exactly the same person at the end of it. I had nothing like the affection and respect I had for Chroche-sama at the end of At2, or for Shurelia-sama at the end of At1.
As for Tilia, It was lovely to participate in the story of her last days as an ordinary person, which was also the most compelling bit of mythos in the whole game. It was easy to get attached to her in the main story, too, probably because she stuck around as herself while the other heroines were cycling through their relatively shallow, mutually unaware alternate personalities. The result of the multiple personalities conceit was not a varied and deep main character to fall in love with, but a clique of minor characters to get acquainted with. Saki’s Cosmosphere was not an exploration of her psyche so much as it was a side mission to poke around in the mechanics of the Cosmosphere itself.
As for the 3D costume purging scenes, they ended up more tiresome than exciting. I would have much preferred some proper hand-drawn costume portraits and reward images by Nagi.
Something about the balance of item and recipe distribution around the shops and dungeons, and the apparent irrelevance of equipment and items in battle anyway, made me pretty much uninterested in crafting items at all. At some point I must have missed some important chests in some dungeon, because for the latter part of the game almost all of the recipes depended on stuff I had never heard of.
The hyuuma “collection”, which happens pretty much automatically during Dives, didn’t encourage exploration like At2’s Replekia IPD collection did. Its resulting benefit amounted to some different music during battles and some barely noticeable effects on the physical combatants, who don’t make a difference anyway.
After all that complaining, for some reason I still have fondness for the game. It is still an Ar tonelico game. The music is as brilliant as ever. I still feel like going back and completing Tilia’s path, some day when the frustration has worn off and I can play with a fresh mind. I truly hope for downloadable content and for more games in the series, hopefully with some more of the magic that they poured into the first two games. I have faith that GUST can succeed in bringing Ar tonelico to current-generation hardware, even if they didn’t quite do it this time.