Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia appears to be a subpar RPG that is not worth a second look by many RPG fans because of its 2D graphics, but I'm here to tell you that not everything can be judged on looks alone. From the moment you begin Ar Tonelico, you will be drawn into the world and identify with the characters. A "diamond in the rough" to be sure...
Story: You begin the game as Lyner Barsett, Apostle of Elemia, which is a kind of knight charged with defending the world from a group of villians known as the viruses led by a mysterious individual from behind the scenes. You begin the game much like other RPGs where you are introduced to the main character and you are given some information about the world, but things quickly turn to worse. After some quick battles and a little prologue, you are taken to the world below in which you must find the hymn crystal which is the source of defeating the viruses, but you must act quickly because time grows short. Along the way you will be introduced to many awesome characters that will help you in your cause including Reyvateils, the source of Ar Tonelico's most interesting gameplay feature.
Gameplay: Fortunately the people at Gust know that not only do a original and innovative storyline make an RPG but great gameplay is also a part of the equation. As I mentioned before, Reyvateils (a sort of artificially made cyborg girl with the power of song magic), are the source of the games most innovative feature. You slowly become better and better acquainted with two Reyvateils, Misha and Aurica (and a third called Shurelia if you do a few special prerequisites). To gain better magic and more costumes you must "Dive" into the subconscious of your new found lady friends to help them overcome their mental problems, things like being afraid of the dark or being afraid of being alone. As you help them through their problems by "Diving" you gradually make them like you more and more, similar to a dating-sim. Also by becoming more romantically involved with your characters helps in other things like Grathmelding, a form of alchemy where you mix various items you gather on your quest to make more and better items. This system helps to add to the gameplay and have you constantly looking for new items and recipes so you can make stronger weapons, armor, or even something to make your girlfriend smile. This new idea helps to set Ar Tonelico apart from your average RPG and ultimately becomes its strongest benefit besides its great story.
Controls: Controls are not anything new here. You use the analog sticks to move your character, press the X button to talk to other NPCs, press the triangle button to call up your menus, and the L2 button to call up your map. Battles play out with a front and back row dynamic where 3 front row party members help to protect one back row Reyvateil, who's only ability is to sing to help the party. While the Reyvateil sings songs that summon monsters, cures the party, or casts protecting magic on them a power gauge is constantly filling itself until you give the order to unleash the spell. Just keep in mind that while your Reyvateil is singing, she is also losing magic points, and you need to monitor it or she will eventually pass out from using too much power.
Graphics: The graphics are not Final Fantasy quality, but they serve to do the characters and their environments justice. The environments are stunning from the industrial city of Firelfy Alley to the ruins of the Hexagonal Plate, and you find yourself going deeper and deeper just to explore them. As 2D graphics go these are the top of the line, and every character is vivid and dynamic and are easy to look at for your time in the game. If you dont like 2D games then I urge you to think about putting aside that for at least a little while to play this gem; you'll be glad you did.
Sound: The music is great, but it's not spot on in every place though. For example if a battle goes for longer than a couple minutes a somewhat vintage rap song will begin to play in the battle, which is just interesting considering that I've never heard a rap track in an RPG before. Other than a few problems with music choice in certain places, the music is overall a pleasant experience. The composer helps to convey emotion when it really counts or get your heart racing in a large scale boss battle which is a plus in my book.
Replay Value: The game has a few places where you can take advantage of branching storylines, and this adds to the replay value significantly. The dating-sim aspect helps to add to the overall replay of the game prompting you to chose a different girl to see what her storyline branch will hold. Not only that but it will take more than one playthrough to really unlock all the items and artwork found in the "Special" section of the game where you can listen to the music and see the artwork (among other things) after you complete a run-trhough of the game. All together that helps the ultimate value of this game.
Overall (8.8/10): In conclusion, Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia was a great game. Despite some people who think that all RPGs must have state of the art graphics and span 150 hours, this game will please you and leave you wanting more.