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Ar tonelico - hands-on

When you hear "PS2 RPG," the first two words that spring to mind are likely going to be "final" and "fantasy." But there is a world beyond those CG-rich epics, populated by crisp, hand-drawn artwork and 16-bit-style values that never seem to go out of style. Last year we saw Atelier Iris 2 deliver that kind of old-school adventure, and in 2007 fans can expect Ar tonelico to do the same.

We all know what to expect in the way of story (cheesy), music (catchy) and graphics (cutesy), so let's jump right into the most important part of any RPG - the battle system. Yeah, the fights are random, but as with Iris 2 there's a meter that represents the total amount of monsters in an area. Clear that bar and no more creatures will bother you, leaving you free to explore the forests, castles and floaty sci-fi cities you'll come across. Once inside a battle, there are many, many layers to keep track of.

The biggest chunk of fighting deals with the relationship between your party and its magical songstresses (called Reyva Teils). As they hide behind your front line, the Teils sing either offensive or defensive songs - the longer you let them go, the more powerful the resultant spells will be. Even the most basic fire bomb attack can turn into a Dragon Ball Z-caliber crater-maker, but the Teils are physically very weak and depend on the main party for defense. Successful guarding of your Teil opens a button-mashing counter attack, plus creates a stronger personal bond with the Teil.

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