As the epitome of niche, Ar Tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica will never enjoy mass-market appeal, and it’s kind of a shame. As far as JRPGs go, AT2 does absolutely everything right, with an innovative battle system that never seems to get old, well-developed characters, a complex yet easily-followable story, and even a well-streamlined map system that eliminates the tedium of traveling. Unless you totally hate RPGs, you will enjoy this game.
The turn-based battle system feels more actiony than your typical RPG, and each round is divided into an attack phase and a defense phase. Your party formation is made up of two components – the vanguard, who are basically meat shields fighting on the front lines of battle, and the Reyvateils (protected by the vanguard), who are magical girls with powerful “song magic” attacks that are charged by the energy of their vanguard partners.
During the attack phase, the two vanguard party members chain combos, attacking the enemy while the Reyvateils' song magic gauge builds. By pressing specific directions on the directional pad while attacking with the X and square buttons, the vanguard can perform special attacks, as well as charge the Reyvateils’ song magic gauges faster. At any time, you can release a song magic attack by hitting the circle button, and the strength of the attack will be determined by the percentage you’ve accumulated in the magic gauge. The defense phase is like a rhythm-based minigame, where waves of enemy attacks are represented by lines moving across a bar that you have to hit precisely when the lines sync up to successfully guard. It sounds simple, but it works a lot better and is less frustrating than reflex-based guard systems or trying to decipher ambiguous visual cues.
Not only is the battle system already solidly fun as-is, but AT2 rations out additions to the system at a pace that always keeps things interesting. Not just extra magic attacks and so forth – but completely novel additions like “Girl Power” where you can pick an additional Reyvateil partner to give you stat boosts, and a super powerful mega-attack called Replakia that actually pulls power from all the different Reyvateils you’ve saved over the course of the game.
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