Ever wish your Japanese RPGs had more talking? How about surreal mind-diving where you explore fragile girls' deepest thoughts and slowly unlock their magical potential? That's what Ar tonelico brings to the anime-draped table - a huge focus on character development and chatting. Everything else is pretty standard stuff. Random battles, cool art design, a truly "out there" plot about viruses trying to eat all the humans in the world... you know, all the staple features you'd associate with this kind of game.
But despite its familiar appearance, tonelico manages to stay fresh and bafflingly interesting throughout its lengthy quest. A truly terrific battle system has your magic singers (called Reyva Teils) chanting in the back row while your front line dishes out swordy justice to the various monsters and henchmen that stand in your way. As you fight, you charge a meter from the left, but the longer your Reyva Teil sings, the faster she charges the meter from the right. Once the two charges meet, you open another level of attacks plus supercharge whichever spell she happens to be casting.
But without a doubt, the most intriguing aspect of the game is the whole pseudo-boyfriend fiasco with hero Lyner and the Reyva Teils. To obtain new spells, you have to literally dive into their minds and wade through their emotional baggage. Nothing makes sense at all (how about a cat riding a jewel-encrusted vacuum cleaner?), but when you sift through all the text and finally get to the end of a chapter, you learn tons of info about the girl in question and unlock new powers.