Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star Review

Gust has this effect on me as a gamer where I can put one of their titles down, and have that experience resonate with me for a long time afterwards. Last year’s Ar nosurge had that exact effect on me.

While I still felt it had faults, I fell in love with the story. The character development that happened during the Genometrics events were heart-rending. Words cannot describe how amazing the soundtrack is. I would still argue it is one of the best the genre has had in years (Rest In Peace, Origa).

Two months ago, Koei Tecmo announced that they would localize Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star for the West. I would have loved to see Ciel nosurge (the Japan-exclusive prequel) make the jump to fill in the blanks missing from the story. That said, I am not about to sit here and argue against having another JRPG in my library.

Arguably one of the best RPGs for 2014 makes a welcome return, but this time for the Vita.

After waking up from cryostasis, our characters find themselves stranded out in space on a giant ship thousands of years following the destruction of their home planet of Ra Ciela.

While lost in a sea of stars, a mysterious race of winged creatures, known as the Sharl, suddenly appeared. Without warning, they started to kidnap humans, spiriting them off to an unknown place.

The humans aboard the ship split into two factions. One group, fearing the destruction of their race, banded together under the banner of survival against what they deemed to be ultimately evil.

In almost cult-like fashion, a dissonant group decided to coexist with the Sharl as a means to escape hardship. What begins as a blatant act of betrayal soon becomes a case study on what false perception can lead to.

The story revolves around two different parties: Delta Lanthanoir with Casty Riernott ("Cass"), who are the primary protagonists, and later, Ionasal kkll Preciel (“Ion”) with her robot guardian Earthes.

At a certain point in the game, players can switch between these two groups, making it easier to get to know these characters individually.

Early on, Delta and Casty can be mistaken for any teenage romance between a young boy and young girl who enjoy teasing each other and getting into silly arguments. Things become far more intimate for both groups as the game reaches its climax.

There are plenty of powerful moments found in the story, especially in the Genometrics system.

Taking the place of Ar Tonelico’s ‘Dive’ feature, the Genometrics system brings back one of my favorite aspects of the entire series - you can unlock new Song Magic to use in battle by developing personal bonds by diving into one's subconscience.

Wherein Ar Tonelico you were only limited in engaging with the main heroines of the game, Ar nosurge Plus extends this feature with most of the main cast. This provides a far more well-rounded approach that lets you see things from all angles.

This opens up abundant opportunities to deepen relationships with specific characters throughout the game which I found to be an amazing feat in itself.

Things are also much more straightforward here with very little guesswork involved on where to go next. Its presentation and storytelling is more akin to a visual novel format. Unlike Ar Tonelico, events are repeatable and lets you unlock new abilities; this is a particularly welcome change.

The batles found in Ar nosurge Plus are fairly straightforward and is largely comprised of elements found in the rest of the series. While out in the field, a bar at the top corner of the screen begins to glow from a deep blue to a dark red to indicate an enemy encounter.

Once inside battle, the turn-based combat system is turned on its head as players will be tasked to fight off several rows of enemies grouped in waves indicated at the top of the screen.

Actions are mapped to the face buttons, letting you take a few quick swipes, attack a vertical row of enemies, or hit that X button to try and shatter a foe’s shield.

There are new conversation partners to discover in the Purification Ceremony.

Each of these attacks come with their own stock count that can be increased and made more effective with the right equipment. Skills can also be used after filling a meter through the use of normal moves.

There is also a tug-of-war game going on here where you are only giving a set number of turns to defeat all of the rows at enemies. By staggering an enemy at just the right moment, which is usually the one who is meant to go next in the rotation, players will be able to steal a turn from the enemy, letting you go again immediately.

This continues all the way to the very end of the fight, with some battles including dozens of rows of opponents to defeat. Fortunately, this is made easier through the use of Song Magic.

Almost every action a player takes in battle contributes to a percentage meter at the top right of the battle screen. As this number grows, each box in the enemy wave box begins to fill with red from right to left.

The idea is to fill every single row with red before releasing this incredible display of destruction, providing a satisfying end to any encounter.

Ar nosurge Plus remains as visually pleasing on the handheld, as it was on its console counterpart, boasting a sharper image at the expense of a smooth framerate.

I experienced a handful of moments where the game's engine chugged. Even though it was quite noticeable, it never got to a point where I considered it unplayable. In some ways, this is to be expected given the difference in hardware specs.

There are an abundance of costumes to collect in this release.

The portable release isn’t dramatically different from its console version. There are a ton of new costumes to unlock and some of the DLC released on the PlayStation 3 are already bundled inside the game. Plus, there are also new partners to enjoy conversations with during Purification ceremonies.

One of the biggest changes is an overhaul to the tutorial system. This makes things monumentally easier to understand from a gameplay perspective. Other than several pieces of side content, the main story remains the same as before with no additional context given to the narrative.

I will say that a few of the changes with the enhanced port are unnecessary. For example, the only instance where the Vita’s touchscreen is used is being able to poke characters during the Purification ceremony. Okay? At least most of the translation errors have been fixed.

While I was disappointed in the technical performance of the game, Ar nosurge Plus remains one of the better modern entries in the genre. Players will be uncover some brilliant character relationships and outstanding music that will remain with you long after the credits have rolled.

If you are at all interested in this brand of Japanese RPG, I urge you to give this one at least a try. Keep in mind that the early moments of the game may be a tad tough to wrap one’s head around.

Invest a little time into it and I am sure you will find the same wonderful appeal I have for this game. Lastly, go buy the soundtrack.