For many, The PlayStation Vita is seen as a great place to experience many of the fantastic indie titles that have made it to the PS3 and PS4 over the past few years. With its gorgeous screen and console-quality control scheme, it offers a great way to play many of these unique and often brilliant games. For me though, it’s a JRPG machine. Sure, I still play the indies from time to time, but with so many JRPGs to get through, finding time for anything but anime-inspired adventuring is proving increasingly difficult. The days of triple-A releases might be long gone in the East, but if you’re a fan of Japanese gaming, the Vita is still delivering its fair share of big budget gaming in the form of an array of largely enjoyable Japanese-centric RPGs.
Adding to the already impressive list of titles released in the last 12 months alone, Gust Co. and Tecmo Koei’s enhanced port of their 2014 PS3 release, Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star might just be one of the best to grace the platform and a genuinely brilliant JRPG in its own right. It’s not without its faults of course, and is unlikely to win over those uninterested in the decidedly idiosyncratic world of modern JRPGs, but for those with whom the game strikes a chord, for those who willingly submit to its surprisingly interesting cast of characters, its vast and seemingly unending lore and its unique and largely fantastic battle system, one of the more memorable and enjoyable JRPGs of the last few years awaits.
I suspect that a lot of gamers will fall in love with, Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star, but while many gamers will embrace its deep lore and expansive world, just as many will be put off by the endless reams of dialogue, the hinted at strands of story and the relatively laborious start. The world, characters and story are all rather compelling and have clearly been created with a great deal of care and attention, but be warned, to get the best out of this experience will take plenty of patience. Not only are references to the previous game in the series dropped in without explanation, but many smaller stories and story arcs appear to be abandoned before they get going. Believe me, many of these strands are picked up later in the game providing a genuine pay-off for those who stay the course, but again, like some much of this game, their success is dependent upon the player’s patience.
While I won’t even attempt to explain the sprawling story in any great detail, Ar nosurge Plus allows you to take control of one of two teams of two as you are engulfed in an on-going war set-upon a giant space station that homes the remains of a destroyed planet. While the set-up isn’t incredibly original, the warring factions and their differing political and religious views combine to create a consistently compelling tale. Yes, the kind of heavy handed melodrama that anime is famous for can get in the way sometimes, and yes, the story does become rather messy at certain points, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely compelling tale (both in terms of the overarching story and the relationships that ultimately bring the game to life).
Of course, great story or not, JRPGs ultimately live and die by the quality of their combat systems – luckily, Ar nosurge Plus’ is both unique and highly entertaining. Via a combination of song magic and more traditional weapon based attacks, it is down to the front men of each team, namely, Delta and Earthes, to both physically attack oncoming enemies while providing defence for either Ion or Cass. The aim is to increase the level of harmony between you and your song singing partner via well-timed button presses. By filling the harmony gauge, you will be able to string together longer, more powerful combos and eventually unlock incredibly powerful super attacks that will usually clear the screen of enemies.
With enemies usually coming in waves and both turns and attacks delivered at lightning speed, Ar nosurge Plus’ combat proves both fast-paced and oddly rhythmic. It’s not the deepest battle system in the world, but it’s certainly one of the most enjoyable. Like everything in this game, getting the most of it will take some time, but once you get to grips with its many nuances and begin to unlock additional abilities, the system really does come into its own. It’s a shame that the other RPG elements of the experience feel a little undercooked with upgrades and new items not delivered in as effective a way as one might hope, but even here, Ar nosurge Plus is rarely anything else than competent, and with so much of the game excelling, I for one found it easier to forgive its handful of minor faults.
Outside of battle, you also have the ability to ‘dive’ into your partners mind in an attempt to make a stronger emotional bond and subsequently unlock additional conversation options and abilities. It’s an intriguing system, one that certainly delivers some very interesting character developments, but sadly, while it’s a very compelling concept on paper, in practice, it does feel a tad cumbersome and long winded. Still, even with its issues, for those committed to the characters, these sections do provide additional depth to the already well written cast.
Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star makes you work for your rewards, but put in the effort and you will be remunerated handsomely. The anime trappings might put some off while others will struggle with the deep lore and genuinely epic levels of dialogue, but while it certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes, those who like it are very likely to love it. The universe, the characters, the story, it has all been created with a level of care and attention to detail that is nothing if not admirable. Add to that a genuinely unique and extremely exciting battle system and you’ve got one of the best RPGs of 2015.
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