Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel is exactly what nobody should want or need in a Japanese RPG. It is a step backwards in terms of equipment acquisition and random battles, the real-time combat is tedious, and it treats its female party members as sexual rewards rather than real characters.
RPG developers learned long ago that comparing equipment was useful to players. For some reason, though, Qoga does not feature a useful comparison tool. Other developers mastered this in the PS1 era or before. To miss such a necessity of the genre on a modern console is shocking and it makes the game a chore to play. After you’ve finally equipped your party, you see the only thing that Qoga does right has to do with exploration. The number of random battles in any given area is limited, and the game tells you when a random encounter might be coming up. Unfortunately, the estimator isn’t very accurate, and the maximum number of random encounters per area is so high that you will be done with the area before you’ve exhausted the random encounters that pop up every few steps.
Numerous random encounters wouldn’t be so bad if Qoga allowed for auto-play of unbalanced fights a la Earthbound, but every time a random fight pops up you have to take part in it. Your party is made of tissue paper, so you will spend a good amount of time in each fight tossing healing items at party members instead of playing the interesting part (i.e., fighting, casting magic, and devising strategies). Qoga‘s combat should be exciting and a breath of fresh air as compared to other RPGs. With music as a central focus of the magic and combat systems, the whole thing should feel like a more complex version of Patapon, but instead your time is spent slapping enemies for paltry amounts of damage while your caster’s song reaches its apex and unleashes a decent attack. At this point the whole process repeats and you get bored each time before the battle ends.
Qoga‘s biggest misstep, though, is its treatment of its female characters. As you explore the world you will collect “talk topics” which can be used at inns to get to know your cohorts better. This sounds like a great idea. There is a tangible reward for exploring your surrounding, and you are encouraged to interact with your party members. In towns there are also establishments called “dive shops” where the player character, Aoto, can explore the girls’ subconsciouses. Exploring in this way will eventually make your party members stronger, but the game doesn’t hesitate to tell you that subconscious exploration also causes the girls to take their clothes off in order to be “more in tune with nature.” Good character interaction and in-battle upgrades are enough of a reward, and treating characters like this cheapens the whole game and, honestly, makes me feel like a cad for playing it.
Pros: random battle countdown
Cons: peep show rewards, boring combat