Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star (PS Vita) Review

By André Eriksson 20.08.2015 5

Review for Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star on PS Vita

“Deep” and ”emotional” are important keywords to describe the story in Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star. This is clearly where developer Gust has placed their focus. Many hours of rich storytelling await in a mixture of both everyday chit-chat and exploration of deep and life-changing moments. In true JRPG fashion, nothing is too trivial to get its own five minutes in the spotlight. This mixed with its own combat system makes Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star a game that will stand out and be remembered by the player for a long time. For better or for worse? Read on for the answer!

In a galaxy far from our own, a world exists where new planets can be weaved through the magic of songs, and the spirits of nature come alive. However, the home planet of its inhabitants is destroyed, and only a single spaceship remains of the once-prospering people. Now they are fencing off against the reincarnated nature spirits, who have sworn revenge against humankind for destroying the planet.

Few genres have such an almost sacred style and tradition of deep storytelling as JRPGs. There are special rules that can only be successfully pulled off within this genre because of how its gameplay and worldbuilding are built around the storytelling aspects, which would otherwise be seen as vile or a sign of bad writing if used elsewhere. Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star does not leave anything left to wish for when it comes to the subjects of depth and mass.

The most important ingredient in the JRPG tradition of storytelling is the characters. They have to be both colourful and emotionally deep to make the player able to sit through the entire 50+ hour experience. In this area Ar nosurge Plus performs a lot better than many other games in the genre, accomplished via a visual novel-like gameplay mechanic called Genometrics.

In the Genometrics the player gets to discover hidden parts of most of the main cast’s inner workings to both advance the story and unlock new special attacks and stat-increasing gems, which will help very much in combat. The stories in here focus on characters’emotional weaknesses that they want to hide from the world in a sometimes ingenious and often very beautiful and artistic way, often using extremely well thought-out props to highlight the inner insanity and spiritual unhealthiness of the character in question. This helps give deep emotions to characters who might at first appear one-dimensional, but after a quick visit in the Genometrics, most things about them become crystal clear. It adds variation to the gameplay, but also brings in an emotional connection, which helps make the player care more for the characters.

The Genometrics also helps highlight what Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star does best in its story: to truly capture the hearts of gamers, how the characters interact with the world, and why. While too many games resort to a simple “this character is evil, that’s why they do this” argument, Ode to an Unborn Star goes far to give the characters a great reason why they have chosen to either destroy or protect the world. It adds beauty and meaning to the story and elicits sympathy with the characters in ways that are uncommon even within the JRPG genre.

Screenshot for Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star on PS Vita

All of this would be futile if the presentation was not appealing, but Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star handles this with a high mark. The world is a classic sci-fi environment (also known as grey with shades of gray and a sprinkle of grey) for the most part. This canvas does nothing but highlight how colourful and beautiful the character models are, and partway through the storye, when entering the surface of the world, greenery is seen. Never before has nature felt as welcome.

Also present is great voice acting starring several well-known voice actors, and music beyond what is commonly found within gaming, which is great, as the story and fighting are built around songs. Anything less would have been disappointing, considering the setting. Despite this, some of the tracks are certainly going to catch several gamers off guard.

While Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star uses the traditional tools of JRPGs in a beautiful way, it does use one powerful yet dangerous tool very clumsily: breaking the fourth wall. As the story progresses it becomes clear that the player is basically playing the game in-game and that the characters know about it.

Around this point the campaign gets split into two separate storylines: one with Ion and Earthes (which is literally the player avatar), and one with Cass and Delta. In the Ion and Earthes side, the fourth wall-leaning becomes what it can and should be, a way to help immerse the player in the experience of actually being in the game and therefore increasing the emotional strength of the bond between them and the gameworld. This is done by very subtle and simple tricks, like letting the player choose how to answer some questions and set the nature of the emotional bond between them and Ion.

On the Cass and Delta side, however, this tool almost ruins all that immersion. While on the Ion and Earthes side it was used to make the player connect with Ion, on the Cass and Delta side it detaches Cass and Delta from one another in forced ways. It’s painful to have one-third of the story circle around how horrible it makes Delta and Cass feel to have Delta be controlled by the player. It makes the player feel more like a plot device, as there are basically no options, which was what made the Ion and Earthes part feel so powerful. It seems to exist mostly to justify the main character knowing things they shouldn’t know to progress in the story, or to cover up plot holes. It feels cheap and is used unskillfully in this department, which is sad in a game that has so much focus on its great story.

Screenshot for Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star on PS Vita

Even with this flaw, the story is fundamentally good and well thought through. The same cannot be said about the difficulty curve of combat on the higher levels. At the beginning the combat is good and well-balanced, offering every single tool needed to win the battles ahead of them and highlighting how well-developed the combat system is. This first areas play exactly like the combat of a turn-based JRPG should, requiring min-maxing and the use of proper tactics to win. It’s a little bit too much trial-and-error, but this is only apparent on the highest difficulty level, which exists for those who enjoy developing the winning strategy this way.

However, somewhere one-third through the game, a difficulty spike of the worst kind appears. All of a sudden a couple of bosses appear that are far beyond anything the player will face for the next third of the adventure. This is highly problematic in a turn-based JRPG; to beat these bosses, level grinding is required, to a degree that every other boss afterwards will become too easy. To make matters worse, these bosses appear in places where boss fights are not expected, which makes it possible to lose hours of progression due to not saving or going back to the town to gear up.

After this point, the difficulty curve slopes downwards, as the player is too highly leveled and geared for the challenges ahead. This stands true until the very end, where a similar spike appears, but at this point the characters should be geared in a way that makes them basically immortal. The defensive stats of the enemies skyrocket into levels seldom seen even in the most sadistic games, and this turns the final boss into a giant wall fight. It’s almost impossible to lose against it, but it takes a very, very long time to kill. Even at the level cap and with the best gear, the boss can take well over an hour of just standing there and hitting it. This creates one of the most boring final boss battles to ever witness the light of day, and highlights exactly how bad the balancing after the initial first third of the game is.

Screenshot for Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star on PS Vita

The mechanics outside of combat are wonderful. It’s clear Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star is made by the same studio that makes the Atelier series just by taking a look at the vast crafting system. A lot of focus was put here, and while it’s not as interactive as the one found Atelier, just as much time will be spent here.

There are four different crafting shops, each with their own recipes and colourful and charming owners and stories. As different crafts are made, more and more of the story of that specific shop is uncovered. Crafting is never a dull experience, as the tales are at times emotional but mostly whimsical in the true sense of JRPG side quests.

Overall this is a mixed yet positive experience. The story is mostly exceptional and breathes life into the characters, and all of the surrounding mechanics highlight the well-developed characterization. The combat mechanics allow for a fun experience that makes combat more than just combat. Unfortunately, the difficulty curve after the initial third of the game is completely destroyed by a sudden spike. It’s unclear if a specific boss was accidentally given the stats of a later one, but either way it’s an almost unforgivable issue as it risks throwing the pace of the experience off. It does, however, almost get away with this because it’s only apparent on the highest difficulty setting, which very few will play on, and is avoidable by lowering the difficulty on that specific fight.

A good experience waits for fans of great JRPGs with a focus on character development, but for people looking for a challenge, after the first third of the game not much is found here. More focus could have been put on balancing the difficulty at the highest level, and instead of just giving all enemies a bigger life bar, they could’ve used more offensive output, making the fights into the adrenaline-pumping experiences they were during the earlier sections.

Screenshot for Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star on PS Vita

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Overall, Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star is fantastic. There are a lot of things it does better than most others in the genre. The characterization is on a level rarely seen outside visual novels, and the models are extremely pretty. It isn’t without its flaws; the weird difficulty spike right after the first third of the game sabotages the rhythm of progression, and the fact that the final boss is little more than a massive time-consuming wall is very apparent. The careless way Gust has chosen to play with the fourth wall (mainly in the second part of the Cass and Delta section of the story) makes it all too transparent that this story device was used as nothing more than a cover-up to excuse plot holes that were already of the nature that people expect and to a certain degree forgive. When the leaning of the fourth wall is used well, it helps improve the experience, but when it’s not, it damages more than it helps, and hopefully this will serve as a lesson learned.

Developer

Gust

Publisher

Koei Tecmo

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

iraise (guest) 20.08.2015#1

In all honesty, complaining about the use of the fourth wall here is foolish: the game explains pretty clearly how Interdimend works and about how it turns the target person into a living terminal that is controlled remotely by the interdimensional entity the player is, and this is done to illustrate how the player can serve as a bad or good influence on that world, which according to its lore, it does exist in a separate universe and dimension from our own (according to the Qualia Dimension Theory that establishes the Seven Dimensions in that  universe, the Seventh Dimension is the axis connecting different universes, while each player connects to different versions of that same world existing in the Sixth and Fifth Dimensions that contain different versions of interactions among the denizens of that world, and parallel universes of that same world).

Plus, it's done so the player empathizes with Delta and Cass' situation: starting with feeling bad for them, and finishing with them being willing to help them to the very end after Cass personally pleads with the player for their help. And it's not done either as a mere plot device or as a cover for plot-holes: the Zapping system the game uses for plot advancement depends entirely on the Interdimend concept, and Interdimend itself was also hinted in the prequel Ciel nosurge and is the cause behind the events in the Class-Arnosurge-Proto interactive text novel.

Finally, the player is given a foil in the form of the antagonist, who cares nothing about the people living in that world and instead is willing to kill them all just to complete their version of the game, just to further show how the player can be a good or bad influence to that world. Therefore, complaining about this is equal to complaining about the game being what it is.

iraise (guest) said:
In all honesty, complaining about the use of the fourth wall here is foolish: the game explains pretty clearly how Interdimend works and about how it turns the target person into a living terminal that is controlled remotely by the interdimensional entity the player is, and this is done to illustrate how the player can serve as a bad or good influence on that world, which according to its lore, it does exist in a separate universe and dimension from our own (according to the Qualia Dimension Theory that establishes the Seven Dimensions in that  universe, the Seventh Dimension is the axis connecting different universes, while each player connects to different versions of that same world existing in the Sixth and Fifth Dimensions that contain different versions of interactions among the denizens of that world, and parallel universes of that same world).

Plus, it's done so the player empathizes with Delta and Cass' situation: starting with feeling bad for them, and finishing with them being willing to help them to the very end after Cass personally pleads with the player for their help. And it's not done either as a mere plot device or as a cover for plot-holes: the Zapping system the game uses for plot advancement depends entirely on the Interdimend concept, and Interdimend itself was also hinted in the prequel Ciel nosurge and is the cause behind the events in the Class-Arnosurge-Proto interactive text novel.

Finally, the player is given a foil in the form of the antagonist, who cares nothing about the people living in that world and instead is willing to kill them all just to complete their version of the game, just to further show how the player can be a good or bad influence to that world. Therefore, complaining about this is equal to complaining about the game being what it is.


I don't mean for this to sound harsh or mean or whatever, but it's pretty clear you didn't read the review. Andre isn't against breaking the fourth wall, he just found its use in Delta and Cass's section cumbersome and unsuccessful. He had high praise for its use throughout the rest of the game (and shows a pretty clear knowledge of why it was used at all).

NNID: crackedthesky
My blog, mostly about writing: http://www.davidjlovato.com
iraise (guest) 21.08.2015#3

I did read the review, and I'm taking issue with the way he praises the use of Interdimend on the Ion and Earthes section but puts it down in the Cass and Delta one just because he very obviously didn't like it despite both having the same in-universe justifications, authorial intention and precedent in the franchise. In fact, what you said shows that you didn't actually bother reading anything of what I wrote.

iraise (guest) said:
I did read the review, and I'm taking issue with the way he praises the use of Interdimend on the Ion and Earthes section but puts it down in the Cass and Delta one just because he very obviously didn't like it despite both having the same in-universe justifications, authorial intention and precedent in the franchise. In fact, what you said shows that you didn't actually bother reading anything of what I wrote.

My apologies, then; the way you explained why the game does it when the review already explained it gave me the impression that you hadn't read it.

In any case, I think the key phrase here is "just because he very obviously didn't like it." This is a review, it's supposed to be a subjective opinion of a game. We're aware some people like certain aspects of games and others don't (which is one reason we have C3-2-1 where two different reviewers review the same game for differing opinions).

In this case, Andre felt like the game pulled the technique off in some instances and fell flat in others. There's nothing "foolish" about that.

NNID: crackedthesky
My blog, mostly about writing: http://www.davidjlovato.com

Hello I am back after the weekend so sorry for the late reply! I am happy that you disagree with my scoring of this game as I myself am also upset over the fact that the game could not reach higher than a 7 as this is a game I really enjoyed overall.

I might have not been obvious enough as of why I disliked the fourth wall breaking. But as stated above in this comment field (and in the review): I am not against leaning on the fourth wall as a way to make the story feel more real or to give it a goofy twist if that kind of story. What I disliked in this case, however, was how the game really stressed this too far at some points which actually decreased the pleasure my overall experience of the story by turning it into a boring sub-plot in the middle of the story that did little to contribute to what I thought made the story shine in the first place. It is really hard to me to simply bypass things like that when reviewing a game in a genre that is very heavily reliant on a good story. 

I did not really complain about -how- it was executed (as in the logic behind it which was surprisingly good), but -why- and what purpose it would serve. It did itself great justification in the Ion and Earthes side of the story when it was used as a tool to make the player feel more like the character in question and gave them a way to put their personal emotions into the game. While, on the other hand, on the Cass and Delta side the impact it had on the story was of quite another nature which I felt drew away focus and attention from the parts that made the story really strong and turned into an (in my opinion) very boring sub-plot during a very exciting part of the story. It also felt too much like a Deus ex Machina at times, which makes it very boring and in your face.

I do also understand the feelings this part of the story was meant to invoke. The issue was, however, that I could not feel it. I knew I should have felt bad about the situation, but I just felt annoyed instead because of how few ways it was to personally "interact" during that part of the story which is really what this kind of story device should be used to do which made me as a player feel more detached to the game world than before giving it the reverse of the intended effect to me.

It is not by any means that I disliked the plot or this game. A score of 7 implies that I really enjoyed the game and see it as a game people who enjoy the genre should get. It should also be stressed that it was not the story that decreased the score drastically. It was the horrendous difficulty spike and balancing towards the end of the game that pulled the score down the most. The issues I had with how the fourth wall thing affected Cass and Delta's story and the issues related to that is what made the game go from a weak 8 to a strong 7. This is also why I am not really a fan of pure number systems as the game was way closer an 80 than a 70 on the % mark, but I do sincerely believe in rather rounding down than rounding up to really make the games that earns higher scores to shine more.

The story in itself, however, is overall very strong and has many great moments. It is just that little thing of annoyance that kept being an eye-sore at times and that felt very cheesy. However, what fundamentally decreased the score was the issues with the difficulty curve. It should also be stressed that this review as any review is just a reflection of the reviewer's (in this case, mine) thoughts of the game and by no means a 100% objective reality of a game's value to you, or anyone else in reality. If what I remarked is by no concern to you, more power to you and I am happy for your sake and glad that you really enjoyed the game. For me though, this was an issue that turned the game from a weak 8 to a strong 7.

I do hope that, even if you do not agree with my answer, you will at least better understand my point of view as of why I thought it was an eye-sore. And, once more, if you did not find it being that more power to you and I am happy for your sake. But to me, it was not an enjoyable aspect, but neither as big of an impact to the overall score as one might think. It was just a disappointment. The big score decreaser was the difficulty curve.

The difference between illusion and reality is vague to the one who suffers from the former and questionable for the one suffering form the later.

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