Game completion: A bit further, but mostly unchanged from last week.
Ar Tonelico's plot is surprisingly unique and interesting in some ways, but the game as a whole suffers from three big problems.
The first problem is simply that many of the members of the hero's team (namely, Jack, Radolf, Krusche, and probably Ayatane when I finally recruit him) are not terribly interesting. The basic idea behind each of the characters is novel (none of them are the usual cliches), and they have personalities, but they don't have much presence or depth. Their stories are tangential to the main plot of the game, and the plot only rarely focuses on them. Often, one of these character may not say very much for hours of gameplay at a time. These character pretty much exist solely to round out the line-up of meatshields in the party, which is a shame, actually, since these characters have some real potential.
The second problem with the game is the excessive sexual innuendo. Both the Cosmoshpere diving system and the Grathnode Installation system are phrased in blatantly sexual terms, which gets a bit excessive at times. I don't mind seeing sexual innuendo in games (in fact, often it seems oddly lacking even in places where it should exist), but they could probably have at least tried to be a bit more subtle about it, but instead the game hits you with it like a brick. At times, it almost feels like Ar Tonelico is the toned down version of what was originally envisioned as a porn game... On top of that, there is sexual innuendo outside of those mechanics, in the conversations with the Reyvateil characters (particularly Misha), but this is more natural because it is an outgrowth of Misha's own mischievous personality and is not out of place or linked to game mechanics.
My final, and biggest, problem with the game is that it has a love triangle. This is not really a flaw with the game itself, since love triangles work as plot devices, and it was blatantly obvious the game would have one based on the marketing for the game, but I just despise love triangles. Fortunately, this game does not have a love triangle which is resolved outside of the player's control (which is my least favorite kind), but it has the other three great potential problems of a love triangle. One problem is that both girls start out romantically interested in the hero (or at least become that way without you doing anything), which changes some of the character dynamics enough to make choices more awkward. Second, the hero at the center of the love triangle is the kind of character who wanders into a love triangle in complete ignorance, and ends up encouraging the whole mess accidentally every time he opens his mouth (an implausible and cliched combination of nobility, ignorance, and restrained perversity, really). Finally, and most importantly, both of the girls in the love triangle are complex, interesting, full of personality, and extremely likable.
While I put that last statement in a list of "problems" (which themselves are just pet peeves more than design issues), I really will say that Aurica and Misha are two of the more complex and interesting characters I have seen in a videogame. I think this is one of the greatest accomplishments of this game. Most importantly, these characters are not so complex by accident; their complexity is a direct result of numerous gameplay mechanics of the game and their central role in the plot. However, I think I am going to discuss all of those reasons on another day.
Regardless, I think it bears repeating that while there are certainly a few tropes showing up here and there in the game, Ar Tonelico's setting, plot, and characters all manage to exist fairly far outside the normally limited set of types and cliches seen in videogame RPGs. It is nice to see something which tries so hard to be refreshing, and still remains interesting.