Gust’s latest epic shoots for the stars and hits its mark
Ar Nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star is the latest release in the sci-fi role-playing series from developer Gust. A direct continuation of the Japanese-exclusive PlayStation Vita title Ciel Nosurge, the game was previously released on the PlayStation 3. Now, the Artelier developer’s song-powered space opera has finally arrived on the Vita, complete with more costumes, touchscreen functionality, over 50 new events and all of the post-release DLC from the original PlayStation 3 version of the game. This adventure is certainly not wanting for content, but is what’s on display worth your time and hard earned bucks?
The story of Ar Nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star takes place thousands of years after humanity’s home planet, Ra Ciela, has been destroyed. The last remnants of humanity have escaped the world’s collapse in a giant space station known as the Colony Ship Soreil. Many years after their exodus from their ruined homeworld, mysterious lifeforms known as the Sharl appear and begin abducting humans from the vessel. Eventually, humanity forms two factions, those who choose to fight against the Sharl, and those who choose to worship them as messengers of God.
The game begins in Felion, humanity’s last hope, a city surrounded by a barrier that repels the Sharl forces. Players assume the role of Delta Lanthanoir, a former member of PLASMA, a group that works at the behest of the Divine Empress. Joined by Casty, a fellow operative of PLASMA who has the ability to weave Song Magic, the pair are quickly thrown into the heart of a war between the humans, Sharl, and a shadowy religious order bent on cleansing the world of all life. Ar Nosurge bucks the Vita’s trend of delivering JRPGs that prioritize fan service above content, weaving an engaging narrative that puts a strong emphasis on building relationships, exploring the subconscious and unraveling the many complexities behind the world the game’s complex cast inhabits.
As mentioned previously, the game is the direct sequel to Ciel Nosurge. That said, unless you managed to import a copy of the Japanese-exclusive title and are fluent in Japanese, you’ll likely be unfamiliar with many of the names and events that pop up over the course of the game’s sprawling adventure. Thankfully, developer Gust has incorporated a handy in-game glossary that allows you to dust up on the game’s complex lore. It’s not ideal, but the system adds much-needed context that would otherwise leave players scratching their heads during the game’s frequent dialog-heavy cutscenes.
While other RPGs put a huge emphasis on combat and exploration, Ar Nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star instead focuses on delivering a powerful story while expanding upon the motivations behind the game’s complex cast of characters. One such way the game does this is through a system called “Genometrics”. By visiting Bios Shops, players can dive into the subconscious of players they’ve been emotionally chained to. During these largely optional segments, you’ll explore surprisingly complex vignettes that offer greater insight into the deep personal complexities of the game’s often imperfect characters. Oftentimes you’ll be tasked with making contextual choices during dives, and you can spend Dive Points you’ve acquired to make various choices, which can spark especially strong emotional reactions within the player, which can then be converted into gems that are used during the main quest to augment your character’s abilities. Considering these are mostly optional, its astounding just how much goes into the game’s Genometric sequences, and you’ll be hard-pressed to resist the urge to complete each character’s story arc.
Another interesting facet of Ar Nosurge is the game’s dual protagonist feature. Several hours in, a new pair of protagonists are revealed: Ion Preciel (the main protagonist of the aforementioned Ciel Nosurge), and her mighty robotic sidekick Earthes. Not long after the second pair of protagonists is introduced you’ll be given the option to use the Zap feature, which allows you to snap from one band of heroes to the other in order to advance the story. If you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall in one quest, you’ll likely need to shift to the other party to keep thing things moving forward. Thankfully, you’ll never really find yourself lost in Ar Nosurge, as the game’s progression is pretty tightly woven. Even the game’s dungeons are largely truncated affairs, with few real encounters before hitting the next major plot point.
Speaking of encounters, the combat system in Ar Nosurge is rather simple and elegant. While exploring in the field, there is a visible enemy counter displaying the likelihood of your next battle. When you’re tossed into the fray, actions are displayed on the face buttons, and you can perform each action a set number of times before your turn is over and the enemies get their chance to strike. During the enemy phase, tapping the circle button at just the right time will allow you to defend the party’s magic user, who if killed spells defeat for the party. However, racking up a high hit chain and performing Breaks that stun enemies will grant you bonus turns. Enemies rarely appear in one group, however, with new waves of baddies approaching until the meter at the top of the screen is depleted or the turn counter reaches zero, which will end the fight automatically (and negatively impact your score in the performance report). The key to combat is striking hard and fast, beefing up your harmonization meter so that one of the game’s leading ladies can unleash her devastating Song Magic. Honestly, the combat remains pretty easy throughout the adventure, with only bosses presenting a true threat to your progress, and even they can be handily dispatched so long as you keep your cool and make smart use of your most powerful abilities. While an added challenge would be welcome, the game’s combat takes such a backseat to the adventure itself that it’s mostly forgivable.
In terms of presentation, Ar Nosurge looks great, with vibrantly drawn characters and varied, imaginative environments. The game also features a handful of gorgeous anime cutscenes that look absolutely fantastic on the Vita’s small screen. Unfortunately, the game’s frame rate often suffers, dipping well below 30fps when navigating the field or performing the game’s particle effect-filled Song Magic, which is a shame.
Though the visuals may suffer due to the game’s inconsistent performance, Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star‘s audio is absolutely fantastic. From the sweeping opening score to the pumping Song Magic tracks, the game’s soundtrack has a suitably epic feel that always matches the on-screen action perfectly. This is especially true during Genometrics, where the emotional themes are well complimented with touching melodies that really enhance the impact of the game’s more poignant storytelling moments. It’s also worth noting that Ar Nosurge is the latest game in the Vita’s library to feature a dual audio track, so purists can enjoy both the original Japanese dialog, though we can’t stress enough just how solid the game’s English voice work is.
All told, Ar Nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star is a very welcome addition to the PlayStation Vita’s ever-expanding library of JRPGs. The game unapologetically shies away from genre tropes, delivering an exceptionally rich and well-crafted narrative that puts an extreme emphasis on character and world building rather than the grind-heavy quests we’ve become accustomed to over the years. Though it has its share of performance issues and is a bit on the easy side, these minor gripes are easy to overlook when considering just how engrossing of an adventure Gust has crammed into such a small package. If you only buy one RPG for the Vita this year, Ar Nosurge is an enthralling space opera that sits proudly among the best in its class.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: Vita (reviewed); Publisher: KOEI Tecmo America; Developer: Gust; Players: 1; Released: July 2, 2015 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Ar Nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star provided by the game’s publisher, Koei Tecmo America.