Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star isn’t your typical PS Vita JRPG. It doesn’t contain needless fan service, a silly plot, or a complex battle system in order to market itself to fans. Instead, it relies on its deep story with interesting character development to keep you hooked for the long haul.
The game starts off as the protagonists are stranded in outer space, thousands of years after their home planet, Ra Ciela, has been destroyed. As time goes on, winged creatures named the Sharl have invaded their quiet spaceship and started to kidnap humans to ship them off to a different planet. With fear in their minds, the population has split into two factions: those who want to exterminate the Sharl and those who have decided that the Sharl aren’t so bad after all.
Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star is a direct sequel to the Japan-only title, Ciel nosurge. You heard that right, Koei Tecmo decided to bring over a story heavy title to the West that has direct ties to its prequel. This move can and will confuse players during the first few hours of the game. It tries its best to fill in the deep backstory through a glossary of terms that are highlighted during conversations, but in my opinion, it kind of ruined the immersion for me. The entire foundation of the game was based on the events from Ciel nosurge and with that missing, it’s hard to follow along without searching the Internet for a synopsis of what went down (which is what I did).
A huge part of the game consists of relationships. We all know of that other game that promotes friendships and even love (cough, cough, Persona 4: Golden). But Ar nosurge Plus goes deeper than that. It features a mechanic called “Genometrics” that lets players dive into the characters’ inner thoughts to unlock abilities that are used in battle. In addition, it helps develop a close bond by finding out how each particular character ticks. When inside their mind, you can explore the darkest corners of their souls to figure out secrets they may hide or to knock down the personal shield they may put up while in public. Doing this can strengthen your bond and relationship with that particular character. This is probably the best part of the game because every character has a purpose in the game and plot. You can go as deep as you want or just do the bare minimum to advance the story. Either way, it gives great insight on the characters you are paired with.
Ar nosurge’s battle system can be described with one word: simple. But don’t worry, simple isn’t bad and it works surprisingly well. When out in the field, there is an enemy counter at the top of the screen that indicates that an enemy encounter is near. Once the random battle starts, you face waves of enemies that are in different rows and have several abilities. The placement of these enemies are outlined at the top, and that’ll give you an edge on how you want to approach each set of enemies. Once you’re in the rhythm of battle, each tile will shrink as you destroy the enemies in front of you. With abilities mapped to the face buttons, it’s easy to rattle off combos to make the most out of your limited turns. When the enemy bar is empty, there will be no more random encounters for that particular area unless you leave and return.
One downside that I see with the game is the apparent frame rate and minor performance issues. While I do not write for Digital Foundry, these untrained eyes can notice that the frame rate isn’t running at 30 fps, and it isn’t stable. This is noticeable when running around the field and in some cases during Song Magic. In no way does this affect the enjoyment of the game, but I felt that it was worth mentioning. Visually, the graphics are clean and colorful, and it is a great looking game. Considering that Ar nosurge was originally a PS3 game, we have to give Gust kudos for a great port even with the small performance issues.
Fans of Japanese voiced games will be pleased to know that dual audio is included in Ar nosurge. I played the game in English and the voice work was superb…when the characters actually spoke. For many important scenes, I was wishing that they were fully voiced, but to my disappointment they were not. In addition, the localization has quite a bit of spelling and grammar errors (but not as bad as Sword Art Online) that left me scratching my head. I could only think that it was a rush job.
Going into a direct sequel with no knowledge of the previous game is not ideal, but do not let that deter you. With a long campaign, heavy storytelling, and a deep character progression system, Ar nosurge Plus: Ode to an Unborn Star is a title that no JPRG fan should miss.