Potential Spoilers, you have been warned.
I have been a massive fan of the Ar series since I first found out about it back around 2009-2010. Epic music, well investigated characters, and well executed story have kept me coming back ever since.
To some, Ar Nosurge may look like just another jrpg. However, Gust has some facinating work going on in this game. Sadly, the prequel game, Ciel Nosurge, probably won't be getting an American release. Since I know about that games existance and the general plotline, I can see where they tie it in. Thankfully, not knowing about Ceil Nosurge won't mess too much with the plot. Without it, the relevant sections end up as en medias rez.
The plot overall is not particularly unique, it is the execution that stands out. The game is marketed as 7th dimensional. This is accomplished by attempting to bring the world of the player parallel to the universe that the game exists in. To some, this may be inextinguishable from simply breaking the fourth wall. However, Ar Nosurge takes it much further than any game I've ever seen attempt it. Going so far as to make the very fact that a player is playing the game to be a major plot point and even a trial that the main protagonists must overcome. The game takes the fact that you as a player have a electronic interface to their world as a toy to play with. There are times when the very interface you have become familiar with reacts in ways it never did before because the characters are messing with the "equipment" on the other side.
The characters themselves are very well fleshed out. Mostly due to the absolutely MASSIVE amount of dialogue in the game. Like the earlier games in the series, crafting any item will give out a quick cutscene about the item's usage and the various party members' thoughts on it. The cosmospheres have been reimagined into the Geonometrics and now delve into the psyche of not only the main heroines but also all the other main characters of the game. Finally, the talk topics are every bit as extensive as before.
Overall, Ion's character is unlike I've ever seen before. And with an introduction like the one she had in game, knocking on the screen itself, I doubt I will soon forget her. I have never before seen a character that disregards the fourth wall as completely as Ion does.
Say "Hi," Ion.
The other Heroine, Casty, at first glance is rather cliche. The typical tsundere personality and all that goes along with it. Amusingly, they actually decided to animate the motion of her punching one of the main characters in the stomach. However, some point around phase 2 she undergoes a character development almost unseen in characters of her type and she ends up very human overall. Also, props to Stephanie Sheh for the believable performance.
Speaking of voice acting, this is one of the few JRPGs that I actually prefer the English voices. Other than Prim (who has a voice that's a little screechy, not really the fault of the VA), and Nelo (who is a little too softspoken overall) the voice acting is believable and manages to convey the emotions of the characters properly. My biggest issue with the english voices is that they tend to sound like they're reading a script. While unavoidable to a degree they manage to produce a performance that I concider believable. Although, it can get a little annoying in battle due to the constant repettition.
I actually consider the battle system that they came up with in this game to be rather ingenious. As before, there is a counter that limits the number of random encounters in an area. However, unlike any game I've seen before Ar Nosurge allows you to eliminate multiple at once. The combat takes the form of a wave based survival mode in which each wave is considered a separate encounter. Overall the system is quite fluid and easy to learn. While it is possible to win early simply by mashing buttons, you quickly learn what each command does simply through trial and error. By the time the player actually has to put effort into battles they will have already learned the basics of the system enough to be able to think strategically. Overall, the grinding is relatively painless (the residential district is my preferred location since you can clear that location and then just move to the power district).
Not shown in this video, carpet bombing chicks.
In terms of systems, the oddest for anyone not used to the series would be how items are handled. First off, about 95% of usable items are found via crafting. Which means that loot chests are rather pointless. The second oddity is that the characters don't really wear armor or get new weapons. All the items that are crafted are simply augments to what they already have. Any consumables are typically stat-up or healing of various strengths. Pretty much just use whatever has the highest numbers and you'll do fine. But if you want to know exactly what things do, there is an encyclopedia that covers what you would need to know.
As with the games before, the cutscenes, particularly the boss battles, are top notch. The music is timed very well with the dialogue so I ended up entering the battles just as the music swelled to increase the energy. When done right it makes for an absolutely epic experience. The final boss in particular, I don't think it's actually possible to have a bad timing on that song for the phase shift. I've played through several times, each time with a different timing (not intentionally) and the music worked perfectly with the phase shift each time.
For the music, Gust has done a few things that I took notice of, mainly with the composers and vocalists that they brought in. First, I noticed that they brought in Morrigan to handle a couple pieces. I've been following him(?) as a composer for quite some time and I was predicting that he would be involved in the series for some time since WAVE produced several albums that had a few tracks that were very similar to the Ar series, in addition to working with all of the vocalists from the series except Akiko. They also brought in Yoshino Nanjo from fripSide along with the well known composer Kenji Kawai, both of which created some epic pieces (along with a couple lulzy ones for the song magic clips).
And guess who designed this mecha-dragon.
I have very few gripes with the game, but there are a couple. While the voice acting is good, the actual translation is inconcistent at times. Mostly on Korzal vs Corsal. Also, there was apparently preorder DLC that was Japanese only. I wish that the publishers would think of the US market a bit more in that regard.
Other than those minor annoyances, I had the best time gaming that I've had in quite a while. I am looking forward to see what Gust plans to do in the future.