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"The world setting for Ar tonelico was actually planned from around 2000. At the time, I had already made it as a world for an RPG that we were supposed to make and put out for sale, but due to many circumstances, in the end the project never came to fruition. Then, we started working in our current project in 2004. The world setting and concepts are mostly similar, but the game systems were completely overhauled. So basically I had to redesign them due to the experiences I had in that span of four years."
—Akira Tsuchiya—


The Ar tonelico (アルトネリコ, arutoneriko?) Series is a series of console role-playing games produced by Gust Ltd. and Banpresto, with the latter being replaced by Namco-Bandai Games after Banpresto became a subsidiary of it. It is a niche series within the role-playing genre, though one that has a small yet very devoted fandom in Japan and in the rest of the world, and it is the first series set in the Universe of EXA_PICO. Aside of the games that form the main part of it, it also encompasses two manga series, an anime OVA, several books and novels, and even visual novels made in Flash.

The first installment of the series was released in Japan in January, 2006 for the Sony PlayStation 2, and the Ar tonelico games have been subsequently localized for the markets in North America, Europe and Australia. While it isn't as successful as Gust's long running Atelier series, it still has enjoyed a moderate success throughout the world.

The series is currently considered as complete and finished with three games forming part of it, though its universe and lore still continue living on through the Surge Concerto Series.

Overview

The series was created in 2006 with the release of Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia, though its origin goes back to around 1995, during the college days of the series' director and father Akira Tsuchiya. At that time, he created an original tabletop RPG setting to play in alongside his friends, though it seems that it didn't catch on because they didn't play more than three sessions.[1]

After Tsuchiya graduated and began working as a music composer for Gust, he initially pitched to the company a RPG project for the PlayStation 2 in the 2000. The proposed game had the title of Ar tonelico and was based on the tabletop RPG setting he made during his time in college, making it quite different from the final version of the game. However, the director of the Atelier Iris games rejected the project because the magic system depended on a crafting system that was more complex than that of the Atelier series, which he feared would turn away the players due to a high difficulty degree.

In 2004, Tsuchiya was finally given the chance to direct a game after his work in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, and alongside Banpresto, who Gust collaborated previously with for the development of Atelier Marie, Elie and Anis: Rumors of the Breeze, they restructured the setting from the roots up and created the concepts that are ubiquitous to the series such as the Reyvateils and the Cosmosphere. [2] The resulting game was more successful than the first two Atelier Iris games[3][4] [5] due to its setting, characters and music; which then paved the way for two more sequels as well as a plethora of side material that expanded the universe created with it. Even though each game changed several aspects of the gameplay from its predecessor, they still share the common elements that identify them as part of Ar tonelico.

Common Themes

Importance of Music and Sounds

"The power that the songs carry are conveying energy to something in the bottom of the hearts of the people, and also, to firmly enshroud the memories of the people, which are also called the creation power of the jeweled box of the hearts of the people...
For example, when you hear the music from the old times after a long time without listening to it, in that moment, the scenery, the sounds, the scents, and also the feelings you felt until that instant, don't revive these experiences from when you first listened to it?
That is the great hidden power that sounds have."
—Akira Tsuchiya—


In the Ar tonelico series, the music holds an incredible power due to being the demonstration of the powers held by the Reyvateils, Moon Chanters and Wills of the Planet, which allow them to manifest a wide variety of paranormal effects through the singing of Song Magic, which can range from magic used for battles to grand-scale songs that have the power of destroying or recreating the entire world. It has been stated that the universe of EXA_PICO itself is made of sounds, and it has been likened to being entirely created, maintained, and its order of affairs dictated by the song sung by EXA_PICO itself. Therefore, the songs are the seeds of life to this entire universe.

However, there is also some contrast with these powerful songs in the form of characters like Claire or Luca, who despite being Reyvateils themselves, only wish to create songs and sing, not for wielding the tremendous powers the sounds have in this world, but just for their capacity of conveying feelings and healing hearts, which is the same nature music itself has for several people on the real world.

Nature of the Conflicts

"What is the simplest, yet strongest reason for the rise of conflicts?"
—Tastiella—


According to the series, the reasons for conflict generally stem from the people not taking the effort to understand each other, and instead of conversing about their differences in an attempt to find a common ground they can use to solve the problem in question in a satisfactory manner for both parts, they start fighting, some times to defend themselves, others to impose their own views of how things are.

Within the games, this is exemplified by how Mir tries to impose a Reyvateil-only utopia without considering the feelings of the Reyvateils on the matter, how the Grand Bell and the Sacred Army fight against each other believing that only their method for saving Metafalss is the correct one, and how the Archia Corporarchy and Clustania struggle against each for dominance of the region of Sol Cluster, and thus, to see which one is in the right for saving Ar Ciel from its eventual death, even though it is demonstrated later on that both of their methods don't address the main problem at hand.

Bonds

Other main topic demonstrated in the series is that of the bonds between the people, showing that none of us can live by ourselves and thus we need to interact countless times during the course of our lives in order to live on, regardless of if said interactions turn out for the better or the worse, which also ties in the search for coexistence and the nature of conflicts.

Each game handles this topic in a different manner:

  • Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia is focused on the relationships between men and women as represented by the interactions between the heroines and the protagonist, in that they both should look out for each other and support each other instead of one side dominating and oppressing the other. This also goes with the themes expressed in their Cosmospheres, of which the greatest problem is the lack of proper communication and trust between both sides, with the Completion Ceremony conducted in the final level of the Cosmosphere significating that both have accepted each other from the bottom of their hearts.
  • Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica adds to the themes of the previous game the bonds between rulers and people, between friends, between family, and between people. The first part is shown by the relationship between the Grand Bell and the population of Metafalss, which begins as oppressive and harsh while Alfman is on charge, but it turns into a more benevolent government once Cloche assumes leadership of the region alongside Luca. The second topic is shown by how the party begins keeping all sorts of secrets from each other, but they slowly come to reveal them through the course of their journey, the best examples being Leglius' family life and Amarie's origins as well as Cloche's and Luca's interactions in the Infelsphere, where they grow from enemies to inseparable friends, and finally, family, tying into the topic of family bonds. As for the family bonds themselves, they are expressed mainly through the interactions between Luca and Reisha, as well as the songs they shared, but unfortunately their relationship went downhill due to the events they went through and never managed to get it back to a healthy and happy level before Reisha passed away, which Luca greatly regretted. Finally, the bonds between people are shown by the process used to create Metafalica: the singers need the cooperation of the people and the IPDs in order to gather the energy required for the creation of the continent, so if the feelings of the people aren't in unison and lack purity, the land either won't come into existence, or will appear as a hellish world instead of a paradise. This theme is also inverted due to the ideals of Infel and Nenesha of wanting to cast Hibernation and Sublimation to isolate the people into their own Soulspaces to allow them to live in their own personal paradises, which while being a noble ideal, doesn't allow people to grow they way they should due to the lack of interactions and the impossibility of forging bonds.
  • Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel uses again the theme of the relationships between men and women similarly to how it was used in Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia. However, it also incorporates the element of bonds between people and the planet, given that the current crisis is caused due to the Antibodies the planet is sending to destroy the humans in an attempt to save itself from certain death, while Aoto and his party are trying to restore Ar Ciel and convince its Wills that humanity deserves a second chance.

References

  1. Firefly Alley BBS Issue #10
  2. Firefly Alley BBS Issue #2
  3. Geimin.net Atelier Iris Sales Figures
  4. Geimin.net Atelier Iris 2 Sales Figures
  5. Geimin.net Ar tonelico Sales Figures

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