My biggest challenge recently came as a reviewer. I had to give one of those dreaded negative reviews. This is always tough, because you know you're about to go up against a dedicated fanbase...you really don't want to let them down. People think that, as a reviewer, I like giving these types of reviews. I hate them; I feel like I'm crushing people and it never feels good. Here's the thing, I LOVE games, in a perfect world, everything I play would be great and I'd praise it - but as we know that is unrealistic. As a fan, can you remember the worst entry of your favorite series? Maybe it just didn't click with you, maybe you thought it would have been better, maybe the game let you down. This is how I felt recently with Ar tonelico Qoga.
Before you judge, hear me out...
I LOVED Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia - it is one of my favorite PlayStation 2 games. I remember not expecting the journey I got from it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a series that wasn't afraid to use a traditional battle system and it was fun. Not to mention, the cosmospheres made me feel a connection to characters like I never felt before in a game. They were new, intense, and never predictable. There was also a deep history about a world where.. "everyone has forgotten how to sing." That phrase still sticks with me to this day. In the first game, when I first saw the tower appropriately called Ar tonelico, I knew the journey was going to be grand, and it definitely was. The game had a lot of depth to it and while there was a sexual flavor to the game, it was so hidden that you got the references,and it never felt forced upon you. The next game, Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica, was a worthy entry in the series, but the localization left much to be desired. In addition, the immaturity of the sexual jokes started to become all the more apparent. Despite that flaw, the series still shined in its ability to make the battle system feel fresh - it took its traditional battle system and made it way more interactive. Naturally, I wanted to see where the series was going after this entry, and so when Ar tonelico Qoga was announced, I was psyched to play it; I especially wanted to see what the final entry would offer.
And that's where it all went wrong. Save for the cosmospheres and interesting character relationships, what I got was not the series I held so dear to my heart. To start with, the sexual content was heightened to such a degree - it was impossible to ignore. The battle system was about stripping clothes off your Reyvateil, and it took away the traditional battle system and exchanged it with a poorly implemented action battle system. Sexual content aside, this game had some serious problems. I really like to see series improve upon each entry, and I felt that Qoga - being the final game - should have been the series' best effort, but it fell flat in many areas. Recycled content (trust me, when you get to this one maze-like dungeon that you revisit at least five times, you'll get what I'm talking about), an action battle system that prolongs battles instead of making them go faster, weak graphics compared to other 3D RPGs on the PS3, a story that never fully captivated me, and typical JRPG characters in every way. I'm sorry, I love this series so much that I know it's capable of better than this. As a fan and knowing this was the final entry, I was mad. I felt like I got cheated.
I'm also always going to push for stronger female characters in RPGs. I'm tired of the weak, dumb girls I'm constantly seeing. We've advanced past these stereotypes in society, so why can't we in our games? Why aren't we valuing independence? When it comes to male characters, why do these girls have to be so needy? I'm sorry, but Reyvateils are powerhouses in battles, so why does their personality make them seem like anything but?
As far as the conclusion to the story goes, it was acceptable, but as the credits rolled for the true ending (oh dear god, please go for the true ending - the normal and bad endings are so sad), I felt like I deserved more than I got. It was a feeling where you just felt letdown...the inner voice in your head screaming, "that's it?" I invested a lot of time in this game. I wanted to like it so bad, but the gameplay really was more chore-like than anything. Also, for a series so invested in its musical score, why was I left feeling like this one didn't live up to the magic of the past two games? There were too many changes in Qoga and very few felt like they were for the better.
All this aside, I dreaded writing my review. This was not going to be easy. Qoga is such a step back for the series; there was no way I could say otherwise. I want people to know I try to be brutally honest in my reviews. I don't want to sugarcoat things - if something strikes me passionately, you're going to know about it. As a fan, I wanted people to know we deserved better than what we got with Qoga. I also agonized about how to write the review many times. There were parts of the game that were decent, it was just the bad far outweighed the redeeming qualities.
So there I was faced with the most challenging review of my life - for a series I had once loved and now felt let down by. And so, I lifted my fingers and began to type - all of my feelings hit the paper in that review. For those questioning why I didn't go more into the story and history, I had written a preview for the game a couple of weeks ago, where I went more in-depth, and I didn't feel right echoing it back to you. Also, I like to be very spoiler-free in my reviews. As for the length, a shorter review style is something I am working on - why? I have been getting feedback from readers that reviews are too long and they wanted more opinion than anything. Believe it or not, I do listen and care what you guys think. Therefore, I wrote one of my most opinionated reviews to date and my goal was to do it in 2,000 words. It was a challenge, but I feel like I focused on what mattered in the end.
I want everyone to know: I didn't have a vendetta against the game. However, as a fan of the series, I was just extremely disappointed. Why? Because I know the series is better than what Qoga gave me. Also, I don't think Qoga had to go as far with some of its sexual elements - people love this series and it's not just because it has innuendo. We want a deep experience with our characters that go beyond lust. If the sexual content was done in a more tasteful fashion, I would be totally fine with it. Persona 3 & 4 immediately come to mind, you knew your character was about to get some loving, but it was never screamed in your face. At the end of the day, my score was not a reflection of the overdone sexual content, it was over gameplay mechanics that didn't work, a story I thought could have been stronger, horrible design, and recycled content like you wouldn't believe.
I'm not going to apologize for my opinion or for the fact that I was disappointed by the game. Maybe because I did mention the sexual stuff, it made it hard to see past that into the other flaws. But, I stand by my opinion, that it's not as tastefully done as it has been in past games. In the end, I really hope fans find something in Qoga to love - there are some great character relationships that I think you'll enjoy. I really hope they don't feel as letdown as I did, because it's the worst feeling when you anticipate a game, and it just doesn't measure up. I don't want you guys to feel that. Criticism is tough to take, I'll admit that. I welcome disagreements and discussions as long as it is respectful. But for all the criticism I've endured about sharing my honest feelings about the game, don't you think as fans that it's equally difficult to take criticism about a beloved series? Think how passionate and fired up you felt about my negative review - that's how I felt after playing Qoga, so I know the feeling all too well.