Video Game: EXA_PICO

aka: Ar Tonelico
The EXA_PICOnote  universe is an informal title applied to the series of games comprising the Ar tonelico trilogy and its prequel series, Surge Concerto.

Developed by Gust of Atelier series fame as the brainchild of the studio's sound team head Akira Tsuchiya, the series is known for its incredibly expansive World Building and in-series mythology, its indulgent use of Magitek, and its outstanding soundtrack involving singers with their own distinctive styles that give the series its own unique touch (seriously, just look at the openings for the Ar tonelico games courtesy of series regular Akiko Shikata).

The main elements of its universe revolve around the usage of Song Magic, effectively Magic Music that allows a singer to use their emotions to manipulate the state of the universe around them via "Wave Theory", typically in one of the series' multiple functional Conlangs. The series' main themes tend to involve the nature of humanity, the reasons for conflict, and its relationship with the living nature around it.

Other elements include item crafting with recipes that make no logical sense whatsoever, "Diving" (the ability to effectively provide therapy to a Song Magic singer by going through a visual-novel style representation of her emotions), and a significant degree of fanservice.

A number of spinoffs in various forms of media including drama CDs, novels, and manga also exist, along with a very, very large amount of supplemental material.

Ar tonelico

The initial trilogy of the series, centering around the planet of Ar Ciel and its post-apocalyptic state after a disaster called the Grathnode Inferia caused the ground to be swallowed up by poisonous clouds. As a result, humanity survives off the ground around the "three towers of Ar tonelico", which power the use of Song Magic. Such magic is usually carried out by "Reyvateils", a all-female race of effective Artificial Humans.

Strictly speaking, the three games are all Role-Playing Games, though the exact specifics vary between them. They were jointly developed by Gust and Banpresto, prior to the latter's absorption into Namco Bandai; all three were also localized into English by NISA.

  • Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia (PS2): Centers around the region of Sol Ciel around the First Tower of Ar tonelico. A knight named Lyner Barsett is sent by the tower's administrator, Shurelia, to investigate an outbreak of creatures called Viruses. Along the way, he's accompanied by a number of friends including two Reyvateils: Aurica, a member of the Church with low self-esteem, and Misha, Lyner's Forgotten Childhood Friend. Lyner's investigation, meanwhile, seems to indicate that there may be more to the source behind the Viruses than meets the eye. This is the first game in the franchise and a fairly straightforward turn-based RPG.
  • Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica (PS2): The region surrounding the Second Tower, Metafalss, falls to a Reyvateil-exclusive epidemic called I.P.D., which only worsens an ongoing conflict between two factions regarding the goddess Frelia and a failed attempt at creating a mythical paradise called Metafalica centuries past. Protagonist Croix Bartel is sent to protect the current Holy Maiden, Cloche, only to be thrown deep into the mystery about what happened during the failure centuries ago, the true nature of the faction war, and the true natures of Cloche and Croix's girlfriend, Luca. This game overhauls the battle system and divides it into two phases, "Attack" and "Defense", the former in which the party attacks as quickly as they can and the latter in which they defend the Reyvateils in the back charging up their Song Magic.
  • Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel (PS3): In Sol Cluster, the region around the Third Tower, Reyvateils hold a firm grip on the human population by regularly culling their population and brainwashing them. A human named Aoto comes upon a mysterious Reyvateil named Saki with various inexplicable abilities on the run, and runs away with her for her safety. Befriending others along the way, including an equally mysterious Reyvateil named Finnel, they soon get involved with the history behind the Third Tower and potentially the fate of the entire planet of Ar Ciel. This game completely eschews the turn-based system in favor of an Action RPG, and is the first in the series to be in 3D.

Surge Concerto

A prequel pair of games to the Ar tonelico trilogy, centering around the planet Ra Ciela and its fate. Although the two games follow some different rules regarding Song Magic from Ar tonelico, they follow under the same overarching Wave Theory and universe. These games were developed after Gust had merged with Koei Tecmo.

As of this writing, Ciel nosurge has never been localized, while both versions of Ar nosurge have been localized by Koei Tecmo.

  • Ciel nosurge (Vita): A Simulation Game revolving around a girl named Ion, who has amnesia and needs the player's assistance to recover her memories by Diving into her mind. Ion's memories involve her status as a princess and one of the two candidates to become Empress, and must live among the people for three years as a trial before she can be chosen. The reason for the importance of the Empress succession is that the planet Ra Ciela is, for some reason, doomed. The game was originally released as a heavily online-based game before it received an Updated Re-release titled Ciel nosurge Offline.
  • Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star (PS3/Vita): Thousands of years later, a colony of people on the starship Soreil struggle against the hostile Sharls, and the population is split between two factions that support or defend themselves against them. Among the latter group is the amnesiac Delta Lantonoil and his Song Magic-using childhood friend Casty "Cass" Rianoit, and their fate - along with the fates of everyone on Soreil - quickly becomes intertwined with the appearance of Ion and her robot companion Earthes. Originally released on the PS3, it was eventually ported to the Vita under the name Ar nosurge Plus. The game largely resembles an Ar tonelico game, with a hybrid turn-based/action-based battle system somewhat similar to Ar tonelico II's, but changes things up in a few ways such as having the functional "party" be restricted to four characters in two pairs which the player can swap between.


The series as a whole, and related media, provide examples of:

  • 100% Completion: Getting full completion on the Cosmospheres. Like the average Visual Novel, picking the wrong responses will have you kicked out and disliked by the Reyvateil. However, when attempting to see all of the dialogue (as is a requirement for one of the trophies in Qoga), many guides usually insist to DO EVERYTHING instead.
  • All There in the Manual: Much of the history of the world of Ar Ciel (and the greater Multiverse, Exa Pico) is explained in supplemental material that is only available in Japanese.
    • Yay for wikis. Also, a Genius Bonus as a lot of the technology in the series is blatantly based off computers.
  • And Your Reward Is Clothes: Not that this is a bad thing for going through Cosmospheres because it works like armor upgrades for Reyvateils.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Having some knowledge of Hymmnos makes the Hymns that much better and show how they fit in the story, even hinting at things that haven't been revealed yet. Alternately, finding the lyrics online works just as well.
    • In a particularly nifty piece of foreshadowing that hints at a character's motives in Metafalica, the hymn EXEC_HARMONIUS/. from the first game has the word Metafalica in it repeatedly. In this instance and, so far, only in this instance, Metafalica means 'Song of Hope.' Given what Jakuri hopes to accomplish in the second game... Let's just say that the writers thought ahead.
  • Blessed with Suck:
    • Third Generation Reyvateils get nifty song magic and all, but after coming into their powers, they have to take a substance called Diquility every three months just to continue living. This stuff is expensive and the Installation is equivalent to a first time.
    • Averted with Origin and Beta type Reyvateils, who get Stronger song magic and very extended lifespans (Betas have about 150 years and the Origins are over 700 years old each, implied to be immortal for as long as their tower exist).
  • Character Development: The whole point of the Cosmospheres, though characters aside from the Reyvateils get development, too.
  • Conlang: Hymmnos. There are even different vocabulary words depending on region, and vastly different grammatical structures for Central Standard Note/Metafalss Note and New Testament of Pastalie Hymmnos. Yes, half of that page is dedicated to being a dictionary. A lot of thought was put into making the language.
    • The third game also gives us Ar Ciela, while Surge Concerto gives us Emotional Song Pact and REON-4213.
  • Cutting Off the Branches: The second Ar tonelico game rules out the bad and normal endings for the first.
  • Data Crystal: The Hymn Crystals contain the information for songs.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Diving, Installing and most other interactions between the main characters and their harem of Reyvateils are played up as intimate affairs without the physical intimacy.
    • The Diquility installation can only be called "a PG-13 cherry popping sequence." There is an doujinshi that makes this reference in reverse context.
  • Emotionless Girl: Mir originally, which was what her creators wanted, but she grew out of it. Later, Bourd tried to find a way to make all Reyvateils into this.
  • The End of the World as We Know It:
    • It's happened twice in the past- the first being the Grathnode Inferia, the second when Reyvateils on Ar tonelico revolted against humans and destroyed about half of the floating continent as well as the civilization on it.
    • Part three extends this to all ends where Mir is not freed: Without her involvement in the second game, the Heart of Gaea wouldn't have reached the third tower (at least not in time), thus dooming the entire planet.
  • Fanservice: It's everywhere.
    • For starters, you can force every Reyvateil to fight wearing bath towels, pajamas, or a variety of other costumes. They will call you out on it once you get to a town, but expect them to be embarrassed and gushy while doing so.
    • The second Ar tonelico game features taking baths to level up.
    • The third game takes it to a Logical Extreme: All the Reyvateils power up by stripping off their clothes. To top it all off, there are technically more than three, each with different personalities, clothes, and body types...sort of.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • In Elemia, Reyvateils are often treated as second class citizens, to the extent that Lyner is depicted as standing out for treating them like he would any normal human. Justified in the first game, since aside from the portion of Tenba that Bourd is running, most of the racism is aimed at Reyvateils without a partner, such as Claire. This makes sense, seeing as Reyvateils on the Wings of Horus had destroyed a good half of a continent when Mir rebelled.
    • Averted in the city of Platina. When The Church Attacks you can see how the knights fight without backup to give their Reyvateil partners time to rest and recover. Hilariously, the Church Knights that they were fighting act more like Tenba grunts than anything else.
    • Lyner defying this trop in regards to viruses, like Ayatane is pre-condition for the good ending.
    • Reversed in the third Ar tonelico game, where Reyvateils from Clustania see humans as "impure" and do their best to Cleanse (wipe out) or Purify (brainwash) them. It helps that the main computer was hacked and had her personality changed into a genocidal maniac. The straight version is present in Raphael who thinks like Bourd.
  • Fashionable Asymmetry:
    • Older Misha only needs one stocking.
    • Finnel from the third game as well. Her stockings don't match.
  • Fictionary: Reyvateils (and occasionally humans) communicate with Ar tonelico in a warped creole of English, German and Sanskrit known as Hymmnos. However, among themselves they speak garden-variety Japanese (or English, if you're playing the dub.) Metafalss and Ar tonelico have different dialects of Hymmnos (or Hymnos in the English localization).
  • Fiery Redhead: Inverted with Krusche. The only time she EVER gets fired up at all is when she's talking about or involved with high-tech airships and getting to the top of the Tower. 99% of the rest of the time she's the incredibly laid-back, droll, Deadpan Snarker type.
  • Fix Fic:
    • Done in-game in Shurelia's Cosmosphere story at the request of Lyner, who Justifies it by (what else) "the original sucks!" Mir takes this very personally but then again she did infect the scenario in the first place because Lyner was 'playing next to her prison'.
    • The completion of all cosmosphere levels could be referred to as this. Cosmosphere levels, especially the lower ones, represent a reyvateil's issues, where they act out inner conflicts and have not been able to resolve them. The job of a cosmosphere diver is essentially to act as a Self-Insert Fic Marty Stu character, breaking the Reyvateil out of a hopeless cycle and encouraging them to reach a good ending.
  • Flanderization: Any part of a Reyvateil's problems/desires gets blown up to spectacular proportions in their Cosmosphere. Later levels don't even try to hide it via metaphor.
  • Floating Continent: The setting of all three Ar tonelico games, given most of the world has been engulfed in the Sea of Death.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: Averted as Song magic is cast during various cut-scenes, with varying effects.
  • Genre Shift: Cosmosphere's take a shift towards more Visual Novel-type stories. Usually, each level is an Out-of-Genre Experience.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The sheer amount of crap is astounding in the US release. (some other countries are more relaxed about things like sexuality, which explains it being 7+ in Europe and 12+ in Japan)
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Happens in Elemia, but you don't quite become aware of it until Metafalica. By Jakuri's own admission, the "Mir" inside Shurelia's corny Magical Girl love story was not an avatar, but rather the real one playing along with the game, which she herself had scripted. So, at the time Lyner was trekking through the tower to find a way to save ominous and terrifying Mother Virus Mir, Mir herself was content playing a video game with Shurelia. Bizarrely, it makes some sense in hindsight, as the two were friends and, most of her nefarious plots having failed completely, she wasn't doing anything at the moment. To top it off, the only remaining bit of bad blood Jakuri has against Lyner is completely unrelated to him stopping her century-long plans: She's angry about him rewriting the ending to her game.
  • Guide Dang It: Getting all the talk options with the Reyvateils, which have requirements ranging from making a certain item to going to certain places or talking to the other girls a certain number of times in a row. Made worse with the fact that a great deal of talks can be Lost Forever. Thankfully they can be aquired via multiple playthroughs. Otherwise, it would be impossible (not that all the topics are required to clear the game or the Cosmospheres).
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Third Generations Reyvateils start as humans which change at any time during their childhoods/puberty, and can interbreed with them. The children may be either human or Reyvateils. The Origins and Betas don't count because of being completely artificial life forms.
  • Haunted Technology: Infel lives on past her death via the Infel Phira server. Nenesha sort of counts, because of the integration of technology with Reyvateils' minds. Mir does something similar to Infel for a good portion of the first game, but she's not actually dead.
  • I'm Melting: what happens to the Beta Reyvateils when they die, and also, what happens to any Beta or Origin that dares to leave the area effect of her Song Server.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The English releases so far follow the pattern of Melody of (X).
    • The third game is named Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel, apparently to prevent people from thinking that they need to have played the first two, although it helps understand the overall story if they have.
  • Idiot Hero: Lyner.Mir discusses in broad strokes how much his idiocy pissed her off in the sequel, despite being the primary beneficiary of it. The real reason Mir resents him is that he wrote a fixit fic for Shurelia's cosmosphere due to not liking its sad original ending, giving the excuse that the story should have a happy ending because the real world had enough sadness already.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: The game makes a point of this. Killing Mir nets you a bad ending. The only good endings occur when (after being asked by Tastiella), the group goes out of their way to understand Mir's position and defeat her without killing her.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal:
    • Misha; the Star Singer has a crappy life stuck singing for years on end in a dark room.
    • Shurelia also has her moments; her 'cosmosphere' is chosen specifically because she wants to experience 'normal' life.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: Between the knight armor and cosplay outfits it would be faster to list who doesn't qualify
  • In Harm's Way: Jack: "I'm glad the world is peaceful and all but I need some excitement in my life."
  • Innocent Innuendo: Where do we start?!
    • The insertion of "Diquility," a substance in the form of a large crystal that must be inserted into a Third Generation Reyvateil every three months through a place called their "Installer Port." Croix must do this twice during the story (Lyner can do it once if he goes on Aurica's path), and it's always Their First Time. Aoto gets it the worst - none of the ally Reyvateils are Third Gen, but he does have to uninstall an item from a heroine, with similar results.
    • In fact, there's so much Innocent Innuendo that you can't really blame Lyner for being a literal Accidental Pervert. He always reacts like how you would expect a normal person to react, so the girls assume he's thinking something dirty... correctly.
      • Seriously, it's one gigantic scene of nothing but innuendo. It MUST be seen to be believed. Or heard. If you listen to the audio without looking at the video, you will feel like some sort of voyeur.
  • Invisible Backup Band: Whenever one of the Reyvateils sings. Lore has it that the Song Server the Reyvateils are connected to provides most of them.
  • Joshikousei: All the heroine Reyvateils have a school uniform costume.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: Diving into a Reyvateil's Cosmosphere both helps them craft new song magic and is an excellent form of psychotherapy. Unfortunately, it can be hazardous to the diver's health.
  • Kill 'em All: According to the myths, Sieryek, son of an El nemesys sovereign, killed the King of his own kingdom and some other ruling sovereigns which included his own father. However, he couldn't kill Princess Liarsha due to his love for her, instead telling her go free. In the end, the love that she had once shared with Sieryek turned to hatred and she eventually killed him and then herself immediately afterwards. Obviously, nobody survived.
  • Language of Magic: Hymmnos is a constructed language that is instantly comprehensible to any Reyvateil due to their connection to the Towers, and thus to the libraries that contain all the information about the language. Only a few non Reyvateils like Laude or Croix bother to learn it.
  • Level-Up at Intimacy 5: Diving into a Reyvateil's Cosmosphere (which involves playing through scenarios that are a cross between dating and psychotherapy) will result in the Reyvateil crafting powerful new songs which she can use in battle. In addition, to unlock new Cosmosphere levels, you must first invite them into your room at night and... have an intimate chat with them, with topics ranging from scenic observations to expressing jealousy.
  • Like a Son to Me: Inverted. Shurelia repeatedly tells Lyner that he reminds her of her father, probably due to Lyner's grathmelding genius & the fact that he's one of the few people to ever see the goddess as a person who needs help sometimes, just like anyone else.
  • Limit Break: In the first game, these can be activated after guarding a Reyvateil.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Reyvateils get costume changes, but, except for Croix out of Metafalica, who has a civilian set of clothes (with glasses), none of the other front-liners ever change clothes. While characters like Krusche or Amarie might get away with it, due to their "armor" essentially being bulletproof clothes, Leglius in particular is never seen outside of his full plate armor, which practically looks like its breastplate was made by welding the bow of a battleship to his chest.
  • Long Title: The original titles are like this, and probably why the English releases are shortened.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: The lower levels of the Cosmosphere do this to everyone. Justified in that the lower levels (starting at level 5) are said to be closer to the Reyvateil's subconscious/unconscious levels, meaning they're a lot less restrained in expressing their emotions and...ahem..."desires."
  • Love Makes You Evil: Ayatane, though he gets better.
  • Love Triangle: In all three Ar tonelico games there is one between The Protagonist and two to three Reyvateils. Surge Concerto, on the other hand, averts it completely; the pairings are definitively set out as Earthes (you)/Ion and Delta/Cass from the start.
  • Machine Worship: A far more benign version than usual, but everyone outright worships or at least acknowledges the Revytail Origins as gods.
  • Magic from Technology: Reyvateil songs are referred to as magic, but it's actually tapping into the shared power source of the local tower and forming it based on commands in Hymnos. Channeling this kind of energy is not something the human body is built for, so reyvateil/human hybrids (as in, basically every Reyvateil alive) tend to have very short lives even with life extending drugs.
  • The Magic Goes Away: The temporal shutdown of Ar Tonelico in the first game has severe implications for the next one's plot:
    • Namely, Metafalss, the Floating Continent which also doubles as the setting of the second Ar tonelico game, requires song magic to stay afloat, and shutting down Ar Tonelico forces Frelia to draw from her own reserves, which was why she was so powerless in the second game, despite being an Origin.
  • Magic Knight:
    • Misha would like to be this: "If I could fight while singing then I'd be killing two birds with one stone."
    • This trope isn't played straight until II with Cocona, a reyvateil who is also a front-line fighter.
  • Magic Music From Technology describes Song Magic.
  • Mental World: The Reyvateils' Cosmospheres are their minds as made comprehensible to humans diving in them.
  • Mundane Utility: In one of the radio dramas, the costume change is used as a quick way to change out of clothes.
  • No Biological Sex: The Sharls are apparently this. Kanon describes them as all looking androgynous, although the models for them look more on the end of feminine.
  • Non-Singing Voice: Each Song Magic user has an assigned "Star Singer" who sings all of her significant plot-related songs, while a voice actress does all her dialogue. This is justified both in-universe and out; in-universe, at least in the Ar tonelico series for Reyvateils, the Tower is what actually processes the songs and it stands to reason that the songs may not necessarily reflect what their actual vocal cords produce, while as far as production is concerned the real-life singers used in the franchise have distinctive signature styles that form the crux of the series' soundtrack itself (Akiko Shikata in particular composes her own songs). Within the games, whenever characters aren't singing with to any major degree (singing to themselves, Ar nosurge's synthesis songs, etc.), it's usually the voice actor instead.
    • Surge Concerto is an interesting variation in that Cass's Star Singer, Yoshino Nanjo, is both a singer and a voice actress, but Cass's speaking voice is a different voice actress (Inori Minase).
  • Older Than They Look:
    • Misha at least in the beginning because she de-aged herself.
    • Beta type Reyvateils age only till they get hot. Then they don't age at all and they live for about 150 years, so you do the math. There are some others better covered below by Really 700 Years Old.
    • Incarnates such as Sarly and Cass stop aging as soon as they're Incarnated, which does cause the two of them some frustration as the former looks like a child or preteen and the latter looks like a teenager (they're both around 21). Similarly, since Sharls don't age, Nay is far older than she looks (and in fact is older than Delta).
  • One-Gender Race: Reyvateils, since something in the Y chromosome negates Reyvateil powers.
  • Powers as Programs: The various Hymn Crystals grant songs to those who use them. The Hymns (the song sung) vary depending on the singer, but the effects do not.
    • REON-4213 brings the analogy much closer than before considering that it uses syntax reminiscent of actual programming code (carets, ->, semicolons).
  • Power of Love: The power of a Reyvateil's song is proportional to her "intensity of emotion". Blue Magic, for instance, is more powerful if the Reyvateil is in love with the person she's making it for.
  • Power of Rock: In addition to powering spells, songs are used at several points in the games to inspire the world's population.
  • Rousseau Was Right: With perhaps one exception per game, everyone in the franchise is doing what they feel is best for the betterment of mankind (and Reyvateil-kind). On top of that, the final boss of each game performs a Heel-Face Turn, if they weren't doing what they felt was best in the first place.
  • Save Point: In places like dungeons and Inns.
  • School Swimsuit: One of Shurelia's costumes.
  • Sound Stone: Hymn Crystals contain songs.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Spellings for names were changed between the Japanese and American releases.
  • Serial Escalation: Just how blatantly Fan Servicey can we get the Reyvateils into next time without pushing the T rating? The third Ar tonelico game features stripping to power up and got an M rating in the US.
  • Sprite/Polygon Mix: Each game steadily incorporates more 3D, and AT3 finally makes the leap.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: A Tropes Are Not Bad version. The language of Hymmnos places heavy emphasis on emotional states (and in fact has a grammar rule for them). This is needed for the Reyvateils to properly communicate their emotions to the tower and cast magic.
  • Transformation Is a Free Action:
    • The ladies of the first and second Ar tonelico games have plenty of time to change clothes before attacking or getting attacked.
    • The ladies in the third Ar tonelico game have plenty of time to take them off and pose during battle. Except in the one battle with time limit. Which is usually the only battle where each and every transformation sequence is shown in full length, just to taunt you.
  • Transformation Sequence:
    • Though not like a typical Magical Girl, the Reyvateils do change clothes for added power and the like.
    • The third Ar tonelico game has the reverse: they take their clothes off for added power.
  • Translation Convention: According to the creators, neither English or Japanese exist in Ar Ciel, and instead, everyone communicates through a common language called "Shell".
  • 24-Hour Armor:
    • Lyner and Radolf never change out of their armor-plated outfits.
    • Croix does but Legilus does not.
  • Widget Series: A textbook example of the trope, as the things it parodies are already a bit weird in Japan. In Americans this means the reactions tend to range from bemusement to astonishment to abhorrence.

Alternative Title(s):

Ar Tonelico, Surge Concerto