Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana

Yes, I am doing another video game review, Rich. Deal with it. This one’s another RPG, one that’s both on a significantly smaller scale than Rogue Galaxy was (it’s only one planet that’s at stake, not the entire galaxy, and I don’t think the world’s even at risk of ending, just being much less pleasant to live in, and is a lot more “traditional“ than the various innovations Rogue Galaxy tried) while also being a good deal more fun to play. Funny how that one aspect always seems to trump everything else.

In this game you’re an alchemist named Klein (pronounced ‘clean’ for some reason, despite looking like the German name) who leads a group of adventurers that go around ridding the land of monsters and promoting alchemy and mana, before running afoul of villains like the alchemist Mull, who wants to use ancient forbidden arts to twist mana to his own ends, or Beggur, the leader of a local order of knights that keeps trying to bully you into joining him. The plot isn’t incredibly elaborate, and the villains aren’t as menacing as in some games (though some of the bosses are really damn hard if you don’t have your game face on), but after having played so many RPGs where all of existence is at stake, it’s kind of nice to play one that takes a different approach to things.

Much of the game is spent synthesizing various items and mana, to either give you new, more powerful items, or to bond any acquired mana to your equipment to heavily beef up your attack and magic powers. If that sounds tedious, you can always just skip those aspects of the game, though it does mean you’ll be missing out on many of the game’s best items, and the later boss battles will be much harder. There’s also a great deal of optional side quests you get to go on, from collecting special items to help various NPCs out, to an entire bonus dungeon that gets unlocked after beating the final boss (yes, make sure you save your game afterward), to help keep the game from being too linear.

There are some pretty notable flaws, however. First and foremost, while all the main characters and many of the NPCs are pretty fun and colorful, the English voice acting is pretty rough to get through. You can change it in the Options screen to the original Japanese voice actors, who are much better, but due to some wonderful programming quirk every single time you start your game up again it resets back to English. I’d like to say that the game was playtested enough to find such an obvious flaw, and so it was an intentional decision on the part of some malicious programmer, but given that the end credits announce things like how the game was made “In Cooperated With Sony Computer Entertainment of America”, it seems quite likely that many of those involved in translating the game for North America weren’t completely focused on their duties.

There’s also a wee problem with the length of the game. I didn’t really do many side quests on my run through (at least not before beating the end boss the first time), so they may stretch it out a bit more, but I beat the game in under twenty hours, which makes this the shortest RPG I’ve played since…I don’t even know. Breath of Fire 1 or Super Mario RPG, I guess. The bonus dungeon will add another hour or two, not because it’s all that long, but rather because the monsters in it are incredibly difficult (that is of course unless you’re “cheating” and using the Avoid Monsters mana). I got the game for free, so I suppose I can’t complain much, but it would hardly be fair to all of you cherished fans out there if I weren’t to mention it. I also have an issue where my favorite character early on gets injured for the bulk of the game, making it a pain in the ass to use her until she gets fully fixed. If you’re going to make it a chore to use her, why not just remove her as a playable character entirely? She’s not doing anyone any good staying on the roster.

Still, for all that it’s definitely on the slighter side as RPGs go, it’s funny, clever, and just plain fun to play. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and it’s nothing particularly essential to play, but you will definitely enjoy yourself while you’re playing. Really, isn’t that the most important thing?

Rating: ***