Atelier Iris is the latest in a long line of games from Japanese developer Gust. It's also the first of the series to be released in the US. It's a turn-based RPG that deals heavily in alchemic item transformation, and creation. I would be remiss not to mention that this game reminds me of a mix between Tales of Symphonia for Gamecube, and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time for PS2. While it's not similar to either game in many categories, it is a nice mix of some of those gameplay elements mixed with stunning visuals that will bring a grand sense of nostalgia to fans of "old school" RPGs for the SNES. NIS published the game and brought it to US shores, and fans of the Atelier series or just NIS games in general won't be disappointed.
8/10 - The graphics in Atelier Iris range from good to bad. The graphic system for the battles is wonderful. It's very colorful, and the Hi-Def sprites and spells are as huge and animated as you could expect. The backgrounds in towns and dungeons is also a site to behold, with beautiful hand drawn art as wondrous as it is colorful. Any fan of Manga or Anime won't have a problem loving the visuals in the game. The bad parts come in the form of a "world map" that seems more thrown together than my high-school science project. However, the small amount of time you actually spend on the world map is worth suffering through because of the wonder of the rest of the great visuals. During cutscenes, large drawings are done of the characters to show them talking, and changing their emotions. These are expertly drawn and fun to look at. Also note, that the FMV's in the game, though not very long, are quite good.
7.5/10 - The story of Atelier is engrossing for the most part. It gets very generalized towards the end, but not to spoil that, I'll give a brief synopsis of the story at the beginning of the game. Your Klein, a young alchemist on a mission to become great, for your own reasons, that are given during the story. You meet a young girl named Lita who saves your life from a killer bird. She insults your fighting ability, and leaves you to explore a town. Towns in Atelier Iris, are probably the funniest part of the game. Here you will find colorful streets and characters, and many, many side quests to keep those completionists playing for the long haul. The story takes various twists and turns, but nothing your not used to, if you've ever played a Japanese Console RPG, ever. Character development is strong, however, and the story will keep you playing this one until the end. After all, it's not the passable story that makes this game great, it's the visuals and...
Turn based RPGs are big in Japan. I guess that's why they do them so well.
The gameplay in Atelier will knock your socks off. You collect elements and develop new items to use as magical attacks, or healing items, and lots of other stuff. Us in the English speaking community are getting a system that has been refined over many games in Japan. I don't want to get too in depth here, about the alchemy system, but it requires elements and mana, and you can create some very powerful items towards the end of the game.
You collect elements by destroying objects in your surroundings, either in town or dungeons. There is no New Game+, which is disappointing, but playing through the game twice doesn't seem to be a bad idea, since there are different combinations of things to try. The game is 30-70 hours long, depending on what type of gamer you are. Completionists may end up spending more time than that on just one play through.
Finally, the game offers you powers to use in towns or dungeons that let you affect things on the screen and get to places you could previously see, but not reach, much like
Metroid. This can be very fun, and it's something I think a lot of other
RPG's should incorporate.
The VA and Localization for this game are top notch. Most of the songs are catchy, though they tend to grade on your nerves after a while. This is especially the case when you are on long fetch quests for shops, or synthesizing in town for long periods of time.
If you don't love Anime, turn based RPGs, and SNES sprites with cutesy music clanging in the background, then this game might not be for you. I love those things.
In conclusion, this game is fun. It's not something your going to be seeing a lot of on shelves, either. It'll probably be rare in less than a year. If you are looking for a good RPG to sink into for a while, buy this. For RPG and Anime fans, it's not to be missed.
Earlier I mentioned ToS and SO:TTEOT. This game is just about tied with ToS, and better than SO, in my humble opinion. If the game interests you, you can't go wrong giving it a try.
Atelier Iris: Eternal ManaESRB:
Platform: PlayStation 2