Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana
Game Info
Platform(s)
Playstation 2
Publisher
NIS America
Developer
Gust Incorporated
Genre
RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
 
Grade
The Good

• 2D graphics are gorgeous and detailed
• Lots of charm and fun to play
• Tons of items to find and create

The Bad

• 3D gameworld lacks
• Issues with voice tracks

 
Grade
B+

You've got to love Nippon Ichi Software - they've managed to corner the market of SRPGs for the PS2 and continue to put out RPGs steeped in old school style. They've made such a strong name for themselves that when they release a title, rabid fans snap them up like they're going out of style. This time around, though, Nippon Ichi's American branch, NIS America, has published Gust Incorporated's newest RPG, which still manages to fit well into the company's catalog well. While Gust and the Atelier name is rather unfamiliar on this side of the world, the series has been running strong in Japan since 1997.

As with previous installments, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana focuses on the practice of alchemy (you know - the science of creating items from other items, like gold from lead). The game stars Klein, an orphaned alchemist who apparently is a hell of a lot more talented than his few counterparts. In the land of Regallzine, alchemists are a rare breed, and since Klein has the ability to work with multiple Mana (fairy-like magical entities that are used to make items), its obvious that he's going to be the center of attention, and quick. I won't lie to you - Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana doesn't really stretch any boundaries for the genre story-wise, but man does it execute well with a great sense of humor and charm. In fact, the game is oozing so much charm that you can ignore the by-the-numbers plot and just push on for more character interaction.

Make no mistake by having the NIS America name on the front, Atelier Iris is a straight-up turn-based RPG. Players move Klein around the gameworld, getting into the occasional random battle (the encounter rate is actually quite laid-back). Unlike the standard RPG title, AI has a good bit of interactivity with your game world. You can jump and pick up items that appear. As you find new Mana throughout the game, new abilities are opened, allowing you to fly, destroy barriers and even create a step-stool. As you gain new Mana, you're likely to revisit old locations just to get to chests you couldn't reach earlier. The use of these Mana abilities, by swapping them with the L1/R1 buttons and hitting the Square button to use the ability, add a puzzle/platforming element to the dungeons.

Along with location interactivity, Mana have other uses. Mana can be equipped to give specific bonuses upon level-up (for both characters and Mana). They are also used in item creation as specific elements they are aligned with are used in each of the recipes. And since their own health and disposition wears as you use them, you'll need to give them gifts from the items you find.

While combat is turn-based, you can manage to squeeze in multiple actions in one turn depending on your speed and what attack you use. Other attacks take longer than a turn and can be interrupted or even send the character off the screen. Both of these offer more damage if you're willing to take the wait. Each character has specific skills hat they can use during battle and on level-up can be boosted with the points you earn for each level.

For those who love the item creation system from Star Ocean 3, then you will love the system available in Atelier Iris. There are literally hundreds of items to be made in the many shops, which include a bakery, bar, and item shops. While you'll start off with recipes to make with ingredients that are shown to you, you can swap out ingredients with items that are similar to hopefully create new items. You might ask "Why would I want to make and find so many items?" Well, first and foremost you can earn money and unlock game art and music by finding/creating more and more items. Also, pretty much everything has a use and can be part of recipes to make more items.

Visually, Atelier Iris recaptures the 16-bit era of hand-drawn backgrounds and character sprites well. In fact, AI feels like the spiritual update to the way Japanese RPGs were done before the advent of polygons. Character sprites are large and show both a good bit of detail and personality. Locations are bright and filled with detail. Destructible items fit in well with the static background and don't stand out like a sore thumb. While the 2D graphics and character portraits are wonderful, the 3D polygonal world map feel underdeveloped, as if it was added on in the last stages of development. Also, the random enemies suffer from a good bit of repetition and color swapping, sadly diluting their effectiveness.

Atelier Iris features the usual cast of voice actors. If you've played many RPGs or watched a anime or two, you'll recognize most of the character voices. Fortunately, their vocal direction is solid and most of the funny script is executed well. For purists, the Japanese vocal track is also available. When it comes to sound effects, AI uses the standard catalog of effects without really making a great effect. The soundtrack has a great variety of themes, all that seems to work well together. The opening theme that plays when you boot up the game is simply amazing and is always a job when it plays. The one glaring flaw of the audio is some serious glitches with the voice tracks that cause the occasional skipping or stuttering.

If you're a fan of Nippon Ichi, you already know that you want this title. And, even though it's a more traditional RPG, it fits well into the style and charm established by the publisher's catalog. For those who pine the 16-bit days, Atelier Iris is a wonderful bit of nostalgia that's good fun to play.

- - Kinderfeld

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