Atelier Iris – Eternal Mana

Atelier Iris is one of the first RPGs ever to have its original Japanese voices intact, together with English subtitles. This was my biggest reason for buying the game – I have waited for something like this for ages. Not that I know Japanese, just a few words and phrases, but sometimes when the English voice acting is poorly made, you would really like to have known what the original voices sounded like. Unfortunately, the game saves every other option that you change, except for your choice of language. Turn the game off and start again, and you will notice that it has switched back to English. That is lame if you ask me; I mean come on – what are memory cards for?

Plattform: Playstation 2
Utvecklare: Gust
Utgivare: NIS America
Släppdatum: 28 juni 2005 (US)
Köp här: VideoGamesPlus

The game starts off pretty simple, outside the town Kavoc that will become your base. Atelier Iris feels like an adventure RPG at first, since you can jump and extract elements from most items you see, in towns or in dungeons. There is an action-dial on the top left corner of your screen, and with the L/R-buttons you change to an action you want to execute and then the square-button will be set to it. Simple enough? But hold on – there is more.

The game’s first hours will take you through a series of optional tutorials, most of which covers the action dial. Fortunately, they are not ridiculously long, but be warned, there are quite a lot of these. So, if my first thought was that it feels like an adventure RPG, I can safely say I was right. Half way through the game you will have a bunch of different things in your action-dial that will allow you to go to places you could not reach in a place you visited earlier in the game for example. Pretty nifty.

Gameplay is somewhat linear, even though it says on the back of its case that “400 different events can occur depending on your actions” – but you cannot go to new places unless you have completed certain tasks or quests. Let us say you manage to save someone from a dangerous cave and what do you know – suddenly you can travel to this place and that place! Most of the time you get the option of seeing the route to those new places and you might want to say yes if this question comes up. I am 24 hours into this game and still there is not a world map in sight. Sure, there is a tiny black and white map in the manual, but I do not think it is good game design to leave out the world map in an RPG.

Speaking of the world, you cannot rotate the camera, even though the world map is in 3D, the camera will just adjust itself to your main character. It works, but it would have been nice to actually see more of your surroundings. The rest of the game is in 2D though. The towns, characters and dungeons are all made up by colorful pixel graphics. Cute, but it is not the best 2D-work I have seen. Somehow it does not feel up to date.

Storywise, I have to say that I am not really impressed with what the game has offered so far. In the beginning people just tag along with you as if it was no big deal, you do not really get any background information on any of your companions until way later in the game. When it comes to background information on characters, you will befriend store clerks (you heard me) in this game and learn more about them, for some reason. Yes, this is the first game I have ever played that had such emphasis on stores and even synthesizing. Practically 50 percent of my time played, have been spent in stores synthesizing new items. And this is not really a choice either. You do need better items as the game progresses and you can only carry 9 items of each at a time. Sometimes an item is sold out and it is up to you to synthesize the item you want.

Main character Klein can synthesize mana items, even in battle, and he is the only one in your party with this ability. I mostly use his stuff, because it is that good. And yet, this is not all of the synthesizing you can do, you can also synthesize weapons and apply the power of mana to them. I have actually forgotten where I was supposed to go next because of all this mixing and matching with items, but luckily there is an option on your action-dial where you can find out what your mission is, in case you would forget. Synthesizing is cool, and making new items for your favorite stores can be a blast, but it is quite time consuming and I want to play an RPG with a good story and not just fiddle around with items and weapons. Then again, if you are a collector type of player, you will love this game, since creating certain items and so on will open up bonuses in the game, like artwork, music etc. All of that can take hours but unfortunately I do not have that kind of time.

Let us move on to battles – they are pretty simple, even the graphics. What is good though is that Atelier Iris has the same function that I loved in Final Fantasy X, the switch character function. You do not lose a turn here either and you can even change a member that has fallen in battle. The battles become boring after a while since it is basically the same thing over and over again, but sometimes the battle theme changes and that is always refreshing. Otherwise the game’s soundtrack has done little to impress me. The tunes are very bland actually and I cannot feel the game’s atmosphere. Too bad.

I mentioned voices earlier and here is what I think; the Japanese voices are way better than the English ones, but a few times in the game even I – who do not know Japanese – noticed flaws in the translation. That is a big no-no. This annoyed me a lot so I decided that I would shut the voices off instead. Much better. The voices are still active in the battles though. When it comes to synthesizing, some of the English translation is poorly made. You get reviews on your items, but how can “little smells bad” etc, be considered good English? NIS America gets credit for keeping the original voices, but try to work even harder or the translation until next time, okay?

The game is fun, no question about it, but will it be remembered for anything more than its breakthrough with voices? In my opinion, this will just be another okay-RPG that soon will be left forgotten in my book case.

Skriven: 2005-08-27

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