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RELEASE DATE (NA): April 25, 2006 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Mo' Puni, mo' Puni, mo' Puni!

I played the first Atelier Iris game several years ago, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The game featured a variety of cute characters, more colours than I could shake a stick at, a quaint and lovable soundtrack, and solid classic RPG-style gameplay. What more could a quaint, lovable, solid, classic fellow like myself ask for? For whatever reason — let's call it "gaming diversity" — I put off playing the sequel, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, for a very long time. But here I am, in the dusk of a cold November evening, finally able to tell you about Atelier Iris 2. And what I've come up with is this: if you liked the first one, you'll probably like the second one. And if you've played the first one, you've already got the hang of the second one.

Atelier Iris 2 is, in essence, an extension of the previous game, although the number of jokes about women's thighs have been greatly reduced. It is a turn-based RPG, and an extremely linear one at that. You are following the adventures of Felt and Viese, two alchemists living in Eden who suddenly have the weight of the world on their shoulders. After a series of quakes, Felt is suddenly able to pull the legendary Azure Azoth (a magic sword that irritatingly patronizes its user). Felt must then venture on into another interconnected world to find the source of these problems while Viese remains in Eden patiently awaiting positive news. The game switches back and forth between the two on occasion, mostly to have Viese either use alchemy to synthesize an item you need or to make a pact with a certain elemental Mana and improve your alchemic skills. Of course, there's more than meets the eye than a few measly earthquakes. After all, how did they make half of Eden disappear? And why is there a gate to another world?

Like its predecessor, you're almost literally spoonfed the plotline: entering one area will trigger a conversation that will lead you to the next location to visit, which will in turn tell you where to go next, and so forth. In fact, I was amazed by just how linear the game really is. It's really odd to go to a place on a map, stay for a couple of minutes, learn about who to drop in on next, and then leave. On the world map, a path to the next area appears (with bonus peppy jingle) and you just go there.

In many of the game's varied regions, you encounter random battles. Well, actually, they're random to a degree. On the bottom left of your screen, you'll see a meter. Each area in a region will have a specific number of encounters you can experience; as you fight, the meter slowly drops to zero. It's rather difficult to level up in such a situation, although by leaving the entire region and re-entering, the available battles will respawn. Why this mechanic even exists is beyond me, although it does help when you're trying to explore. Who wants hordes of random enemies shoved in their faces when you're trying to shimmy your way through a labyrinthine tunnel?

The battle system is simple enough. Some pack of creepy ghouls shows up, and you have to desecrate every single one. Each character has a Charge attack (a regular attack, even if it doesn't sound like it), a Break attack (we'll talk about that in a bit), and special skills; the ability to use items (and synthesize them using Mana Elements if the character is an alchemist); defend oneself; or try to escape and save your skin. You can also change characters on the fly if you think a different one would serve better. As well, if one character falls, another from the party will take his or her place (if there are more than three living individuals in the party). Skill Points also play a role in the game. The legendary concept of magic points have been given a temporary boot from the genre and are replaced by these. There is a meter in the top right of the battle screen; by performing charge attacks, you essentially "charge" up the meter. By using the Skills command in your battle menu, you can choose to demonstrate different offensive, defensive, or healing abilities, all at the cost of points from the skill meter.

When you're not synthesizing items, feel free to slice into a beastly skull for fun.

Like in the first Atelier Iris game, however, the focus (supposedly) is on alchemy and synthesis. This basically means that you're responsible for creating your own items with the help of Mana spirits, either via your workshop back in Eden with real ingredients or faking it on the road using mana elements. These elements (such as Fire, Lightning, Life, etc.) can be extracted from your surroundings, be they shrubs, large rock formations, or even from enemies, all using your seemingly innate ability to absorb mana from the world around you. Money earned is used more to buy recipes and ingredients for your alchemy, rather than the items created. Atelier Iris 2 simplifies the positions of Mana: they only help with item creation and generally have little effect on the rest of your journey. The game, however, puts a heavy emphasis on seeking out and making pacts with these Mana so they can help you.

This game tries to balance the synthesis and the battle elements, and it does so fairly well, using a chapter system to switch between the two when the plot requires it. The chapters of the game involving Viese are relatively dull, as there are no monsters to fight in Eden and simply involve her running around looking for Mana like a chicken with its head cut off. The story of Felt in this new world and the troubles of its citizens is a far more enticing one, and luckily, we are able to see it to the end.

Atelier Iris 2 continues the tradition of using 2D sprites instead of 3D models. They certainly look great and are quite colourful, and they are definitely not off-putting in any way. Likewise, the backgrounds all appear hand-painted and quite detailed. But what really drew me in was the compelling soundtrack; no two songs are alike and could belong to their own games, and yet they fit perfectly in their given settings. And the best part is that the music is absolutely a blast to listen to! The voice acting, on the other hand... well, let's just say that the cornball filter was turned off during the recording. It's not all bad, but the characters sound as natural as Cheez Whiz. The presentation is usually good, save for the rare typo here and there. Unlike the first game, I didn't encounter any nasty game-breaking bugs. What a relief!

To sum it up, Atelier Iris 2 is a slight simplification but still an enjoyable RPG. Basically, if you enjoyed the first game, you'll enjoy the second one because of their strong similarities. Plus, who can resist Poe the fairy boy who, when in trouble, may scream, "Attica! Attica!" Classic.

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