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// review by SoyBomb

Do quests until we come up with more plot, please.

Anyone remember Home Alone 3? The Godfather Part III? Night At The Museum 3? Batman Forever? RoboCop 3? Uhhhh... Cinderella III: A Twist in Time?! What do all these movies have in common? They're all collectively known as "triquels", the third entry in a long-running series. There's a long-standing trope that the third movie in a series is always the worst. Now then... is this the case for video games as well? Well, if Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is anything to go by, then yes.

The plot, in and of itself, is very thin and is stretched out as far as it can go, a twin-size storyline heaved across a king-size mattress. Basically, your main character, Iris, has a book called the Escalario, which is capable of granting the wish of anyone who unlocks its power by amassing the eight gems scattered throughout the world. Of course, others with more malicious intent also want to use this book for their own vile demands and plot to do so. So, Iris, along with her childhood friend Edge and, later on, tag-along and resident squeaky busybody Nell, go on the hunt for the gems.

Yet eighty percent of this game is not related to the plot. As Raiders for the Guild of Zey Meruze, you're expected to take on quests to aid the local citizens. And let me tell you: there is no shortage of quests. Accepting quests from the Guild gives you great opportunities to visit Alterworlds, locales separated from the town via flashy pink portals. These serve as the only ways of leaving Zey Meruze, and considering how relatively little there is to do in town, exiting is a breath of fresh air. Sadly, there are only five main Alterworlds outside of town, and quests repeatedly send you to the same few areas, resulting in a lot of repetitive exploration of the same grounds. Don't be surprised if you visit the same place twenty times. Over time, you uncover more paths within each Alterworld, but having to trek over and over through the same forest is a chore and a bore, coupled with the fact that the enemies within don't change significantly enough over time.

In your travels, there are, as expected, monsters that want to chomp on your face like a Thanksgiving feast. Atelier Iris 3 uses two concurrent systems to moderate the flow of battle. The Active Card Battle System basically acts as telling you when you can take your turn, and you can see who will fight next in an endless deck of cards at the top of the screen. Through this, you can tactically determine who or what to attack first. Having a delay property on your weapon can push enemies farther back in the deck, giving you additional turns before they attack. It's novel but not original. Also of note — and of extreme value — is the Burst Chain meter. By successfully doling out hits, you slowly raise the Burst Chain meter (though taking damage lowers it a bit, and getting a character killed takes a whopping amount off). Once it's full, your special attacks will do far more damage, and any healing you do will be astronomically more effective while the Burst Chain is in effect. This really is the key to defeat monsters, especially in more powerful boss battles. Having a weapon that tailors to an enemy's weakness can help raise the meter more efficiently, while using attacks to which a monster is resistant makes it rise more slowly, so strategizing about which weapons to bring to the party is important. Two of your characters will become proficient with a variety of Blades, each of which connect with a different celestial spirit (called "Mana") and possess unique abilities that can indeed aid you in specific battle situations. Unfortunately, you can only switch them out in your workshop, so planning before a journey is essential, provided you know what is coming in advance. And you won't.

The quests you take will range from simple fetch quests, as in going into an Alterworld and grabbing some mystical item or a certain number of a less interesting one and bringing it to whoever wants it, or more complex like having to tackle a rowdy creature hidden in a specific spot. Finishing quests earns you a few rewards. Firstly, you can earn quest points which help increase your rank and unlock new, more advanced quests. Secondly, when you achieve ranks, you cue missions that actually advance the story. Thirdly, you get money and items or recipes for your hard work. Lastly, you get to learn more about the various inhabitants of Zey Meruze, which adds to the game's overall charm a bit. It doesn't mask the thin plot, but it does give you a stronger tie to the world placed around you.

Based on your wardrobe, I'd say it should be rated AO.

Like the two predecessors before it, there's a heavy focus on alchemy, the art of synthesizing new items by combining multiple ingredients in a giant magical cauldron. You're really not going to get anywhere unless you master the art of concocting stuff. The problem with Atelier Iris 3 is that it gives you practically no direction on how to create items. Aside from a brief alchemic tutorial, you're left to your own whims, and unfortunately, discovering new recipes for mischief comes down to three possibilities: completing quests that give you recipes as a reward, finding spots in the game where Iris "magically" finds inspiration for something new, or just blindly synthesizing in hopes you stumble upon something great.

By the eighth chapter, I was burnt out. The bosses of major fight quests were pummeling me to the ground, and not even the good walkthrough writers (or the terrible ones, depending on which document you're viewing) at GameFAQs could give me enough information to survive, aside from saying "I used such-and-such armor and everyone had such-and-such attached to their weapon and blah-bling-blah..." But the real question was, how do I get this weapon and this armor? Testy battles are one thing, but to be unable to overcome them due to a severe lack of clarity just hurts.

And don't even think about grinding much, because just raising your party a single level is a multi-hour commitment that is liable to put you to sleep first. Have the complete Angry Video Game Nerd series playing in the background while you grind or listen to the soothing brays of Papa Roach, however, and you might not land face-first on the couch after all. There's a tactical element here, but unfortunately, determining the correct tactic is as opaque as winter long johns.

Graphically, Atelier Iris 3 is the same as its predecessors: chock-full of cute sprites and impressively lush, colourful surroundings. A few corners were cut — any enemies you see in the Alterworld fields are just wrigly blobs, regardless of what monsters are actually there — but overall, there's a more hand-drawn lovable element here that solidifies the series' staple presentation style. Seeing close-ups of characters during dialogue cutscenes is...interesting. They sure love to have large, spherical breasts popping out here and there. Nell, your third and final party member, does nothing to hide the fact that she's sporting a pair of honeydews. Seriously, those orbs stand out like a plaid suit at a wedding. And hers aren't even the biggest of the game, but they're certainly the ones you'll spot the most frequently. Equally as pleasant as the graphics is the always uplifting soundtrack, full of the same ethereal charm as previous games. The main composer, Ken Nakagawa, worked on the previous Atelier Iris games and returned here in full form. As for the voice acting? Errr... they could've picked a few less-annoying voices. Who can stand overly-bubbly girls that fell straight out of a cheerleading pyramid?

Atelier Iris 3 starts out with a lot of hope behind it, and admittedly, the first half of the game can get somewhat addicting. The fun factor, however, tapers off in the second half, becoming more of a repetitive dredge and, in some cases, a wayward mess. The difficulty spike can simply be too jarring for some players. The game had potential, but it wasn't used to its fullest. All in all, I recommend the first two games in the series over Atelier Iris 3, and I also advise to approach this one with caution. There is a fun game inside; it just takes the most patient and adroit person to find it.

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