Pros: Simulation and RPG elements brought together.
Cons: Slow story pacing makes the game hard to get into.
Though the Atelier series, Gust's flagship RPG series, has been around for
a while it's never been released in the US. At a time when J-RPGs are
reaching a niche genre that is piquing interest with main stream gamers
it's a perfect time to try the Atelier series in the US. NIS America,
who has had good results with localizing Phantom Brave, has taken the
challenge to bring this title over.
The story starts out simple enough
with a young teenage Alchemist, Klein, who has a coincidental run in with
a Galgazit, Lita. The two battle out a Falconhawk and split. Fate would
have it that the end up in the same town. Though Klein's initial quest
is to develop his alchemy ability he gets drawn into being a Galgazit
along with Lita. Galgazits are provided with free room and board in
exchange for defending towns against threats. One of the major "threats"
are googly eyed balloons, called Growloons. These mysterious creatures
draw monsters, sometimes towards towns. Klein does meet up with more
companions than the fierce Lita. An experienced Galgazit, Delsus, will
join your band along with the mischievous cat girl Norn. The quest
essentially pushes Klein's story forward. Klein will discover more mana
friends besides his wood spirit Popo and eventually figure out why mana
has been drained from the world.
The story does throw out a lot of questions early on. An intro
sequence starts out with Klein and Lita in the distant future,
reminiscing about the past journey. You also see a bunch of clips
discussing about mana leaving the world. Though, these mysteries aren't
revealed until much, much later on. Instead of drawing gamers in right
away you're doing quests like fetching pinenuts for a shop owner. Just
how is this helping the two reach the city in the sky? Because of the
initial ennui gamers need to have patience with Atelier Iris Eternal
Mana to reap the rewards. Even then the rewards might not be what die
hard RPG fans are looking for. While years ago the story would seem
revolutionary, Eternal Mana has too many "classic characters" and staple
Maybe early on the collecting quests are there to get gamers really
into seeking out items. Stuff to pick up is everywhere. Signified by a
little glimmer Klein can run around and grab tons of different
ingredients. These can be used to synthesize new items for stores. The
whole synthesis system, drawn out from other simulation games, is a huge
part of gameplay. You're rated on meals you create and weapons you
forge. To actually create new innovations you need to seek out
components, which are scattered everywhere. Once you make items you may
need to re-create them depending on the parameters assigned to them. For
instance when creating a new meal you could get a "super sweet"
attribute or a "smelly" attribute. Since the final item gets some
attributes randomly, you may need to create stuff a couple of times
before you can make a hot selling item. Collection in the game goes
beyond just item synthesis. There is actually a collecting center that
registers every item you obtain, even synthesized ones. If you're into
hunting down everything on the list expect an extra 10 hours of
Outside of the item management Eternal Mana brings back the staple RPG
gameplay. This means lots of dungeons and random battles. The battle
system is a mix of turn based combat with a dash of strategy in it. You
have three characters on the battlefield at anytime, with the
opportunity to switch them out. Each character has the chance to do a
basic attack, that has a certain range to it. For instance, Lita's claw
attack has a horizontal swing and can hit multiple enemies, if they're
next to each other. Although, the game never shows a radius. So if you
want to hit multiple guys you need to move the cursor from monster to
monster to see which enemies you'll hit. The whole targeting system is
a little more tedious that just selecting fight. Characters also have
unique skills to, which you'll get more of at each level up. Some skills
have a "double turn" effect, which require charging up for a more
powerful attack. While in the double turn pose their attack can be
broken if enough damage is dealt. This creates an element of risk.
Gamers need to choose between a safe single turn attack, a hasty "half
turn" attack or a more powerful albeit breakable double turn attack.
Klein's skill is the most powerful early on. With the power of
alchemy Klein can use extracted elements to cast spells. Typically a
spell will give more damage that a simple hit and consume recyclable
elements. In all of the environments Klein can use his extract element
command to draw out elemental power for alchemic use. He can even stock
created mana items if he's got an abundance of an element for later use.
Early on, when you have a few spells, it's easy to decide how to
allocate mana. Later on you'll need multiple types of mana for a single
spell. Because of this players will need to intelligently decide how to
allocate the spells. Should you save up for a few shots of a super
powerful spell or should you use a bunch of weaker spells? It's your
Dungeons are set up with a bunch of interactive elements besides
element extraction. For instance the fire mana allows Klein to destroy
some barriers. With each new mana Klein collects you'll gain a new
ability. Cleverly dungeons are designed with treasures that you can't
collect the first time. Instead you'll need to wait until you meet up
with another mana spirit to give Klein an ability. This plays into the
item collection system and finally the synthesis system. If you're into
collecting, which is a big part of Eternal Mana, you'll revisit dungeons
Gust's idea for Eternal Mana is a super cute sprite filled world.
Everything in the game have a youthful anime feel to it. Even in battle
the monsters you take on are smiling. Would you really think a blue
slimeball puni is ferocious? Of course not. While it may not have a hard
core look, the template is something that many Japanese games draw upon.
Style-wise it will attract gamers into Japanese culture, but it's bound
to turn off gamers used to Final Fantasy character designs. During story
sequences you get a hand drawn version of the speaking characters pop up
with text to the side. The presentation is pretty good when you get
blown up characters instead of the tiny sprites.
NIS America has done a good job localizing this title for an American
audience. There is both an English voice track and the original Japanese
track to listen too. This is sure to please a wide audience, even though
I'd dare to say the English track may be slightly better than the
original language option. Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~ is an
enjoyable title, even though it isn't for everyone. In a lot of ways
it's a game designed for an established audience looking for the next
RPG. In a summer with a drought of these games Atelier Iris ~Eternal
Mana~ stands out and is worthy of your attention.
Nippon Ichi's localized US version is chock full of English text and
voiceovers. While Gust's original Japanese version has no language
option at all. Leaving it up to gamers to sift through all of the
Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~ has been delayed until June 28, 2005.
Atelier Iris Eternal Mana relives the glory days of 16-bit RPGs with a
fine polish to it. Although, many RPG gamers are into the genre for the
story, which is Atelier Iris Eternal Mana's weakness.