Full Metal Alchemist

Another anime licensed game falls flat


The Lowdown

Pros: Great cutscenes, novelty alchemist power is cool, good translation into 3D

Cons: Super linear, becomes repetitive quickly, on the shelf when its done

Purchase at Play-Asia
Full Metal Alchemist is a game based on the anime series of the same name. If you haven't heard of the series you're not alone, since it has been airing in Japan only. So here is a brief run down. The main character in the series is Edward who is by nature an alchemist. Alchemists are people in the world with the power to transform objects. Both Edward and his brother, Alphonse dreamed of reviving their mother with their powers. In doing so, Edward lost two of his limbs and Alphonse almost lost his life. To prevent Alphonse from dying Edward moved his soul into a hulking suit of armor. Edward's dream is to eventually recover his brothers body, to do this he must first find the philosophers stone.

The game places you in control of Edward and his power of alchemy. You can move Edward around with the control stick and attack by tapping square. The real fun of the game comes from using the "alchemy" power. If you're just standing around you can charge up your alchemy meter to place a wall, which will obstruct enemies from closing in on you. Charge it up a little more and you'll unleash a spike of Earth that can damage a small group of enemies. Throughout the game you'll notice various pieces of scenery that can be transformed when your alchemy power is to its maximum level. You can create weapons for both Edward and Alphonse with this skill. You can even make a mounted chain gun out of a dinner cart. The use of alchemy is a novelty and stays true to the anime. Although, like most novelties it runs out quickly. After playing around with the alchemy skill a little bit you'll find its still more effective to hack and slash your way through enemies.

At heart Full Metal Alchemist is an action RPG, that borrows a lot from Kingdom Hearts. The most notable aspect that is borrowed is the use of a partner character. While Kingdom Hearts had Goofy and Donald, Full Metal Alchemist has Alphonse as the computer controlled character. For the most part Alphonse will stroll along looking for enemies to attack. You do have the option of controlling him by pressing the R2 button, but there aren't too many things you can do. You can call him over, have him tackle or jump in a gunpod that was created. Alphonse and Edward both gain experience regardless of who attacks an enemy. So there is no reason to really control Alphonse unless you are in need of assistance.

One of the most salient problems with Full Metal Alchemist is the amount of repetition. After you get bored of the alchemy the game boils down to eliminate the enemies and move into the next room and repeat for the duration of gameplay. Both Edward and Alphonse don't get any significant skills to alter gameplay, which makes it get stale fast. The problem is compounded by little graphic variation. For instance in the first level you're moving through train cars that look identical to one another. A change of scenery would be nice or even more well designed environments. Placed in these identical locations are equally identical enemies. Doing the same thing over and over again in what appears to be the same place against the same enemies is more of a chore than a game.

For the few graphics the game has, they at least have some good graphics. The backgrounds are clean, though a little bland. The most notable graphical achievement is the translation of the 2D anime characters into 3D. The main characters look nice in 3D, but they don't show as many facial expressions or animations as you would expect. To combat this Square Enix places 2D anime sprites to show their expressions during cutscenes. This masks the problem pretty well. There are also a number of anime cutscenes that replace the 3D animation that would be expected from a Square Enix action RPG. Since this is a game based off an anime, there are no complaints about the addition of anime sequences. Kudos to Square Enix for adding in high quality video.

The voiceovers in the game are well done since they had the developers had the luxury of using the same actors from the series. Although, the music department could use some work. The tunes in the game are sub standard fare and are as repetitive as the gameplay formula. The sound effects are OK. They mostly sound like cartoon effects, although they are a bit muffled when using the alchemy power.

Fans of the Full Metal Alchemist series probably have their heart set on purchasing this game just for the license. Many fans will get some enjoyment out of the game since it stays true to the series. Even though the game is pretty short. If you've been waiting for a quality action RPG, this isn't it. The game is too linear, too short and too much of doing the same thing for most people to enjoy. Also once you beat the game there is little reason to ever play it again. Since there are no sidequests and few secrets only fans of the series will come back to this game.

Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 4

This game demands either knowledge of Japanese or of the series to follow the story. All the voiceovers and text are all in Japanese. The only English text you'll see is in the opening menu.

US Bound?

The series is going to start airing in October on Cartoon Network due to a licensing deal with Funmation. Square-Enix has announced this title under the name "Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel" with a release date in 2005.

Overall

For what its worth Full Metal Alchemist is a novelty game. The main feature of the game is using the alchemist power, but once you get sick of that you're sick of the game.