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 elements.
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 gameplay.
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.
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 multiple times.
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.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 0/5
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 Japanese text.
Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~ has been delayed until June 28, 2005.
+ Pros: Simulation and RPG elements brought together.
– Cons: Slow story pacing makes the game hard to get into.
Overall: 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.