The Atelier series has been quite popular in Japan for some time, and now those living in North America will get a chance to play the sixth iteration of the series: Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~. While some of the systems may take a bit of getting used to for some, the game has been quite enjoyable so far.
Klein, Lita, and their many other companions joined up for different reason, but they will all find themselves caught up in a large adventure involving alchemy, mana, and Avenberry, the city in the sky. Naturally, their quest will not go unimpeded. There are plenty of rivals, power-hungry villains, and other enemies to fight along the way.
"There's enough gameplay variety to keep players entertained for quite a while."
The battle system may look fairly standard at first, but it features a number of tactical additions. While it isn't a full tactical RPG, area effect abilities and attacks that take various amounts of time play a large role in battle. For example, abilities that must be charged can be canceled with numerous quick attacks, but if they are unleashed they can be devastating. If the player is careful with area effects, however, they can cancel the attack of an enemy while targeting others as well. Additionally, if a boss is surrounded by several henchmen, it is possible to drain elements from one, synthesize a powerful alchemist item, and use the newly forged item on the boss itself for massive damage. Given that characters are also fairly customizable, there are many ways to fight.
The numerous alchemy systems also mix up the gameplay. Players can do anything from creating items from the elements they extract from virtually any item found on their quest to helping a shopkeeper out by fusing new items together and seeing how well they sell. Even many parts of the dungeon map can be absorbed and used for various purposes. The many mana spirits that join the quest will also bring a considerable amount of additional abilities to the heroes, such as the power to blast through obstacles and summon monsters. There are of course many abilities beyond this. In fact, there are still numerous additions and tutorials many hours into the game to keep the gameplay fresh.
Unlike many other games, it generally isn't necessary to fight a ton of random battles to stock up on money and supplies for taking part in the wide array of diversions. Klein can easily stock up on many of the basic items he will need by simply looking carefully around town, grabbing scrap items off of the ground, and absorbing elements. Not only do they provide great assistance to the heroes, these can also provide a nice rest for the battle-worn warriors.
The story itself is also quite enjoyable so far. It manages to, for the most part, keep a lighthearted feeling throughout the course of the game. While there are still plenty of problems that get in the way of the heroes, there is plenty of comedy and many places where the fourth wall is broken along the way
As far as the visuals go, they are also quite impressive. While it doesn't have fancy 3D graphics or anything like that, it does have some of the best sprite artwork around. This includes large and detailed character portraits and smoothly animated battle sprites. This allows it to keep and oldschool look and charm while still looking good at the same time.
The music and sound are also pretty good so far. Some of the early background music becomes a tiny bit repetitive at times, but for the most part the tracks are well done. The sound effect quality is also above average. There's even a large quantity of voice acting included.
So far Atelier Iris is quite a bit of fun to play. If the player should ever get a bit tired of one element of the game, they can go off and do something else. There's enough gameplay variety to keep players entertained for quite a while. It is certainly one of the better RPGs of 2005. Stay tuned for RPGamer's official review on Atelier Iris's release date.