Eden, the floating island in the sky ruled by mana and alchemy, has enjoyed many generations of prosperity under the protection of the Azure Azoth. That tranquility was shattered when many of the mana holy lands suddenly vanished and a portal to another world was opened. A pair of young alchemists connected by the power of the share ring split up in order to tackle this problem in their own way. One, Felt, takes the Azure Azoth and travels through the portal so he can search for ways to restore Eden from there. The other, Viese, stays in Eden and continues to study alchemy so that she can create more powerful items and equipment for Felt while trying to solve the mystery of what happened at the same time.
"the main storyline and gameplay have received a welcome upgrade"
What makes Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, or rather the Atelier series, stand out the most is its alchemy systems. By forming pacts with Mana and mixing harvested and purchased items together, it is possible to create new items and equipment, many of which serve a variety of purposes such as allowing the user to grow plants quickly, see in the dark, or help animals speak an understandable language. Unlike the previous iteration, most item creation takes place in Viese's half of the storyline instead of in individual shops. Additionally, rather than coming up with recipes as the game progresses and certain conditions are met, most are found in shops or treasure chests scattered around Eden or in Felt's quest.
Though there are no monsters in Eden, Felt isn't quite as fortunate; the world he arrives in is war-torn and full of nasty creatures. Battles have been improved since the last iteration and flow more smoothly than before. Rather than being turn and half-turn based, all allies and enemies move across a meter at the top of the screen at a rate that's based on their speed. Different actions will start them closer or further back on the meter depending on how time-consuming they are. Skills have also been changed; rather than drawing energy from an individual's reserve, they derive power from the party's shared charge meter. The more powerful the skill, the more this meter is depleted. The meter is restored by using normal attacks or defending. New to the series are break attacks which have the twist of knocking an enemy back on the speed meter instead of restoring the charge meter. This also has the added effect of allowing players to set up combos that will decimate the enemy and yield an experience and skill point bonus. Naturally, there are numerous alchemy items that can be used in battle as well or equiped for special effects.
At this point it should also be noted that Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny is far more mainstream than its predecessor. This has both positives and negatives; the main storyline and gameplay are much more developed than in Atelier Iris, but the shopkeeper sub-stories are very limited and mainly focus on Viese's side of the story. So far there has been a shortage of some of the more creative items present in other titles, such as armor pants made out of bread. This isn't to say that one is better than the other or that the series has lost that which makes it unique, just that they're each good in their own way and that this iteration is more conventional.
Aesthetically, things are looking quite good so far. The music is decent if not above average and the visuals are great. Rather than relying heavily on 3D models, most characters are detailed sprites that are nicely animated. Also, instead of FMVs, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny has anime scenes, and, unlike its predecessor, they extend into the game itself rather than just being in the opening.
So far, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny has been quite enjoyable. Though some of the creative items and sidestory aspects seem to have been toned down a bit, the main storyline and gameplay have received a welcome upgrade, and the sprite artwork is beautiful and well-animated as usual. Those that enjoyed the previous title are likely to enjoy this one as well, and those that weren't quite as fond of the unconventional setup will be glad to know that this one is more mainstream.