At last, the third iteration of the Atelier Iris series is coming. Unlike the others in the series, players will take the role of Iris herself, and her friends, as they go on a number of quests to collect the eight gems that will grant any wish in Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm.
That isn't the only difference, however. Atelier Iris 3 features some dramatic changes from the rest of the series. The majority of the game takes place within a single town and focuses on performing quests for the local Raiders guild. These quests vary from fetch quests to hunting down monsters to performing a variety of tasks for the townspeople. Each quest either rewards the party with a large sum of money or quest points, which allow them to rank up and take on higher level quests once enough have been collected. Each time they rank up, a mission will also be initiated, and all quests will be put on hold until its completion.
"Atelier Iris 3 features some dramatic changes from the rest of the series."
Dungeons, now known as Alterworlds, have also been significantly altered from those in previous iterations. The most apparent differences are that enemies appear on the map and are color-coded by strength, and that these dungeons are now timed. As the party explores Alterworlds, an hourglass meter will slowly empty, and they will be ejected from the Alterworld when it runs out. Small changes will take place in the Alterworlds as time passes as well. NPCs will move around, opening new paths, flowers will grow, and some ice will melt, for example. Collecting additional hourglasses strewn about will partially refill this gauge, but they will not undo the changes that have been made in the environment. Thus, collecting these is vital, both to staying in Alterworlds for longer periods of time and exploring certain areas that don't open up until a certain amount of time has passed. Time typically runs while fighting enemies as well, but dispatching them quickly enough will result in no time being lost.
Battles remain much the same as they were in Atelier Iris 2, but there are a few changes here as well. The party and enemies will take turns attacking and using skills on one another as usual, but speed and skill speed will be a large factor in determining turn order. There is no direct command to break an enemy this time around, effectively knocking its turn backwards and opening it up to more critical hits, but focusing attacks on them will slowly wear down their defenses and have a similar effect. Additionally, the more the party attacks, the more the burst gauge will fill up. When it fills completely, all enemies will break, the skill gauge will fill completely, and skills will receive a significant boost in power until the burst gauge is depleted. Since players are encouraged to complete battles quickly and efficiently, fights are typically fast paced, yet still strategic due to the limits on the shared skill gauge. It isn't possible to abuse the most powerful skills at the outset of every battle, so players will be forced to think quickly if they want to end the battle before time begins ticking.
Elemental extraction has been done away with, but one part of the game that has thankfully not changed much is the ability to perform Alchemy to create items. Mixing together various components, some of which can be substituted for one another, will quickly result in a wide assortment of interesting items and customized equipment. As Iris's alchemy skills improve, it will also have a large impact on her ability to use and resist magic in battle. She will also become able to create her own recipes, with a little inspiration.
Since Mana are no longer used to create items, they take on a different role in Atelier Iris 3. When the party gains their power, Iris will be able to summon them in battle, and other characters will be able to use the Blades of the Mana. Blades allow the wielder to equip different weapons than they are normally able to, and they will also be able to access a new skill set. Thus, equipping Blades is effectively the equivalent of changing classes in other RPGs. Additional skills can be added by equipping certain accessories, so the party is very malleable.
Atelier Iris 3 has been a large departure from the rest of the series, but it has still been enjoyable so far. At this point, it seems as though it would appeal more to fans of dungeon crawlers than to Atelier fans, though, but it retains enough to not alienate its fans either.