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   Fullmetal Alchemist: Curse of the Crimson Elixir - Import Review  

Golems Galore
by Joel Pan

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
EASY-MODERATE
COMPLETION TIME
15-40 hours
OVERALL

4.0/5

Rating definitions 

   Square Enixís first Fullmetal Alchemist game has been out in the US for a while now, with two more on the way. Fullmetal Alchemist: Curse of the Crimson Elixir is the second in this series of action RPGs and is much improved from the original.

   Fullmetal Alchemist: Curse of the Crimson Elixir is, unsurprisingly, based on the same popular characters and world as the manga, anime, and the first game. Edward Elric Ė the title character Ė and his little brother Alphonse are alchemists. In this universe that means they can transmute objects into other objects with few restrictions beyond that of the Law of Equivalent Exchange: to gain something, one must sacrifice something of equal value. The brothers' back story is the same in all three incarnations of the FMA world: when they were younger, they attempted the forbidden technique of human transmutation to resurrect their deceased mother. The alchemy process went out of control and claimed Edward's left leg, as well as Alphonse's entire body, to fulfill the Law of Equivalent Exchange. Edward then lost his right arm in order to transmute his brother's soul, affixing it to a nearby suit of armor, turning Alphonse into a walking, talking hunk of metal. Edward's "Fullmetal" title was earned by the replacement of his lost limbs with automail, mechanical prosthetic limbs. Now, the Elric brothers seek the Philosopher's Stone, a legendary alchemical focus that they hope will allow them to restore their bodies back to their original perfect form.

   Fullmetal Alchemist: Curse of the Crimson Elixir has a battle system similar in many respects to the first game, but improved in several ways as well. Fullmetal Alchemist is an action RPG played from the third-person perspective. The player controls Ed in combat: walking/running, jumping, attacking, and transmuting are all standard actions from the first game as well. The player can also defend, and call for Alís help.

   Unlike the first game, where Edís default weapon was his automail right arm transmuted into a blade, Ed now fight with his regular hands. His blade arm can still be activated by pressing the transmute button at the appropriate time during an attack combo. Ed can now also transmute three different weapons out of the ground at any time: a spear, a sword, and a large hammer. Each weapon is unlocked at various points in the plot, and has its own strength and speed characteristics, as well as attack combos.

Rise, Lord Alphonse! Rise, Lord Alphonse!

   Defensively, Ed can transmute stone blocks out of the ground to serve as shields, as in the first game. He can also block attacks, and if the block button is pressed at the opportune moment, Ed will perform a counter-attack that immediately earns him extra experience points. Ed can also jump and roll to avoid attacks, and in the event that he is knocked off his feet, pressing a button just before he hits the ground will allow him to perform the ďBreak fallĒ move, in which he uses his hands to propel himself back into an upright position. This reduces damage taken as well as vulnerable lying-on-the-floor time.

   Although there is only one attack button, there is great variety in combat. Attacks can be combined with transmuting the ground into stone spikes for frontal area damage, or transmuting the weapon itself for a one-time increase in power. Apart from the above-mentioned four standard weapons which can be called up at any time, Ed can also transmute environmental objects into yet more weapons. Some are handheld, some are throwable, some are installation weapons, and some are vehicles. There seem to be more transmutable objects in this game than in the previous iteration; a necessarily good thing as the transmutation aspect of the game is its single greatest strength. Combat is almost always fun and exciting, and even though the player can probably get through most of the game just by using the default weapons, itís always interesting to experiment with the transmutation just to see what happens.

   Alís usefulness in this game has been improved upon slightly. As in the first game, he can be called to help Ed at any point at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, as in the first game, this function is still not quite as helpful as it should be due to Alís poor AI. However, Al can also help Ed to perform a powerful alchemical attack when Edís alchemy gauge is filled. Al can also be called to lift Ed into the air in order to jump onto high platforms. Another use for Al is in having him operate the installation weapons such as the Gatling guns, or the mounted crossbows. Alís poorly-designed AI doesnít prevent him from being an excellent marksman, and having Al do the firing instead of Ed will ensure minimal wastage of ammunition.

   Another carryover from the first game is the lack of a real-time combat menu. In order to use items, the player has to go into the main menu, from which accessories can also be equipped, changed or removed. This means that while applying healing items in combat interrupts the usually fast-paced game play, it is also possible to apply as many healing items as needed to avoid the dreaded "Game Over" screen.

   The menu is simple and offers few options: apart from items and accessories, it also allows the player to assign Bonus Points (earned from level-ups and boss battles) to increase Ed or Alís stats, and to check Ed and Alís statuses.

   As this is an import review, no comment can be given on localization.

   Fullmetal Alchemist is, along with its predecessor, a very original game in terms of the way it treats alchemy and the use of transmutable environmental objects. Unfortunately this is the only real area in which it shines. The combat system is very similar to that of any other action RPG on the market, apart from alchemy. The graphics are excellent but not particularly outstanding, nor is the music anything to write home about. However, the uniqueness of the transmutation system is more than enough to compensate.

   The story of Fullmetal Alchemist: Curse of the Crimson Elixir starts in the same place as the manga: Ed and Alís confrontation of Don Cornelo in the town of Lior. The story continues from there with some slight difference up until the point where Ed and Al return to their hometown of Rizenbul. From there the story branches out into an original story involving a rogue alchemist, an ancient alchemic art, a grizzled archaeologist, and lots of enemies for Ed and Al to beat up on. The overall plot is far more interesting than that of the first game, but still does feel a little clichťd at times.

   The first Fullmetal Alchemist game did not have particularly exciting music, and neither does this one. The background music is usually appropriate to the scene or action, but there are no memorable tunes or catchy songs. Some might argue that this is exactly what background music should be, but Kingdom Hearts showed that good background music could be catchy and memorable as well. The sound effects, likewise, are appropriate and never detract from the game play experience.

   The graphics of Fullmetal Alchemist: Curse of the Crimson Elixir are a huge improvements over its predecessor. The first game was done with 3D graphics, which were decent but didnít feel suitable for the manga-inspired world and characters. The second game features a beautiful cel-shaded graphics engine that feels far more appropriate for the game. Graphics are smooth and colors are vibrant, and the character models go hand-in-hand with the visuals of the anime version of the story.

   On the negative side, majority of the enemies in this game are of a certain type due to plot necessities. All of these enemies have only one color palette: black with some orange lines. While this means enemies are usually pretty easy to spot, it also means that the player can rapidly get bored of fighting different kinds of black monsters with orange lines.

Here, kitty kitty kitty kitty. Here, kitty kitty kitty kitty.

   Another downside to the game is how it handles story cutscenes. Like the previous game, these are done in the ďdating simĒ style: dialog boxes at the bottom of the screen, with full-size static pictures of the characters who are talking. Very few cutscenes involve actual use of the graphics engine to animate the character models, which is unfortunate considering how lovely the graphics are.

   The game is fairly straightforward and rarely requires much thinking. Most of the fun is derived from playing with the multitude of transmutable items, and enemies rarely require a great deal of strategy to defeat.

   The bosses in this game are, generally, far easier than those of the first game. In the first game, almost all bosses required specific strategies to defeat. Now, it seems, far more emphasis is placed on the playerís speed and reflexes, and the playerís ability to stay ahead of the enemy AI. Some strategy is still required, of course, but it is of far less import than it was in the first game.

   Playing the game once through will take about 15-20 hours, depending on the player. However, Fullmetal Alchemist: Curse of the Crimson Elixir allows the player to load saved data from a completed game. Beginning a new game this way will allow the player to collect special items in the environment that previously were not available. These items unlock pictures in the gallery, accessible from the gameís title screen. This second play-through also seems to disallow use of the Call button to request Alís help. As my Japanese isnít quite as fluent as Iíd like it to be, I am unsure if this is a ďfeatureĒ added to increase the challenge, or a bug in the game.

   Fullmetal Alchemist: Curse of the Crimson Elixir is a fun action RPG that greatly improves on its predecessor. Fans of the manga and anime series will probably want to pick this up, and it may even appeal to some non-fans. But if youíre looking for a solid action-RPG that will last a good 50+ hours and feature an innovative real-time combat system as well as an engaging plot, wait for Kingdom Hearts II.

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