Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny Review
The Return of Talking Swords and Saving the World!
Anyone familiar with the RPG genre should not be surprised by what Atelier Iris 2 brings to the table: Eden, a peaceful land of alchemists and Mana, lived in prosperity for about 400 years before crisis struck and its sacred sites started disappearing. Felt, an orphan and alchemist in training, now has to travel to the land of Belkhyde to investigate while his friend Viese stays back to provide him with alchemical items. Since Eden was isolated from Belkyhde for about 400 years, Felt ends up not only trying to save his home but also rescuing Belkyhde from a tyrannical empire with a talking sword.
It is the typical fantasy RPG setup, but while Atelier Iris 2 introduces nothing new into the plot, it does have a cast of memorable characters consisting of a red-headed rebel with killer cooking (literally), a dragon-slaying dragon, an assassin from a church, and a gun-toting, flirtatious fairy. With this cast of characters, even trying to save the world for the millionth time can be humorous, though potentially nauseating due to some clichés even these unique characters carry in their history. Unfortunately, interesting as well as funny as these characters are, character development is relatively non-existent in the progress of the game. Instead, in place of character development, the world of Atelier Iris is illustrated in sweeping watercolor.
Places like the floating island of Eden or the cities of Belkyhde are all beautifully rendered in a hybrid anime and water-painting style reminiscent of the Saga Frontier series. If it was not for the sprites, Atelier Iris 2 could have been a water-painting in itself. It is easy to get lost admiring the scenery even down to the shrubbery and farm life. Dungeons, too, lack nothing from the art department, spectacularly depicting crimson volcanoes to misty forests. However, some dungeons do get a bit too repetitive graphically since they consist of the same looming trees, caves, and cliffs. It is a small slight in the overall presentation, however, since there is little backtracking involved.
Character-wise, the overworld sprites are pleasant to look at, although not particularly expressive. In Atelier Iris 2, like Wild Arms 4, characters instead express themselves via anime-portraits that cut into a scene that can shift into various emotions. No new territory there, but the graphics really shine in combat where characters are fully-fleshed out along with impressive painted animation for monsters and attacks alike. With solid voiceovers and a variety of music, the game truly comes to life.
Atelier Iris 2’s soundtrack is best described as a jack-of-all-trades. The music has a large variety for about every location in the game and event. There are no particularly memorable themes like the Final Fantasy prelude, but tracks like “Grit” do well in giving the impression of being in a rebel base, and combat themes for some of the villains are either rocking or a neo-classical hybrids like “Carmine” that gets the blood pumping.
While the game is largely set in Belkyhde, it does split into a section in Eden, which can be either enlightening or frustrating.
Players, early in the game, will get the ability switch to Felt’s friend Viese in Eden, where players will get to synthesize items. There is a lot of fun to experiment with item synthesis overall, since players will be able to substitute materials for a certain item to add or remove certain attributes (i.e. attack, heal up, etc.). Included are items made by synthesis that can be used by Felt to improve characters’ weapons, even if the process can be linear with little options to play around with. But just as it is fun to experiment, frustration is just around the corner in the form of obtaining the materials for synthesis.
Most of the items needed for synthesis can be bought from stores in Eden or Belkhyde, or harvested from both places. But this leads the game into a lot of “fetch quests” where players switch to Felt only to get said items, and switch back for Viese to synthesize them. Unfortunately, a lot of the story comes from quests where players will go from one place or another to get a rare alchemical material for synthesis. The battles while doing these quests are thankfully quick, even if it involves random encounters.
Atelier Iris 2, like most RPGs employ the random encounter system to start combat, except there is one small difference: random battles in an area can be completely eliminated. When enemies are present in an area, there is a bar on the lower right-hand corner that goes from blue to red as players move around. Blue means there is no danger of an encounter while red signals that a battle is just a few steps away. After each battle, the bar depletes, and depending on how many encounters are in the area, players can literally battle the encounters out. Much as it is a nice change to finally explore dungeons without worrying about being harassed after every few steps, the bar refreshes when the area is exited and returned to. Worse, and ironically, an item that can be made early on the game that can eliminate the need for random encounters entirely.
When battles need to be done, however, they are fast-paced and are done by an “Action Cost Time Battle System” (ACTB). In this system, characters and enemies are portrayed above on a bar where it moves from left to right, in which characters that reach the right gets their turn. Basically, it is a turn-based system, but there is a twist to the tried-and-true combat system.
Characters in Atelier Iris 2 all share a Skill pool where they accumulate over battle using “Charge” (standard physical attack) to use special abilities or attacks. However, the distinguishing characteristic comes in the aptly called “Break” command where a character gets to knock an enemy further left on the action-bar. This leads to all sorts of interesting tactical decisions where the player can delay an enemy’s turn for a character to sneak in another attack in order to fill up the Skill gauge to use a special attack, or to heal. Additionally, when enemies get knocked into “Break” status, enemies are unable to retaliate and characters get to deal damage in a “Chain.”
As the damage increases on the Chain, the more experience the characters receive at the end of battle. Regrettably, because of this system, battles for most of the game are ridiculously easy, and even boss fights end in less than three minutes because player characters are totally immune to the effect. Near the end of the game, the battles do spike in difficulty, but is nothing good old leveling or obtaining certain alchemical items cannot solve. In fact, with certain end-game items, losing a battle can be embarrassing since they can be produced in ridiculous quantities in a short-time. Not to mention that Felt can create items in the middle of combat for immediate use, additionally reducing the difficulty of the game.
For players wanting a classical RPG experience with unorthodox characters and an immersing item creation system, or players wanting a game to fill in-between releases of others, Atelier Iris 2 is a solid choice. Just do not be too surprised finishing the game in less than fifteen hours and not breaking a single sweat.