Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana Review
Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is a new adventure taking an aspiring alchemist, Klein, and a few incidental friends through the world of Regallzine. The lost art of alchemy proves essential to the heroes in combatting evil, and it is up to Klein to journey the world in order to recruit Mana for his cause and rediscover the secrets of the past. Along the way, there are a few towns to visit, many more shopkeepers to meet, and enough items to collect to last the rest of a Mana Spirit’s lifetime.
This journey isn’t just a walk in the park, though; Regallzine, like most RPG worlds, is one full of creatures waiting to attack Klein’s party at any given moment. The turn-based battle system is adequate, but it isn’t very exciting; characters can seem imbalanced in terms of power at times, and battles can become repetitive in a hurry, even if they are generally very easy. Some monsters are reused through many areas of the game, and indeed, some of the enemies that the player may face in the beginning of the game also appear in the very last area. The randomly-occurring battles arise with a frequency that is not unreasonable, though, and while fighting does tend to get bland, there isn’t anything particularly horrible to speak of. There is much more to working with Mana Spirits, synthesizing items, and managing equipment outside of battle than might first meet the eye, but learning the intricacies is a fairly straight-forward task. This is helped along by an entertaining series of in-game tutorials hosted by Klein’s Wood Mana, the ever-cheery Popo.
The same thing can be said about the sound quality in this game. While there are only a few interesting and memorable tracks, there aren’t any background themes that could be described as terribly bad. Since the player does a lot of running back and forth during the game, many of the same themes are heard over and over again, but generally speaking, the music never becomes too grating on the ears. There are, however, a few problems with sound effects present throughout the game; these glitches usually correct themselves quickly and don’t interfere terribly with the flow, but they are certainly irritating. All-in-all, the sound in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is remarkably average and nothing more.
The graphics, on the other hand, are remarkably below average. In hand-drawn style, the artwork appears at first to be bright and cheery, but it quickly becomes evident that something is missing. The complete lack of depth-perception can make the play control more frustrating than it already is, especially when trying to judge how high in the sky certain objects or platforms are. Character animation is choppy, and the overworld graphics are terrible at best. On the upside, though, special effects that aren’t prerendered backdrops or characters tend to be flashy; however, this sometimes creates an interesting mishmash of styles that is debatable in effectiveness. The battle graphics of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana are a fair improvement over the other visuals in the game; characters are more detailed, animation is smoother, and skill graphics are presented very nicely on the whole.
Atelier Iris is not a difficult game, though there is the occasional ridiculous boss fight that might catch a player off-guard. If a random battle is not won very quickly, it is usually because of a certain enemy that has more Life or Defense than average, and not because the combat in itself is actually challenging. It is very difficult to revive characters after they have fallen, though, and that can make things more difficult when a boss character uses an attack that is more powerful than expected. People searching for a truly challenging game will not find it here; on the other hand, those looking for a light-hearted game to play might be pleasantly surprised.
Despite its lack of challenge, one of this game’s biggest problems is in its length. It drags on for a good thirty or forty hours, when there are really only fifteen to twenty-five hours of gameplay present. The player will find him/herself traversing the world back and forth and back and forth again to complete the storyline, and if the player chooses to get involved with the item synthesis system at shops, he/she will spend even more time doing much more of the same in order to look for the required materials for the dozens of formulas available.
Among all of the mediocrity, there is at least some good. While moving your character around the screen is harder than it should be at times, thanks to the graphics, the setup of the interface is innovative and well thought out. With one button assigned to jumping, one assigned to checking objects or talking to people, and one assigned to a special action (easily changeable at the player’s discretion), getting things done tends to be an easy task. The menu screens are fairly simple and quite manageable, and selecting commands in battle is as easy as pointing to the right icon in a ring menu and pressing X.
Another thing that this game really does well is its localization. The text is interesting, and the voice acting is all done quite well; the dialogue will often put a smile on the player’s face. Another glitch in the game, however, causes voices to cut out suddenly at certain times, but this isn’t a major issue at all. Certainly, this is an area in which the game must be praised.
With a great translation and sprawling world, one might hope to find an epic and masterfully-spun tale of alchemy and heroism. Unfortunately, such people would find themselves disappointed, because the plot is where the game falls quite flat. The idea behind the storyline is good enough; it’s just that the style ends up feeling like one enormous fetch-quest. The “go-here, go-there, do-this, do-that, travel back, do more, travel back, go for more” style gets very tiresome in a hurry, and any sidequests or item-hunts the player chooses to undertake provide even more of the same. Some of the events that occur and places the player will travel to in order to progress through the game will make little sense at all, and it becomes infuriating to advance the plot when the player finds that they don’t really care about the characters very much in the first place. Most of the controllable personalities of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, and particularly Klein, don’t have a lot of depth or background to them. In fact, the many shops the player visits throughout the world are run by characters with perhaps as much development as many of the heroes of the game.
In summary, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is an attempt at a lot of good that is met with only limited success. While some parts of the game are executed very well, many other aspects are likely to leave a sour taste in the mouths of most players. The gameplay isn’t always enjoyable, and the glitches found here and there scattered throughout the game are an annoyance. Thus, in the end, this game is nothing more than an average turn-based RPG experience that might leave a person wishing that they had saved their money.