April 2, 2014

Atelier Iris Trilogy Review

Posted in video games tagged , , , , at 3:01 pm by riulyn

I don’t believe on making posts on April 1, because playing all 3 Atelier Iris games was no joke.

Actually, it was more like I actually did things outside of my apartment yesterday. This was after spending most of Monday playing Atelier Iris 3 and finally beating it.

Anyway, this post is going to be long and may contain spoilers. The tldr version is as follows: I enjoyed the games, but they come off as kind of simple. They are definitely not games to go out of your way to play (especially if you can play Atelier on PS3 or PSVita instead). You also don’t need to play all the games of this trilogy. I think the best of the 3 was the second one.

*Note: I use AI1 as short for Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, AI2 as short for Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, and AI3 as short for Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm.

GAMEPLAY – ITEM SYNTHESIS

So, let’s start with the gameplay. To be honest, you play these games for the messing around and making items part. If you are going to play all of the trilogy, I certainly think Retrodragon’s suggestion of playing AI2->AI1->AI3? was spot on. Making items is the least amount of work in AI2, but of course still very important. I liked that in AI3 you got clues on how to make things, but I think I rather just bother the shopkeepers over and over for new items for synthesis like in AI1 instead of completing hunts or other boring quests to get recipes in AI3. Looking for inspiration, which was part of discovering some recipes in AI3, was at least an interesting twist on the mechanic.

Items from alchemy or shop synthesis can do everything from make expensive things to sell to battle items to armor or accessories. My memory of AI2’s alchemy isn’t the greatest, but I definitely remember making the best pieces of armor and accessories through shop synthesis in AI1 and through recipes in AI3. AI1 also has alchemy that the main character Klein can perform in battle or outside of battle; the formulas for these items are found by acquiring one of these items from chests (and rarely a quest) during the course of the game. I found all of the alchemy items to be extremely useful at least once in the game, while shop synthesis items were more of a mixed bag of useless and amazing items.

Anyway, it’s best to know that item synthesis is a major part of these games. It’s part of the plot as well as necessary for winning battles. Extra hours making random things on the way to the awesome things is much faster than level grinding, for sure. My personal ranking of the item synthesis systems is AI1 > AI3 > AI2.

GAMEPLAY – BATTLE SYSTEM

Next, let’s talk about the battle system. The battle system is most “traditional” in AI1. You input commands when a party member’s turn shows up. There are really no significant ways to affect turn order besides altering your speed stats or by status ailments. There’s no visible turn order bar. You can freely switch between an active and reserve party member during and the switched in party member can act right away. You only lose a battle if all party members are knocked out.

Most party members have skills they can learn and use. These skills require MP in AI1 or skill bar levels (a shared gauge of normal attacks performed by your party) in AI2 and AI3. The alchemist(s) also can do “mana synthesis”, which allows them to make an item out of element and use it right away. This is great in AI1 since you can only carry up to 9 of any item.

The additional twist in AI2 is the ability to “stun” enemies. In a system that reminded me slightly of Grandia, there is a portion of the turn gauge/bar where you can “knock” enemies into. In this portion, enemies move on the turn gauge/bar much slower than normal. Basically you have “broken” or “stunned” the enemy for a short period of time because you pushed them so far back in the turn.

The battle system in AI3 is more like AI2 in the sense that you can see your turn order and knock enemies back in it with attacks and skills. There is also the “burst gauge” which measures how many attacks you’ve made on an enemy relative to how much they have done to you. Once you fill the gauge, the enemies are “stunned” and your skill gauge automatically fills to max/9 levels. Damage from your attacks is majorly increased over a short period of time. This is pretty much the major way you do damage against high HP enemies.

The other major diference in AI3 is the fact that you only get 3 party members. The main character Edge and another party member Nell can change their “types” to be more physical or more magical attack via changing their “blades”. Each blade type requires a certain type of weapon and allows the character to do a set number of skills. Otherwise, 2 other skills can be used if they are equipped via accessories. I liked mastering all the “blades”, but in the end, I just found a set that got me the best stats and hit counts, and just burst gauges all the bosses until I won.

My personal thoughts on the battle systems is that they all work but none of them are that great. I guess I liked AI2’s the most if I had to choose.

PLOT AND CHARACTERS

So, plot. They follow many other JRPGs in being very linear games. I don’t know if anything is missable, but if you want to do side stuff, it’s best to start early so that the later events can trigger in a timely manner.

AI1’s plot starts off with doing quest-like tasks but becomes more about unraveling the mysteries later on. There is a lot of “returning to base in order to allow the next plot point to start”, which makes the game feel not so smooth. I think the main plot is okay. However, this game features some very interesting side character developments. Veola’s in particular stands out. I didn’t manage to get hers done completely, but I got to the most important part. It’s a long journey but on the way you make a lot of amazing items. So you should do it if you play AI1.

AI2’s plot is more about saving the world. It’s nothing special but at the same time it gives the plot a real driving force. On the other hand, I really didn’t go out of my way to do side things. It was hard to tell with Viese’s chapters just how much was necessary and how much wasn’t. My one major issue with the plot was this one obvious thing being so obvious and the game taking a long time to address it.

AI3’s plot is built around doing quests. The main story is “light” and is kind of quest-like as well. For me, my problem with this type of plot is that it takes forever for you to get to the good part. I think it was only about halfway through when something really interesting happened. It’s one thing to keep things from being revealed too soon; it’s another to do that by padding the adventure with quests. It made stuff that felt like side content pretty much necessary.

My personal ranking of the plots are AI2 > AI1 >> AI3.

Now on to the casts. This is a separate section because I developed a fondness for the stupid trio of AI3 that I really didn’t for the other 2 games and feel like it deserves to be mentioned. I guess a side effect/benefit of making you do so many quests in AI3 is the ability to see the main cast react to all different types of things and show all different sides to themselves. In addition, I felt like the “main duo” of AI3 was the closest with each other.

The main character of AI3 is also a refreshing change from the dense idiots of AI1 and AI2. In AI2 at least both halves of the main duo are pretty dense when it comes to their “not so platonic” relationship. At least they write nice letters to each other. In AI1, well Klein is just dumb in that aspect. I think Lita has a good reason to be so frustrated with that. The main characters of AI1 and AI2 aren’t dumb all the time; both manage to notice things when it doesn’t concern love and have a good dose of sarcasm.

The supporting characters of AI1 and AI2 aren’t really that great. I do prefer the plot relevance of the AI2 characters more than the “more for comic relief and sometimes plot helpful” supporting characters of AI1. However, the way the characters in AI1 would banter upon making a new item via shop synthesis was pretty great. Lita was a pretty big star in those, but Delsus did his fair share.

My personal ranking of the main cast interactions are AI3 > AI1 > AI2. It’s pretty much in the order of most to least plot irrelevant banter. To be honest, none of them are amazing. Still, there was something about the way they interacted that was “Gust-like” or something, since it didn’t remind me of the many other JRPGs I played. Closest could be Tales game skits, maybe.

OTHER

I certainly don’t believe you should play these games for the music or the graphics. While the music isn’t bad, it feels more “safe” than novel. Themes are catchy or moving when they need to be. I managed not to get sick of any of the Alterworld themes in Atelier Iris 3 despite how often I had to enter them. I would look for other game soundtracks if I was looking for Gust music. (Need to get to Mana Khemia someday…)

The graphics are 2D sprites. They aren’t particularly detailed or gorgeous. I personally don’t care much for the fashion of the characters either. Especially in AI3. Those outfits were pretty eh.

SUMMARY

My final ranking of the games is AI2 > AI1 > AI3. Ultimately I believe that the best game was the one with the well-defined and focused story. However, the best game would have been a game that mixed elements of all 3 games. I’m looking forward to the next Atelier games and Mana Khemia to see if my wishes get fulfilled there.

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3 Comments »

  1. Joseph said,

    I have played all three for at least around the 20 hour mark (years ago at this point) and I never finished any of them! Needless to say you should be proud to have conquered the AI trilogy:) I think your reviews of each game are spot on, and unfortunately I would agree that most of this series fits into the”slightly better than average” range. Personally though I find the mana games to be really excellent, and I think you’ll discover a lot of fresh ideas at work that really set them apart. (For example, leveling happens via the alchemy pot not through battles…sort of.) That said I think I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a copy of AI2 and give it a shot sometime. It’s still a series I have some fondness for in spite of the problems. Great review!

    • riulyn said,

      AI2 ends up being more typical JRPG than the others but sometimes it’s nice to have a reason why you are doing everything 🙂 It was also shorter than the other 2, though not by terribly much. I think it took me about 30 hours to beat, while AI1 was 35 and AI3 was 40-ish.

      I don’t think any of these games should be that expensive. I bought them all last year for about $25-30 each and they were new off of Amazon. I’ve seen used copies of AI1 but not of the others when browsing used game stores.

      I hear good things about Escha&Logy and the trilogy or whatever that one is in, so I think I’ll go with that Atelier set next, when I get a job and some money 🙂 Well, I mean, after Mana Khemia, of course 😀 I think every Atelier Iris post I’ve made you have mentioned Mana Khemia in the comments, haha. But I’m sure it’s deserved as you aren’t the only one I know of who really liked those games.

  2. Joseph said,

    Wow yeah I’m kinda always talking about the mana games aren’t I? Lol


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