Third Time's Almost A Charm

Atelier Iris 3 is a short, familiar old-school-style romp, but is that enough anymore?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 22, 2007
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I've got to hand it to Gust. The Japanese developer has absolutely locked in their particular style of role-playing game, which is to say the mechanics are as tried and true as they can get, the battle systems are often rather well done, and the games rarely try to do more than they can. In some cases, like the surprisingly decent Ar Tonelico, the developers allow themselves to take a chance on something as random as dating sim elements, and usually any attempts to mess with the formula end up making the game better.

The problem, though, is that the Atelier Iris series is just not that compelling to begin with. You know that when the battle system is often the most rewarding part of a game that it's not going to convert people en masse like Final Fantasy VII did. But Gust's staunch adherence to sprite-based characters and plucky themes is somewhat endearing. With the sheer number of amazing JRPGs that exist on the PlayStation 2, however, cute isn't really going to cut it, and without a compelling storyline, a cool battle system only gets Atelier Iris 3 so far.

The storyline, such as it is, revolves around sword-wielding smartass Edge and spritely alchemist Iris, who have teamed up to find scattered gems that can restore a book that grants any wish to the owner. It's better than the usual teenager and friends save the world plot device, but because the storyline is tied into the quests system in the game (more on that in a second), you never really feel like you're making an impact in the world. Instead, you just visit a cork board, run little quests and then catch a cutscene that moves things along. Toward the end of the short little adventure, the pace picks up, but it's never terribly urgent.

What is urgent in the game is your time spent in the dungeo--err "alterworlds," areas that only allow the adventurers to stay for a short while. This means that you'll have to beat feet to collect an item in a chest or fetch a handful of items to satisfy someone's quest. Since both side quests and main storyline elements are doled out by the guild, and since completing both raises your rank within the guild (it's also how the characters level up, obviously), the side stuff and main stuff all seems to kinda blend together, and where they meat is in the alterworlds, meaning you'll be spending a lot of time running through the same areas to finish quests.

That said, it is a fairly decent system. Because you're pressed for time whenever you're in an alterworld (and you can pop in to just level up if you want, plus any time you visit you'll get graded on bonus objectives like killing a certain number of enemies or cutting grass, which can in turn get you more points and some extra items for synthesis), even battles eat up time, though if you can kill enemies quick enough, you'll recover that time spent fighting. To streamline things, Gust color-coded enemies, blue ones can be killed with just sword strike so you never have to actually go into fights, whites and reds are normal and tough, respectively. Bosses are usually huge blobs.

Because you can jump around, if you're just popping in to get some items, it makes avoiding battles and the tedium that comes with them that much easier, and it's a welcome system. Of course, fighting the actual battles -- at least at first -- is pretty cool because of all the elements Gust whipped up. All special moves use one meter, while getting hit and doling out your own fills another. When the latter fills up, Burst Mode is activated, all of the special moves do a ton of damage and enemies are stunned and take more damage. We went into the whole system in detail in our preview, and it's worth checking out if things sound interesting.

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