"This review will cover both the US NTSC and JPN NTSC releases of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana and Iris no Atelier: Eternal Mana, respectively. Published by Nippon Ichi yet developed by Gust, Atelier Iris has a distinct feeling from other Nippon Ichi titles but heavily resembles other "Atelier" titles from Gust. The main attraction of this game and its kin is the Synthesis system employed for items, weaponry, and Mana. All the fundamentals of a basic role-playing game are present: traditional tu..."
This review will cover both the US NTSC and JPN NTSC releases of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana and Iris no Atelier: Eternal Mana, respectively. Published by Nippon Ichi yet developed by Gust, Atelier Iris has a distinct feeling from other Nippon Ichi titles but heavily resembles other "Atelier" titles from Gust. The main attraction of this game and its kin is the Synthesis system employed for items, weaponry, and Mana. All the fundamentals of a basic role-playing game are present: traditional turn-based combat, shops rife with items, shopkeepers that greet you, and "random" battles in hostile areas. Not only are the most rudimentary pieces there, the game expands on them and creates new game elements for the players' enjoyment.
The world of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is riddled with spiritual Mana that have a mutually beneficial relationship with the other inhabitants of the world. Mana are attributed to the many elements of the world and each element has its own Mana, though Klein, the protagonist, only acquires some of them and some can even transform into different Mana. In the end, this allows for a slightly flexible Mana synthesis system that deals mainly with placating your Mana with gifted items so that they are able to synthesize various "Mana" items for Klein. These items have fixed recipes and require only different types of elements. Klein can acquire elements by extracting them from items he locates and enemies that he encounters. As an Alchemist, Klein is the only one in the party capable of using "Mana" items. Effects range from healing slight wounds to summoning meteors to strike opponents. However, given the limited amount of each element, each element's particular rarity, and the placation of the Mana used to process the elements, creating many items quickly evolves into a thorough exercise in tedium. Additionally, only nine of any item can be held at in inventory simultaneously which only serves to further limit the player. Item limitation seems a pointless foray when element rarity ought to achieve the same end but in a somewhat forgiving fashion. Ultimately, Mana synthesis is used out of practicality and pragmatism because any frivolous usage will result in a loss of time, elements, and Mana energy.
As with its titular predecessors, at its heart is an elementary synthesis system schooled heavily in the use of formulaic recipes that lead to inevitable "fetch quests." Typically, a shopkeeper will make a remark that will unlock or make available a new "recipe" on the menu. The ingredients required range from ubiquitous fare to nigh priceless treasures which can be obtained either through purchase or some clever scavenging. Once the ingredients have been obtained, the player can have the shopkeeper synthesize the aforementioned item. Each item will receive "reviews," from critics that are never mentioned, and a "quality" attribute that depends largely on the rarity and caliber of the constituent materials. Higher quality items yield happier, more plentiful customers and a very happy shopkeeper. A happy shopkeeper, in turn, will synthesize more unique items for the player. This system proves to be the most intriguing and satisfying quest throughout the game. Also of note is the weapon synthesis system used to empower weapons to achieve devastating results. This forging system is also fairly simple but adds a slight "random" wildcard that was lacking in the formulaic item synthesis. The randomness is not great nor does it impede the process but simply adds variety. Weapons gain attributes from crystallized mana stones that can fuse together, but not apart, to form more powerful combinations or even transform into a new attribute altogether. Attributes fused to a weapon can be removed at will and relocated to a new weapon or item. This flexibility proves useful in later stages of the game when mana stones are plentiful. The two systems mentioned above are essentially the core of this game. Without them, all that remains is a floundering, regrettable story with archetypical characters.
In a misguided ruse, the story of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana attempts to create a facade of complexity to mask a fundamentally simple and banal story. The cast of the game includes a motley band of typical characters. Klein is the boy capable of more than he assumes and eventually excels in his field of Alchemy. Lita is a girl that harbors a romantic notion for Klein but refuses to show it openly. She tries to be happy despite her situation and has a strong affiliation with Iris and Mana. Delsus acts as the inebriated vagrant capable of cracking jokes at whim and irritating the ladies, yet is also more than he appears. Norn plays the role of the now quintessential neko-jin (cat person) to appease the furry fetish of various folk. Aside from the obvious cat-esque behavior, she is also a young witch girl whose cuteness is often overwhelming enough to asphyxiate a whale. Hyperboles aside, she is the apprentice of a famous witch and can use abnormal magic, not elemental, on enemies. Arlin is the famous swordsman who has no interest in the party's endeavors but still accompanies them so that they have a capable fighter. He, of course, is burdened with a tragic past and ominous future. The final character is obtained much later in the story and will not be mentioned. The story follows the protagonist, Klein, through an adventure in which he ascends to mountainous levels of Alchemy. The process is slow and meandering. Had some aspects of the story been original or risque in the slightest, the game would have been much more entertaining. However, the player is inevitably more drawn to item synthesis than story progression. Even the main romance is the too often used teenage melodrama of an emotionally ignorant male paired with an ambivalent, petulant female that culminates in a "happily ever after" scenario. While having stereotypical characters is not a crime, it does nothing to excite or embellish the story but actually tends to typify the entire production. Character development, too, is a dreary and ridden path of obvious actions and expected results. There are few surprises and, thankfully, no deus ex machina ploys. In an odd twist, the shopkeepers in the story receive an unexpected amount of story background, often tragic, and some mild character development. The standard ascension of power of the protagonist belies the generic scenario in which a powerful antagonist, with strong ties to one or more characters, attempts to "better" the world through a dangerous process that is destined to fail as is stated by a powerful ally of the protagonist. Without innovation, the storytelling ought to act as a saving grace to redeem the story from the depths of repetition and banality. However, this fails to occur as the storytelling continues the trend of disappointment. The "matter-of-fact" delivery and obvious internal punditry leaves little to ponder and runs stale as the story progresses.
Ideally, voice acting should bring out the main characteristics and emotions of each character. To this extent this game performs successfully. The Japanese voices have some strange problems with some voices being far too quiet but whether this is intentional or an oversight is unknown though the latter seems more plausible. Voices in both languages are rather appropriate, though the English ones seem often overacted or just misplaced, and generally acceptable. Japanese literate people will most likely prefer the Japanese voices, and unless the English voices are absolutely necessary, the original voices seem a superior choice for most. By the way, having voice actors say "barrel," or "taru," every time a barrel is examined is far less awkward in Japanese than in English. It just is; trust me. Admittedly, the skits and scenes in the game are often genuinely humorous though some are bluntly cutesy and hokey. Even a hardened sailor would have to crack a reluctant smirk in the midst of Norn's outlandish tendencies or Delsus' blunt comments. Segueing to translations, the localization of this title is remarkably well-done. Although the translation is not literal, which is likely a good thing, it is well adapted to contemporary language usage and contains many colloquial phrases and idioms typical of American English. This functions to draw the player into the game further than a transliteration or even a standard translation.
Battles are generally a taciturn affair conducted in a standard turn-based fashion. Further, there are also "partial turn" actions that only consume a fractional part of a turn allowing a character to act again more quickly. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no indication as to the turn order or status of any characters in a battle turning this "partial turn" feature in a fussy quagmire. Up to three party members may be on the screen simultaneously, however they can be interchanged with unused party members at whim even after death. Annoyingly, bosses tend to receive multiple turns in a row and can usually kill the party in two or three attacks unless they are sufficiently strong. Experience is increased by ten percent for the character that deals the last killing blow and unused reserve characters receive fifty percent of the normal experience. Skill points behave similarly and are distributed analogously except they contribute only toward skills. Mana can be equipped to characters to net certain stat boosts, gain small skills, and boost skill acquisition rates. The system is intriguing at first but loses its flair quickly as the battle music and voices become increasingly vexatious.
Visual and audio facets are quite strong throughout the story. Sounds are appropriate, effects are strong, and voices are acceptable. The music consists mostly of cheerful, "doki doki" music akin to a toned-down Katamari Damacy. For this atmosphere it certainly fits and heightens the overall light-heartedness of the game. The two-dimensional sprite world of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is vivid and bursting with vibrant contrasts and beautiful artwork. The animations are adequate, albeit very cartoonish, and battle animations are crisp and clean. Graphically, this serves as a good example of the extent to which sprites can be portrayed on the Playstation2. The caveat, however, is that the rendered world map is simply an atrocious assault on the eyes. Perhaps the overall appearance would be tolerable if the paths to each town did not look as if each one was dug out by thousands of blind, disgruntled miners desperately trying to open paths to new areas for Klein and his crew.
Towards the finale of the story, as the game begins to wind down, the game seems to lag and struggle to maintain interest with the player. Simply picking up more items for synthesis begins to wear the nerves as it more closely resembles manual labor than entertainment. Gameplay suffers drastically as the item creation loses its novelty and because the other elements of the game are not nearly so strong, the pretense collapses and mediocrity ensues. This game is targeted at an esoteric audience of gamers and will not appeal to the general populace. However, simply lambasting the game as "hokey" is an unacceptable abuse of terms. Despite its faults, this title proves to be entertaining and fun for most of its game life. Any reader that belongs to the abovementioned esoteric group will require no coaxing to enjoy this game, but others should be aware of the pitfalls.
Total: 5 + 1 = 6/10
Community review by masamune167 (June 30, 2005)
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