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Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Gust
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 05/29/07
Japan 06/29/06
Official Website: English Site



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I built this castle out of steel...and brawn...
 
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I feel ya, sister.
 
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Pretty protagonists.
 
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BARREL!!!
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Patrick Gann
Hands-On Preview
04/14/07
Patrick Gann

NIS America has kept right on top of Gust's releases since Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~, likely because of its relative -- if niche -- success. Last June, Gust published their eighth series installment, Atelier Iris: Grand Fantasm in Japan. Now slightly renamed for US gamers to keep up with what appears to be a trilogy, Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is bound for US shores in one month.

This time around, the cute, alchemy-focused RPG blends the traditional formulae of past games with enough new features and tweaks to count it as a contender for NIS America's best publication to date. The few hours I've spent playing the game thus far have shown me that this release has a lot of potential.

For starters, this game is the first to finally allow the player to control Iris. In fact, Iris is the heroine this time! In past games she was either a long-deceased legend or a child-aged NPC. In Grand Phantasm, Iris works for a Guild with a young man named Edge (the male protagonist) to complete various quests and gain experience in both adventuring and alchemy. Iris lives in a small, secluded town that connects to other places by means of magical portals/gateways. These are essentially the game's dungeons, referred to as "Alterworlds."

These Alterworlds are a new series feature in and of themselves. When entering an Alterworld, Iris and crew only have so much time to explore. While in this world, they can battle enemies for experience (no more random encounters, now sprites appear on the field!). Other reasons to enter are for fetch quests, story-related missions, and gathering materials for synthesis. There are two ways to leave the Alterworld after entering: One is by simply opening the menu and selecting "To Town" for an auto-exit from the dungeon. The second way is a forced exit; when time runs out, Iris and company are whisked right back to town.

After leaving an Alterworld, points for the dungeon are accumulated. Special point amounts are awarded for random tasks that exist especially for that Alterworld (much like the cash awards in the old Tony Hawk games). Earning enough points awards different one-time bonuses as your "points" bar increases. It's one more thing to add to true "completion," but I'm hesitant to judge this as a tedious process for the gamer, largely because the environments are well-designed, and the combat tends to be short and simple.

Item synthesis is still a key feature in the Atelier series. In Grand Phantasm, Iris is one of a handful of Alchemists left in the known world. Using the same gameplay mechanics as the previous Atelier Iris games, synthesis happens by selecting items for a particular recipe. Recipes, however, can be learned through a number of different steps. As Iris practices her alchemy, her "alchemy level" increases, giving her new "alchemy ideas." These ideas are mere hints, and they do not lead to recipes until Iris is inspired to make a new one, usually triggered by some event or selectable icon on the field or in the menu.

The item's "review properties" are much more manageable in this instalment, particularly with regards to equipment. Similar to Ar Tonelico's Grathnode crystals, review properties can be assigned to a piece of equipment after it's been made. However, after that piece of equipment is finished, the review properties cannot be changed or removed, and the item cannot be broken down via any sort of de-synthesis process (something I wish Atelier games would start incorporating).

The game's main plot seems to focus on a book in Iris's possession, and 8 gems that will need to be collected to unlock the powers of the book. Finding these gems seems to be the main point of the game's missions; but to unlock "missions," one first needs to complete "quests." Quests are available at the Guild counter, and are listed by rank. A close peer within the PS2 platform that used this same quest/mission system is Arc the Lad: End of Darkness. The .hack//G.U. series is also similar in this regard. However, it seems that it is most streamlined and efficient in Grand Phantasm. This, of course, is only an initial impression.

Graphics and music are exactly what we'd expect from Gust. Colorful landscapes, though unrefined in its pixelated nature, are contrasted by high-detail character portraits. Dual-language audio support exists, and the soundtrack is on par with previous Gust efforts. Though most fans would like to see a serious graphical improvement, so far it only looks like minor refinement and touch-ups compared to series predecessors.

Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is shaping up to be a solid title. Expect a full review of the game in mid-May when NIS America publishes the title stateside.



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