FuRyu has made a habit of developing and publishing games with the assistance of notable figures from the development teams of other significant games. They hired staff from the Persona series to work on The Caligula Effect: Overdose, they brought on the writer of the cult hit Kanon to pen the scenario for Crystar, and their upcoming title Heroland pulls talent from just about everywhere. The games often don't live up to the legacy of those major figures, but it's a shrewd move that engenders interest.
So when FuRyu began to create a spiritual successor to The Legend of Legacy, a game that many praised for its combat but criticized for its lackluster story, they decided to hire one of the giants of the industry to spruce The Alliance Alive up: Yoshitaka Murayama, the head developer and writer for the first two Suikoden games. As a huge Suikoden fan (just look at my avatar), my ears perked up, and I was ecstatic to get my hands on the HD remaster, with its upgraded graphics and UI. It turns out The Alliance Alive is a solid, if not totally remarkable RPG that doesn't necessarily live up to the legacy of Suikoden, but it stands firmly on its own nonetheless.
Let's start by taking a look at what's new in this release. For clarification, I haven't played the original Alliance Alive, but I did boot it up and play around with it a bit for review purposes. The graphics in the remaster are notably improved from the 3DS release. The chibi artwork is surprisingly effective in HD since it is so varied and interesting. More importantly, the huge open environments throughout the game are simply gorgeous. I love the art style, and while it looked perfectly at home on the 3DS, it looks even better here, whether you're playing on your TV or in handheld mode. The soundtrack (which is stunning, by the way) was also just fine on the 3DS, but it's been cleaned up and sounds even better here. Finally, they've changed the UI a little to match only having a single screen.
These are nice additions, but unfortunately, that's all that's new. There's no adjustment to the story, characters, or combat system, and there are no additional quests or side content. Notably, there's also no voice acting. This is an odd quirk because there are a number of cutscenes where the characters mouths are moving, so it seems like you should hear someone talking. This didn't seem so strange when I checked a few cutscenes in the 3DS version, given the platform, but in the remaster I was initially confused; I actually checked my settings to see if there was a problem with the sound output. The lack of new content isn't a deal breaker, but it would have been nice for FuRyu to put a few extra features in this release.
The Alliance Alive takes place in a world that was invaded by mysterious Daemons 1000 years ago and divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant is defined by extreme weather conditions, such as constant rain or unending snow, and it's impossible to travel between these areas because of a mysterious barrier known as The Dark Current. The Daemons have imposed draconian order over human society, and you probably know where things go from there: humans band together and find a way to overcome their plight at the hands of the Daemons. But Murayama's voice is clear throughout. In true Suikoden fashion, he adds nuance to people on every side of this conflict by mid-game, and it's clear that he's trying to once again show how people lack understanding, therefore conflict is inevitable, but no one is truly evil. He creates an interesting, engaging cast of characters. Sure, they're defined by anime tropes that they never quite transcend, but they're people you come to care about, and you're invested in their struggle. I was especially taken with the Daemon characters, who all have interesting motivations and backstories. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn't quite follow through on the shrewd and intriguing moves Murayama makes early on, devolving into a showdown with a character who is the ultimate evil. Nonetheless, it's a solid story, even if it doesn't have nearly the staying power of Murayama's previous works.
The real draw of this game, though, is the gameplay and combat. My former colleague Nick Ransbottom already delineated everything I have to say about the combat, so I won't go into much detail here except to say that it still holds up. The Alliance Alive features a turn-based battle system with SaGa-influenced mechanics which allows for a great deal of customization. It's simple to pick up but still very rewarding. I had a blast toying around with different loadouts to find the right combination to take down any given enemy, and even though some characters clearly outclass others, everyone is viable if you spend enough time on them. While there are a few sharp difficulty spikes, especially one fight that is very evocative of a certain famous battle in Suikoden II, I found that if I tweaked my characters, I was able to overcome any challenges the game threw my way.
One of the other reasons I was able to overcome the difficulty spikes is the volume of side content I engaged in. There are loads of things to do. The game starts slowly, with various prologue chapters that are fairly linear, but once it opens up about halfway through, The Alliance Alive gives you a vast world to explore, full of scattered islands with mini-dungeons and gear to collect. Even better, the game gradually doles out various modes of travel, including a jumping snow bunny, to let you reach previously inaccessible areas.
Another thing that opens up halfway through the game is the ability to recruit over 100 characters from various corners of the world to help you on your journey, again reminiscent of the Suikoden series. As you gather characters, they join one of five guilds. Some guilds focus on battle tactics, some build spells for use in combat, and others give you more information about enemies. As you gather more people and assign them to a guild, you get bonuses, like additional skill points after battle or better gear. The second half of the game is almost defined by this side content, and it's deeply satisfying to gather more people to your army or gather more gear in a tiny nook of an island. More importantly, while the bonuses and weapons you gather are useful and certainly worth collecting, they don't turn the game into a cakewalk, a sin many games commit.
The Alliance Alive didn't perform overly well upon its initial release on the 3DS, so FuRyu brought it to the Switch and PS4 in an effort to find a wider audience. And that's who should consider picking up this game: people who haven't played the original. That's not to say that there aren't a lot of nice new additions here, and the remaster is certainly the best way to play the game, but the new stuff is not enough to warrant a second purchase unless you're a huge fan. But if you've never played this game before and you're up for a throwback that combines the strong battle mechanics of a SaGa game, delightful artwork and music, and a story that is enjoyable if a bit unremarkable, then The Alliance Alive HD Remastered is an excellent choice.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.
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