Last year, I named Atelier Iris my personal “RPG of the year.” Why? Lots of reasons. As the sixth title in the Atelier series, Gust put much more emphasis on storyline while retaining the unique “item synthesis” system that made the series what it was. It took a small but wonderful company called NIS America to publish Atelier Iris in the US. The game sold beyond their expectations, and fans were glad to hear that they would also be bringing the sequel to the US.
Atelier Iris 2, “Project A7”, got a slight change of (sub)title: “The Azoth of Destiny.” When I first saw the name, I figured the PR guys were just trying to do something flashy, creative, and nuanced. After playing the game, I recognize it as a more than fitting title for the game.
Atelier Iris 2 takes place long before Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~. The game opens with two alchemists living in the peaceful floating continent Eden. These alchemists, Felt (the boy) and Viese (the girl), have a brother-sister relationship going for them, even though they’re not technically related. Felt likes to goof off and pretend he’s an adventurer while Viese loves to study hard. Despite her efforts, however, Felt’s always been a natural at practicing alchemy.
After Viese makes a pact with the wood mana “Dour”, Felt hears a voice coming from the Azure Azoth. This sword is a cross between your typical sword-in-the-stone legend and those talking swords from Tales of Destiny. If you’re wondering about what an “Azoth” is, my lengthy research (typing in a word @ dictionary.com) taught me that “Azoth” was believed to be a primordial element in alchemy: it could be changed into anything.
Felt picks up the sword, half of Eden disappears in a big quake, and Felt is sent out into the other world: Belkhyde. Viese stays behind to do some work of her own, and the game begins.
Atelier Iris 2 features six playable characters, and each one is packed with personality: oftentimes sticking to anime character clichés, sometimes boldly defying them. There’s a church-raised orphan with lavender hair named Fee, a dragon-slaying man who was cursed with a dragon’s likeness named Gray, a gun-wielding lady-stalking mana named Poe, and a half-naked adventurer/freedom-fighter named Noin. Then, of course, there’s also Felt and Viese.
Along with the six playable characters, there is much to be said for NPCs, including shopkeeps, allies, and villains. As one progresses through the game’s plot, it is clear to see that Gust intentionally mapped out a decent storyline with well-paced progression and dramatic (but not over-dramatic) character development. Compared to the first Atelier Iris, this game’s storyline is top notch. I found it to be the game’s most impressive feature, as it really caught me off guard. It gets the “most improved” award.
So, thanks to Gust for the great plotline, and thanks to NIS for the decent translation. Had NIS cleaned up a few more typos, I’d have considered scoring this one higher, but when the Azure Azoth speaks but the text box says it’s Felt speaking, that can really confuse people. So, I’ll stick with the 92%.
As far as voice acting goes, I once again thank NIS America for allowing players to choose the Japanese or English audio tracks. As a hardcore “authentic” gamer, as the pinnacle of elitist nerd, I always love listening to the Japanese voices. Unfortunately, it’s clear when listening to these voices that the translation made isn’t even nearly literal. My basic knowledge of Japanese helped me to notice where NISA took liberties in the translation.
Of course, when listening in English, these liberties make a lot of sense. The English version of a character is oftentimes remolded into something different than the Japanese creators had imagined; for Atelier Iris 2, the problem is less severe than, say, most anime releases in the US. However, some of the English voice actors just didn’t get it right. I felt that Noin and Poe weren’t done very well, but the villain Chaos and most other characters came together very well.
Writing from the perspective of RPGFan’s Soundtracks Editor, I must say that the music in the Atelier series is one of the few things that really grabs my attention in VGM circles these days. However, series composer Akira Tsuchiya did not take part in the writing of these 70-plus songs, and as such, I felt that overall the soundtrack doesn’t fare as well as in the first game. In-game, at least, the tracks aren’t quite as memorable as in the first Iris.
Again, NIS America keeps it authentic by keeping the Japanese vocals for the opening and ending theme songs. Okay, maybe they just didn’t have the budget to make English songs, but as for me, I couldn’t be more pleased. Both the opening and ending songs are great; they don’t lack the originality and creativity from which many J-Pop game themes suffer.
Even with all the good stuff this game has sound-wise, my objective side reminds me that this year has already seen some better voice acting and music. So, let’s give it a standard B-level grade: 85%.
My chief complaint towards the graphics department in Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~ was the lack of anime cutscenes. There was only one: the opening. They didn’t even have an ending anime cutscene. That’s shoddy workmanship my friends.
This time around, we get not only an opening and ending, but a good five or six anime cutscenes marking important points throughout the game’s storyline. There are some swordfights, some happy moments, and some earth-shattering events. All in all, I couldn’t be happier.
The in-game stuff doesn’t mark any improvement from the first game. In fact, whole areas are re-used in this game (which makes for some great continuity, actually), and they didn’t get any touch-ups as far as I could see. However, if you like hand-drawn stuff, this is the game for you. Also, if you like detailed pictures for every item in the game (of which there are really too many to count), you will again be pleased.
So the graphics are well-done, though battle animation could have been slightly improved (only a few frames per action is a little weak). There’s nothing groundbreaking here, so I’m not touching an A grade. I give graphics an 88%.
Alright, so there was some crazy control problems (and some glitches) in NIS America’s first publishing of a Gust title. All those bugs got worked out this time around, and control is pretty smooth. Also, they finally have the voice acting saved to your preference so it doesn’t auto-return to English every time you turn off your PS2.
The only flaw I found in this game was that, in the save/load menu, there is an option above save called “switch” (to be discussed in gameplay). In my mind, “save” should always be first in the save menu. I did a lot of accidental switching when I meant to be saving, and that’s not cool.
Control gets a 90%. Not that it’s a big deal for a turn-based RPG in the first place, but at least they didn’t have any major problems, eh?
Now we hit the meat of the RPG. The multi-faceted gameplay of Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny is a real treat. If you played the first game, a lot of these features will be easy to pick up, but know that almost everything has changed slightly.
For example, you don’t synthesize items with shopkeeps anymore. Synthesizing happens on multiple fronts, and much of it is mana-related. For mana items, accessories, and “alchemy items” (which can be equipped to learn traits such as “Speed Up” or used to make more advanced items), Viese cooks them up in a pot by using all sorts of combinations of items. These require recipes, which are purchased or found in chests. Sometimes the option to replace ingredients exist, and then you can even create new items by accident (though, unfortunately, this happened a lot less often than in the previous Atelier Iris). After you do this with a mana item, Viese “initializes” the item, and from now on Felt can remake them by using elemental extraction (which is how you made all mana items in the first game). Then, there’s also weapon synthesis, which involves upgrading each character’s weapon along a sometimes-forked path, learning different abilities along the way.
Abilities are learned in battle through a simple SP system; you can learn weapon skills and the alchemy item traits (which are very important to learn if you don’t want to die). Staying on top of the ball with these abilities is a key to keeping the game from ruining you. However, for most veteran RPG players, the game is pretty easy until the last few bosses: you may need to stop and grind levels for a bit at the end.
Speaking of the end: the game took me a little over 30 hours to complete. This was, of course, skipping all the side quests and making super-advanced mana items. The time is slightly shorter than what the first game took me.
When exploring the game’s many colorful environments (which you travel to and from quickly on a 2D map, unlike the painful 3D mess from the first Atelier Iris), you will come across various obstacles that usually cannot be overcome until you learn how to make some new mana item, usually through story progression. As far as progression goes in the sense of gameplay, things are fairly repetitive. You go to a dungeon, fix some stuff up, switch to Viese, make a pact with a new mana, make some new mana items, break your way into a new area, rinse and repeat. Oh, and you can occasionally use conditioner, which in this extended metaphor refers to the special events that take place here and there. There is plenty of humor to go around, from Poe getting married to Noin getting dressed up like a fox, the game certainly takes you on a wild ride.
One thing’s for sure: you will have fun with this game if you give it a chance. 93% for gameplay: rock on.
If you’re looking for a fun 30-40 hour game to play, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny is a clear choice. It’s nothing like those state-of-the-art 3D RPGs from Square Enix and the like: this is oldschool glory. Maybe the novelty of the first game wore off too quickly this time around, but I still think that even with a better storyline and some very good gameplay, the package deal isn’t as good as the first game was. I already know this isn’t my RPG of 2006, but it will probably remain in the top five (maybe even top three). Atelier Iris 2 drops just below the A level and earns an 89%. It’s still a great game, but it’s definitely not the greatest, even by its own 2D anime standards. If you’re interested, don’t miss out on buying this one before it becomes a hard-to-find title.