Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel is an action RPG based on the popular anime and manga series of the same name. The anime and manga series are really good, though, and this game simply does not measure up. As far as games based on popular anime licenses go, Broken Angel is not the worst I’ve played, it just falls flat in every key area. Even the most ardent Fullmetal Alchemist fan will not get much out of the game, because despite its original storyline, it does not add anything substantial to the overall mythos. There are plenty of better action-RPGs out there worth your hard-earned money and precious time.
Fullmetal Alchemist tells the story of the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse. The gist of the premise is that due to Ed’s impulsive decision to use forbidden alchemy to resurrect their deceased mother, he lost two limbs in an alchemic blast and his brother Al lost his entire body. So now, Ed has two cyborg limbs, and Al’s soul was transplanted into a hulking suit of armor. To make amends and restore their bodies to normal, Ed and Al journey to find the fabled Philosopher’s Stone. The adventures Ed and Al get into make for one of the more compelling storylines in the “buddy series” subgenre, because they face a lot of deep and philosophical conundrums along with the requisite hijinks found in this type of anime. It could take an entire novel to discuss the plot and characters of Fullmetal Alchemist, but believe me, it’s a fantastic series.
The game’s story reportedly occurs between episodes 17 and 18 of the anime, but it’s completely throwaway – a story that’s been told a bazillion times, with plot twists a child could see coming a mile away. The tale starts with Ed, Al, and their guardian Armstrong taking a break from the Philosopher’s Stone search and enjoying a civilized train ride to Central to pay a visit to their old friend Dr. Eisenstein and his daughter Selene. Unfortunately, the train gets hijacked and during the effort to thwart the hijackers, Ed crashes the train. The brothers (well, mostly Ed) impetuously run off to complete the journey on foot, leaving poor Armstrong to clean up the mess. Of course, journeys are never smooth with Edward Elric around; he finds himself chasing down a mysterious amnesiac girl who had the nerve to repeatedly mock his short stature, running afoul of villains and the nasty beasts they control, uncovering a conspiracy that has everyone around him going bonkers, and getting mixed up in over-the-top danger every step of the way. Sticking by Ed’s side is Al, doing his best to run damage control and keep his impetuous brother focused on the task at hand.
In my opinion, the biggest strength in Fullmetal Alchemist’s storytelling is the push-and-pull interplay between the volatile Ed flying off the handle and the calmer Al diffusing situations. The talky cutscenes throughout the game reflect that dynamic between the brothers well and make the otherwise hackneyed story bearable, but that interplay falls completely flat during the gameplay. Players directly control Ed while AI controls his brother; and it’s a good thing Alphonse is a big hulking suit of armor, because his AI would get a non-tank character killed very quickly. There are some direct commands that Edward can give Alphonse, but they are a little cumbersome to use, especially when things get hectic.
Enemies are pretty stupid as well. Regular foes can be mowed down pretty easily, and bosses have predictable patterns that any seasoned action-RPG player will quickly pick up. The first half hour of the game is peppered with tutorials on the various actions Edward can execute, but many of these actions are either common-sense genre staples or superfluous. The game does not have any kind of targeting system like many action-RPGs do, which can be an issue when using ranged attacks. The default control scheme is not very intuitive, and the commands mapped to the shoulder buttons are clunky to execute. Some buttons have multiple commands issued to them, and though I tried to change the button mapping, I could never find a control scheme that worked for me. In addition, there was no option to reverse the camera panning, so I kept rotating the camera in the opposite direction of where I wanted it to go.
There are no traditional towns or shops or anything like that in Broken Angel, so all of Ed’s and Al’s equipment must be found in treasure chests or “transmutated” from any metal objects in the surroundings. Ed has an alchemic power that allows him to concentrate on signposts, scrap heaps, and other metal objects and convert them into lightweight weapons for him, heavy weapons for Al, artillery weapons like gun turrets, or traps. These transmuted weapons have limited use, and transmuting takes time, so I found myself mostly sticking with Ed’s and Al’s default weapons, which don’t wear out. Besides that, the enemy-packed areas left me little time or room to transmute.
You progress through this game in a stage-by-stage fashion, more like an action-adventure than an action-RPG. Honestly, I’ve played more non-RPGs that felt more RPG-ish than this sorry excuse for an RPG. There is no expansive overworld exploration; Ed and Al are just plopped into one dungeon after another, and said dungeons are not only difficult to navigate, they’re sometimes small enough to make you feel claustrophobic. Even worse, some stages get recycled throughout the game, which is a personal RPG pet peeve of mine. The long and short is that the gameplay is rough, unwieldy, and simply not fun.
The 3D polygon graphics in the game are clean if unremarkable. Character likenesses are captured decently and move smoothly, but normal enemies do not move naturally at all. Locations are generally bland and lack detail, making progress through the game rather boring. The best aspects of the graphics are the visual novel-style character portraits that pop up during in-game cutscenes and the occasional FMV anime clips peppered throughout the game. Only the anime clips have voice acting, and the acting is quite good. Ed’s and Al’s voice actors capture the vibes of their characters very well. The pop/anime style music in the game serves its purpose and is certainly not awful, but none of the pieces were memorable to me. I wish I could say more about the music, but it did not move me one way or the other.
Fullmetal Alchemist and The Broken Angel is a broken game. It’s a subpar action-RPG with a tired storyline that even the biggest Fullmetal Alchemist fans will get nothing substantial out of. I did not enjoy my 15-17 hour duration with the game – in fact, I wish I had spent that time doing something else.