As RPGs continue to evolve, blurring genre lines and eschewing mechanics associated with the most renowned titles, some players can’t help but long for an era when things seemed simpler. This has led to a number of developers attempting to recreate the magic of the genre’s heyday. In fact, homages to RPGs of the past have become so common within recent years that it’s practically a sub-genre of its own. Most of these throwbacks, though, feel like poor imitations with nostalgia as their only appeal. This raises the question: can a game harken back to the classics while still retaining its own unique sense of identity?
The Alliance Alive hopes to answer that with a solid “yes.” Much like 2015’s The Legend of Legacy, it’s another SaGa-influenced attempt by FuRyu to recapture what made many players fall in love with the genre during their childhood. In response to player complaints about the lack of a worthwhile plot, Alliance places a greater emphasis on narrative than its predecessor (the scenario is penned by Yoshitaka Murayama, of Suikoden fame). Unfortunately, it still stumbles with crafting a compelling story and cast. The worldbuilding feels weak and the one-note personalities of the characters quickly grow stale, creating a very by-the-numbers RPG story. Combat is the real draw here, and it’s solely what manages to make the game enjoyable.
Battles are incredibly satisfying thanks to the degree of customization and freedom offered to the player. Up to five characters can join your party, and you can assign one of three positions for each party member: Attack, Guard, or Support. Additionally, you can arrange characters to be on the front line, middle line, or rear line, which necessitates strategic preparation of battle formations. It might be best, for example, to create a formation in which a character who can act as a healer is assigned the Support position and moved to the rear line, while a character well-versed with shields is assigned the Guard position and acts in the front. If you find that your current formation isn’t working (maybe your Attack characters need to be moved from the middle line to the front, or you want to move your character who specializes in bows to the rear), you can switch to any of your saved formations mid-battle at the start of each turn. Characters will also gradually build up to a state of Ignition, which lets them unleash a devastatingly powerful attack at the expense of their weapon being destroyed.
The Alliance Alive adopts an unconventional progression system. Your weapons, of which your characters can each equip two, level up rather than your individual party members. Using arts for a particular weapon type often enough will eventually trigger an “Awakening,” resulting in either that art getting stronger or your character learning an entirely new art altogether. The strength of your leveled-up arts directly correlates to your position in battle; that is, repeatedly using the same attack art while in the Attack position will result in that art leveling up to do more damage than if it were used in the Guard position. The Talent System, however, behaves more traditionally — you gain (an incredibly small amount of) Talent Points after each battle, which you can then spend on a host of enhancements that offer everything from an increased rate of Awakenings with a particular weapon to discounts with merchants.
Random difficulty spikes have a tendency to ruin your time with the game. Boss battles can be incredibly challenging, and because you can’t grind levels to increase your stats — instead relying on random Awakenings for each weapon — it’s not easy to overcome them. You have the option to retry a battle from the start, but these retries are finite and require consuming a collectible if you don’t want to load a previous save. That you’re forced to explore every nook and cranny of the map is a baffling design decision, one which adds both an unnecessary and unwelcome layer of artificial difficulty. The expansive map, full of secret locations and optional battles, already begs to be explored — players don’t need to feel required to do so.
Whether or not The Alliance Alive successfully emulates RPGs of yesteryear is a matter of personal taste. Some are going to like its combination of deep combat and simple storytelling; others are going to be left wanting more. Even though I loved the battle mechanics, I found Alliance to be blasé overall, leading me to question the current trend of developers looking to the past for inspiration rather than the future more than ever.