For the old-school RPG fanatic in all of us there is certainly no better platform than the PS2 and there is certainly no better developer than Nippon Ichi to deliver your virtual fix. Over the past couple of years they have become the unofficial old-school RPG kings amongst fans across the globe. With their latest release Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny they are building upon the tradition set by past games on the original Playstation hardware. While today’s gamer may find it a bit archaic Iris 2 is more of an ode to the past than a step into the future and that is more than enough to make it worth your while if you are a fan of the genre.
The main storyline to Iris 2 takes place many years before the previous incarnation and follows the path of two young orphans named Felt and Viese who live in the serene world of Eden. Both are studying to become alchemists and for the most part live pretty average lives, that is until one day a giant earthquake shakes the land of Eden and much of its beautiful landscapes simply disappear. At this point Felt, who seems to take a more active adventure role, snags up a talking sword known as Azure Azoth and charges into the world of Belkhyde, which he is told holds the key to restoring Eden. Viese remains behind to put her alchemy skills to use by creating items for Felt to use along his journey. All items can be shared between the two worlds via the share ring which allows both characters to share one inventory.
I will punch you and you will fall down, you are very top heavy!
Most of the game involves you traveling around Belkhyde as Felt gathering party members and fighting the usual array of obscure baddies. You will also take on the role of Viese at pivotal moments in the game in order to conjure up items needed to aid Felt on his quest. This adds an interesting element to the game by allowing two characters to co-exist in two completely separate worlds; unfortunately the results are very convoluted to say the least. Basically you will traverse the world of Belkhyde with Felt until you reach an impassable obstacle, at which time you will require the help of Viese back in Eden. Sometimes this is simple and requires you only to discover the ingredients and have her conjure it up, however for the most part this leads to some very tedious fetch quests that really slow down the pace of the game. Having to track down one or two specific items just to move a small boulder is certainly not my idea of a good time.
Thankfully even with these tedious fetch quests the game still keeps you playing with its good story telling and very likable characters. The overall voice acting is actually very well done; the dialogue is very comedic and soft toned and really draws out the personality in each character. The visuals as I mentioned earlier are definitely from the school of old, but the cut scenes and dialogue are littered with brightly colored drawings that really give them game a nice backdrop to tell the story. The only major gripe is that most of the enemy sprites seem a bit recycled from the previous game, but I think we can overlook that for the simple fact that this game relies more on storytelling and game play as opposed to flashy visuals and special effects.
The battle system is certainly the biggest concern when it comes to RPGs in general; thankfully Atelier Iris 2 comes packed with a simple, yet effective combat scheme that is sure to appease just about everyone. One of the coolest features is the encounter bar on the left side of the screen; basically this gauges how likely a random encounter is going to be. The bar runs from blue to red and the closer you get to red the more likely you are to engage in a random battle. This meter also keeps track of how many encounters one area has, so for instance if it is at zero then the area is clear and you can simply roam around without the fear of running into a battle. You can reset this bar at any time simply by leaving and returning to the area, which is nice if you are working on leveling up your character.
The main battles play out using what is called an Active Time Cost system which is supposed to make the battles more real-time than turn-based. Each character has a place on the Time Cost wheel and you cannot attack until it reaches you. This can also be manipulated during battle by performing a break attack which knocks your enemy down the line in the pecking order. Once mastered you can make it to where the enemy never even gets a turn, which needless to say can make the game a tad on the easy side. To compensate for this the developers have given some enemies more hit points or even special attacks, unfortunately this never actually makes the game more challenging, just a bit longer. While not perfect, the battle system is very functional and easy to use; there are also no magic points to be found. Instead your entire party shares a skill guage that can be charged up to use certain skills each party member possesses. This does tend to feel a bit limited but it is also nice not to have to worry about magic points or even controlling all the skills for each character individually.
Felt was later arrested on charges of domestic violence and spousal abuse.
The rest of the game involves everyone’s favorite past time, collecting and mixing items. For those of you who played the previous game you can still create a plethora of mana monsters by mixing up certain object throughout the game. While the vast majority of them are completely useless, you will still find fun in seeing all the different ones you can create. There are plenty of recipes and follow throughout the quest and this time around it is much simpler to create items and potions because all you have to do is follow the instructions and it is done. While this may sound tedious to most fans of this style of game will certainly enjoy the abundance of extra things to see and do throughout the game.
When all is said and done Atelier Iris 2 isn’t going to change your mind about the genre, in fact as far as RPGs go it really doesn’t offer anything new and revolutionary. But if you are simply in the mood for some old-school goodness you can’t go wrong with this solid follow-up. The battle system is solid and very user friendly, the graphics are fabulous in that PSOne kinda way, and the story and characters are very well rounded and developed. While you can complete the game in less than thirty hours, which is short by today’s RPG standard, there is more than enough to satisfy the turn-based geek in us all. Definitely recommended for fans of the “PSOne” style of JRPGs.