Over the years the RPG genre is very rarely synonymous with fast-paced action. In fact most of the time they are epic quests that run well into the 30 hour mark (with some even extending into the ludicrous 100+ hour scenario) that revolve around carrying out tedious fetch quests and of course talking to every man, woman, and child in the world. One series that has always broken the fourth wall when it comes to this has been the Atelier Iris franchise. Now with the PS2 in it’s final stretch Nippon Ichi has decided to grace gamers with the third chapter in this fan-favorite series Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm, which is easily the best in the series.
AI3 follows the story of Edge and his alchemist partner Iris as they set out to find a set of eight gems (yes this is the crystal of life for this title) that will grant their owner any wish they desire. In addition to searching for the gems Edge and Iris are also members of the Raiders Guild, which offer compensation to mercenaries willing to complete a quest or two. All of these side-quests can be found posted on the town’s bulletin board and help relieve the tedium of simple fetch quests.
The difference with AI3 is that the quests will oftentimes overlap each other due to their frantic pace. In most cases you will find an item you are searching for while performing a completely unrelated task. This becomes confusing at times as the game never prompts you to let you know that a specific quest item has been obtained. You will also likely defeat enemies on your hit list without being aware; thankfully the game does inform you of this eliminating the tedium of digging through a bunch of menus for confirmation.
These small hindrances can really become frustrating later in the game as you may spend countless hours searching for an item that you have had in your possession for a while. The best way to check this is to speak to the person hosting the quest, if you have the required item the conversation will change and the person will simply say “Thank You”. This will then eliminate the quest from your task list which can be viewed at any time during the game.
Of course not all quests and missions are available from the outset. You will notice several of them require a higher rank for you and your party. You can raise your rank by simply completing missions, which are just longer quests with a particular monster at the end to eliminate. Now while the actual quest is not on a timer, so you have plenty of time to explore before tackling each one, once inside the dungeon or area where your quest takes place it will benefit you not to waste time.
All of these take place in areas called alterworlds that can consist of dungeons, forest areas, castles, etc. and to add to the intensity each one of these worlds are timed. Once you enter a small hourglass begins a countdown and if you are not finished with your task before it empties then you and your party are booted without warning.
Another aspect of AI3 that really gives it the fast-paced moniker is the combat system. Unlike traditional RPGs AI3 uses a card system for attacks that shows you every move that is currently on the way, your position, and all other vital information. The system actually works quite well and really helps when you are low on power for devising a strategy. You have a pretty standard move set in your arsenal consisting of the usual suspects such as normal attack, special attack, magic, and of course items.
During the battle you will also fill up what is called your burst meter. Once full this will allow you to unleash a string of special moves that will either inflict heavy damage or simply heal your entire party. For the most part the battle system is very by-the-numbers, but it works and makes the game more enjoyable than your standard turn-based RPG.
Of course what game featuring an alchemist would be complete without being able to concoct different items by combining loot from monsters and enemies? You can synthesize just about anything you could possibly need throughout the game, which comes in handy as you rarely ever have to visit the shop. It is also worth noting that whenever Iris sees something in the environment that may work well in one of her creations she will comment on it. While not imperative to the gameplay this is a very nice addition that adds some nice diversity to the game.
As for the visual presentation and production values AI3 is what it is. The developers are obviously not going for the latest technological masterpiece featuring ridiculous amounts of polygons and terms about lighting that only scientists understand. The game is built entirely using 2D sprites, which even today look dated. The world can be bland most of the time with hints of artistic genius scattered all over. The soundtrack is passable, but forgettable and the voice acting ranges from laughable to pretty damn good.
In the end AI3 will deliver to fans of the series; the obvious improvements are a welcome addition and the fast-paced combat and quest system is a nice diversion from other games in the genre. While the visuals may look rudimentary the game makes up for it with an astounding amount of character. While you will likely lose interest in the main story long before it reaches the final act, what is here is enjoyable and definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of the series or genre in general.