Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny
Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny is yet another title of late that evokes "nostalgia", a word that has been used to death and now grates on the ears of every reader encountering a review. This game drowns amidst the flood of near identical titles of its kind already in existence on the console. These are no longer "epitomes of a lost age" or "reminiscent of Japanese style". They are worn and over-worked stencils used again and again, not with "charming" animations and style but out-dated graphics. There is nothing much different here than there is in the original Atelier or any other game of its time and genre. By relying on the success of the original and the player's rose tinted glasses of nostalgia, Atelier Iris 2 fails to meet the par of what is expected in today's industry.
The events of Atelier Iris 2 take place long before those in the original, taking the direction of a prequel, which is similar to many other RPG titles of late. You do not follow the story of a single hero but two who are young orphans that live in the serene world of Eden. Called Felt and Viese, one boy the other a girl, they are studying to become alchemists. For some reason this profession is often favored in Japanese games. However, one day Eden is shaken by a violent earthquake and near half of the world disappears. Felt comes across a talking sword known as the Azure Azoth, where the game gets its name, and rushes through a magic gate to another world called Belkhyde. He is told that this other world holds the key to saving Eden. Viese on the other hand stays in the world of Eden and uses her skills as an alchemist to make items for Felt to use. Naturally, the items she makes are easily given to Felt through the use of a "share ring" that allows the two heroes to swap any items they want between each of their inventories.
Although this may sound like an interesting concept that is where it stops, as a concept. In practice, this is a very tedious and annoying interruption to the flow of the game. Throughout the story, action is mostly centered around Felt and his adventures through Balkhyde with a party of adventurers that he meets in his travels but you will at times have to swap over to control Viese. Viese is used to create all items needed for any quests or obstacles that Felt needs to accomplish or comes across in Balkhyde. However, this is not a simple case of getting Viese to instantly make the item in question; you will have to collect items needed for each different item in the 'recipe'. If you have the ingredients currently in your inventory then you can quickly swap them over into Viese's inventory, create the item needed and then send it back to Felt but of course, to make things difficult and add on "gameplay hours" you will often have to hunt out the ingredients you need in specific areas and dungeons or get Viese to find them herself. As said, this is highly irritating and a pointless addition to the game time. You might also think - or hope - that having to create these objects would not occur too often but the sad fact is, is that to progress almost every part of the story you will have to create something for someone to do something. Even when you do so, you never get much in return, your effort is near enough wasted apart from driving the plot forward a few inches and adding a couple more pointless ingredients to your already-full-of-useless-items inventory.
The storyline creates a little more positive perspective on the game, as the characters are amiable along with their light hearted dialogue and a few humorous moments. Along with voices provided, for each of the main characters especially, it helps to give each of them personality rather than being one dimensional. However, it is hard to enjoy these moments when you have to slog through hours of tedious quests.
When it comes to the battle system, Atelier Iris 2 continues to follow a pattern of repetition not only of itself but also of similar games of its type. The system is simple and identical to that used in the Grandia games. There is a time bar along the top of the screen, as time goes on in the battle each character icon, including enemies, will move along the bar. When they reach the end, that specific character will be able to perform an action. Also, you can stun and knock enemies backwards along the time bar. These break attacks, as they are called, make the battles far too easy, as you are able to perform the move again and again. The developers realizing this, have simply given enemies either a lot of energy or made them more resistant to attacks, which not only makes the battles very drawn out but once again very repetitive in strategy.
An attempt at innovation and addition to this system has been made, though It is not a very novel one, in the form of a skill bar. When your party receives damage your skill bar will increase and when it has filled up to a certain level you are able to perform skill attacks. Most of the skills are not very useful, and because of this you will be spending most of your time trying not to get hit; having to take damage to fill up a bar that is spent on redundant skills is useless to say the least. Using your simple attacks wisely enough will certainly get you through the game.
Another different twist has been made with battle encounters. The encounters are still random but when you enter into an area of dungeon inhabited by enemies another gauge will change from blue to red. When it changes to red it means you will more likely run into a random encounter battle. This is a very good tool for players, especially if your party is low on health and items and you wish to avoid battles. There is also a limit to the amount of battles within a dungeon and this will decrease as you take part in more battles. Again, this is helpful but along with being able to avoid battles, limiting the amount of battles in a dungeon makes it all too easy. You can of course leave a dungeon and return to set the battle counter to full so you can level up your characters further if you wish.
Atelier Iris 2 is presented beautifully, that most certainly has to be said. As already mentioned, the characters are very loveable, their sprites and character portraits colorful and bright in an excellent anime style. The environments too are also detailed and full of vivid eye-candy. It is a shame to see that it has not changed much since the original title in terms of both visual appearance and also graphical quality. Although the sprites and environments are sharper, they are similar and the enemy sprites are even near identical to those of the original.
Even though this sequel has kept many elements of the original with it, this is more of a bad thing than good. It seems more of an extension of the original rather than a full sequel. Nothing new has been tried here; a lot of anime games of this generation have been converted into cel-shaded graphics, especially anime titles such as Naruto and Dragon Ball Z, but this series has been kept the same.
Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny takes around 30 hours to complete, maybe a couple more if you go out of your way to collect all of the items and recipes throughout the game, but against the standards set by other titles it falls rather short. This contrasts unfavourably with the game being retailed at the full price of a newly release PlayStation 2 title.
The storyline can grow on you as the characters bring it to life with their humour and quirky personalities but the battles and constant item creation for every step of the game almost breaks up the flow and is very frustrating. As always, players who do find themselves trapped in an age of nostalgia when 2D gaming is concerned should give this game a try but they will find that it sadly does not live up to the original.