Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm - Reader Review  

The Phantasmic Menace
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

30+ Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Nippon Ichi's American branch, in addition to localizing most of the Japanese company's main titles, developed a habit of localizing other company's RPGs such as Gust's Atelier games, beginning with the Atelier Iris subseries, continuing the franchise's emphasis on alchemy and item creation. The third installment of the subseries, Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm, is no exception to the franchise's formula, although it does very much differentiate itself from its predecessors. Granted, the game doesn't exactly quake the genre or the Atelier franchise, though it's plentifully sufficient for established series fans.

   The battle system of the third installment in many respects builds upon that of its predecessor. A significant change is that enemies now wander dungeons, with three different colors of slimes indicating monster encounters. Blue slimes indicate enemy parties weaker than the player's party, which the protagonist, Edge Vanhite, can instantly slay with his sword to occasionally earn an item, while white slimes indicate enemies on par with the party's levels and red slimes indicate foes more powerful than the player.

No witty remark here. Blades serve as this game's pseudo-class system.

   Fights play out with the player's party of three permanent, never-changing characters squaring off against a number of enemies, with a turn order meter indicating who goes when. Each character can execute a variety of commands upon reaching his or her turn, such as attacking normally, using skills, using items, defending, or escaping. Skills consume levels from the skill gauge, which gradually builds up as the player's party attacks normally or receives attacks. Furthermore, both skills and normal attacks, depending upon the number of times they hit enemies, build up the Burst Gauge, which, when filled, temporarily and substantially boosts the power of the party's skills, going so far as to max out the skill gauge at nine levels, although the Burst Gauge will eventually expire, and some bonus skill gauge levels will be lost afterward.

   Each character's skill set depends both upon what accessories they have equipped and, in the case of Edge and Nell, what "Blades" they're wearing. Blades function like classes in other RPGs, providing the aforementioned characters various stat changes along with unique skill sets, and are leveled up occasionally with points gained after battle alongside normal experience and money. Blades are sporadically gained at various points in the game's story when the other playable character, Iris, forms pacts with Mana spirits, which consequently give her summoning spells alongside her other skills.

   Outside battle, alchemy performed at the player's workshop (which also allows for game saving) plays a significant part, with an endless variety of recipes allowing the player to create different kinds of consumable items, ingredients, weapons, armor, accessories, and, very rarely, items needed to advance past certain parts of dungeons. Iris occasionally gains new ideas for recipes when the player examines environs, and can gain alchemy levels depending on how many new items the player has created, consequently increasing her stats and giving her some new ideas. The ability to substitute ingredients in alchemy recipes can also unlock further recipes.

Attacking by the book Fibonacci sequence of doom

   Normal battles, as they should in any turn-based RPG, tend to be quick, with occasional boss fights, especially in the game's latter portions, tending to be much longer and in some instances requiring more thought and strategy. Despite this, the game is fairly easy overall, with this reviewer only seeing a Game Over screen once, and the fact that the game just dumps players back to the title screen when they die, resulting in lost playing time after long dungeon treks, pretty much being the only real shortcoming in the battle system. Nonetheless, combat is far more of an asset to the game than a liability.

   Interaction is somewhat mixed, however. The game is divided into several chapters and takes place entirely across one hub town and five massive dungeons (in addition to the last dungeon), with various types of guild missions largely driving events, and providing players rewards and Quest Points upon completion, the latter allowing the player to occasionally "rank up," which is typically necessary to advance the main storyline. The player, furthermore, can only spend a certain amount of time in dungeons before being kicked out, although certain field items can increase this time; while winning battles quickly, in addition, won't result in a time penalty, escaping from fights will.

   While this structure of gameplay doesn't detract from the game (although it may bother some), the somewhat-clunky menus do detract somewhat, as does the alchemy interface, which would have certainly benefited from the item creation mechanism present in a previous Gust-developed game, Ar tonelico, which guided players instantly to synthesizable items necessary to synthesize other items. Overall, interaction is adequate, although there are certain aspects, such as the menus and alchemy interface, which could have easily been better.

   Atelier Iris 3 derives a fair amount of its mechanisms from its predecessors, such as the emphasis on alchemy, and other RPGs, such as the emphasis on guild missions present in Arc the Lad III, class systems present in many other titles, and so forth. The visuals, too, very much resemble those of its predecessors, and timed dungeons are hardly new to the genre, even though the game does have unique takes on many of these mechanisms. Nonetheless, the third installment is a hodgepodge of ideas filched from other games.

Food poker will be all the rage In the future, food will be stored on cards

   The story unfortunately doesn't benefit from the game's structure of performing random tasks, completing story missions, and repeating, with a convoluted assortment of several substories that, while sometimes interesting, often contribute poorly to the already-weak main storyline. Character development and backstory are in most instances poor as well, and ultimately, the plot hardly becomes a driving factor throughout the game.

   The third Atelier Iris features a musical style similar to that of the first two titles, with many bouncy tracks alongside other pieces that don't detract too heavily from the game, although the musical package as a whole seems a bit more repetitive and unmemorable than in the previous installments. The voice acting, while not horrible, also leaves something to desire, with the player having little, if any, motivation to sit and listen to it rather than just read the dialogue and skip the voices. All in all, the game's aural package is average at best.

   Atelier Iris 3 mostly uses the same two-dimensional visual style as its predecessors, which isn't a bad thing as it look pretty nice, with lush, colorful scenery, decent character sprites, good character designs used to narrate most cutscenes, and fluid battle graphics. There are some minor technical shortcomings such as occasional choppiness and the lack of a shadow for Edge as he wanders fields, which can screw up jumping at times, but otherwise, the game is far from an eyesore in the end.

   Finally, the third installment is at minimum a thirty-hour game, although the endless variety of guild missions can indefinitely stretch out this time. Overall, Grand Phantasm, while certainly not the best of the Atelier Iris subseries, is nonetheless worthy of the franchise's moniker, with its combat system and graphics standing out the most, although flaws in areas such as the interface, aurals, and especially the story prevent it from being the best RPG it could possibly be. Gamers tired of RPGs that don't take a whole lot of risks probably aren't missing out on much, although existing fans of the franchise will certainly find something to celebrate.

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