Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is the third title in the series to make its way across the Pacific from the folks at Gust and NIS America (and the eighth in the series).  Taking place in a different ‘universe’ from the previous Atelier Iris titles, you take on the role of Edge, a young Raider who, along with Iris, your friend and an alchemist, discovers a fragment of the Libram of Escalario, which can grant any wish the owner has once complete. 


A few changes have been made to AI3, including the fact that the game is quest-based, monsters now appear on-screen to be battled or avoided at your leisure (akin to FF12), and the battles now have an almost-ATB system like the earlier Final Fantasy games, where you can see where the enemies are in the pecking order, and attack accordingly.  Also, alchemy has gotten a boost with a new leveling and recipe system.

NIS America is known for bringing games over to the US from smaller Japanese developers, and without fail, all of their games feature similar graphical styles that evoke comparisons with Final Fantasy Tactics or the Ogre Battle series.  The games are in 2D with very detailed sprites and hand-drawn backgrounds with very little in the way of computer-generated effects.


This tradition continues with Atelier Iris 3, and while it’s no surprise, and the graphics aren’t bad at all, with the PS2 approaching the end of its life cycle, it might be time for the developers to step up and start using more of the power of the Playstation 2 for their games.  One thing which definitely needs to be included is a moveable camera.  You’ll quite often find yourself going through an Alterworld only to run into a monster that was hidden around a corner or behind a pillar.  Usually, of course, this happens when you’re just trying to get a quest over with, or are low on hit points and healing items.  It’s frustrating, and the static nature of the graphics and backgrounds contribute to this. 


On the good side, the characters are all very well drawn, with great expressions coming from them at various times.  While the monsters suffer a bit from the standard RPG complaint of harder monsters being nothing but new-color-mapped versions of previous foes, they’re still all very nice in their way.

The music in Atelier Iris 3, for the most part, is passable.  The opening tune is very dramatic and stirring, and does a good job at setting the tone of the game.  Some of the minor pieces though, are drastically overplayed and get annoying after a bit.  Some of this isn’t really the music’s fault, however, and more the fact that the majority of the game takes place in only a few areas, leaving the player to hear the same bits of music over and over again.


The placement of the music isn’t a problem, with the battle music and event music hitting the right notes emotionally, helping to set the tone for the game itself.  Again, while none of the music in the game is necessarily bad, it’s more the repitition that kills it.  In short, it’s great to listen to as a soundtrack, but not so great to hear repeatedly over a forty-hour game.


The other sound effects are solid, although not really straying from standard RPG fare.  The voice acting is, with many ported titles, a mixed bag.  Some of the voices are highly overacted, which almost makes sense with the goofiness of the lines they’re given to act, but some of them are just ear-gratingly bad.  Of course, this is more the state of voice acting in particular in the US, and not necessarily a problem with the game. 

If you played either of the previous Atelier Iris games, the controls in Atelier Iris 3 are no real challenge.  As with the previous games, the left analog stick moves you about as do the directional buttons.  The X button talks, examines and selects, while the circle button exits menus, cancels actions and lets you jump in the playfield.  The triangle button opens the main menu, the square button uses a weapon on the gameworld map while start opens the map itself and select opens quest notes.


The only real drawback to the controls is the complete lack of any camera system.  While this may be by design, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s more than a bit annoying that you can’t look around and see what’s around a corner, or even what’s in Edge’s line of sight sometimes.  2D graphics or not, this really can’t be excused anymore.

Unlike Atelier Iris and Atelier Iris 2, which took place in the same world, so to speak, Atelier Iris 3 takes place in Zey Meruze.  You take on the role of Edge Vanhite, a young Raider with his friend Iris Fortner.  Early in their adventures, they find a gem in one of the Alterworlds they visit, which gets sucked into the Libram of Escalario, a book which has been handed down in Iris’ family for generations.  It turns out that the gem is one of eight, which when combined will give the owner immeasurable power and allow them to grant their greatest wishes.


Unlike previous games in the series, AI3 is completely quest-driven.  Most of the game takes place in the city, which has a number of shops and a fair number of people inhabiting it.  As Edge and Iris are members of the Raiders Guild, they have to go there often to pick up new quests and turn in completed ones.  Of course, some quests can only be done by more experienced Raiders, and that’s where the Quest Levels come into play. 


Essentially, there are three types of quests to be done.  You either go to an Alterworld to kill a certain number of enemies, find or create a certain item or items, or go hunting a specific monster.  There are a few that don’t fall into those categories, but for the most part, that’s what the quests consist of.  The rewards can either be coin, items which can be used in alchemy, or quest points.  It’s these points which allow you to level up.


You might be wondering by this point, “What’s an Alterworld?”  Well, in a twist, the ‘dungeons’ are all alternate dimensions which have portals attached to them.  However, you can’t just go and explore at will, as once you enter an Alterworld, you’re given a time limit.  If you happen to be fighting when the limit goes up, well, once you end combat, you’re sucked back to town.  You can pick up hourglasses which extend your time limit, and if you defeat a monster fast enough, you won’t lose any time spent fighting.  Also, since all of the monsters are visible as color-coded blobs on the gameworld, you can avoid any you feel like not fighting.  In fact, as you out-level the monsters, you can attack them on the gameworld and kill them in one swing of your sword.  Also, since they’re color-coded, you easily discover that red enemies are harder to kill, and huge red ones are ultimately boss fights.


When you leave the Atlerworld, the game will show you a list of conditions for where you were.  As you complete the conditions, you gain points, with bonuses for the colored crystals you pick up along the way.  As you hit certain point levels, you are rewarded with items. 


When you get enough quest points to raise your Quest level, you go from quests into a mission.  These missions are how the storyline advances, and as the game is broken up into Chapters, each mission tends to end the chapter. 


There are numerous ways to advance your three playable characters in the game.  First, of course, you gain levels with XP, but only Edge and Nell gain stats from levels.  Iris increases her stats when you raise her Alchemy Level, which adds new recipes as well as increasing her stats.  Edge and Nell also can increase their Blade Level through combat, which opens up new skills for the pair.


Through the adventures, the party will unlock a number of Mana which will form bonds with Iris.  These Mana can then be bonded into various blade forms for Edge and Nell, which give them different skill sets with vastly different effects. 


Alchemy is very different this time around.  While you still have the ability to create items from things you find and are given, you also have some recipes which…aren’t quite complete.  Iris’ll get the idea to make something, but won’t know how to do it until you find something out in the city or in an Alterworld that strikes her fancy.  She’ll then stop whatever she was doing and remark on it, then decide upon something to make, usually to Edge’s annoyance.  This unlocks a new recipe for later use.  Also, as you substitute items in recipes, you can unlock new recipes as well, as Iris will suddenly gain inspiration from the substituion. 


As the game progresses, you’ll open up new Alterworlds for a total of five in all, and meet new characters on both sides of the good/evil dividing line.  While this adds to the story and gameplay, there really is a feeling of … not enough detail from many of the characters.  While there are some amusing subplots, there’s nothing especially epic about anything except for the main storyline…which in itself isn’t all that epic, instead giving you more of a feel of wash, rinse, repeat.

Weighing in at a bit over forty hours, Atelier Iris 3 is a solid value for the money, as the game retails at $40.  However, there’s not really a whole lot of reason to replay the game once you’ve gone through it once.  There’s not really a branching storyline or multiple characters to see.  While completing all the various quests and making all the alchemical items serve for some fun, with other RPGs offering so much more, it almost leaves you wanting more at the end.


Still, if you’re a fan of RPGs, it’s definitely worth the money.

As many readers here at Gaming Trend know, I’m the biggest fan when it comes to NIS America, and have been ever since Disgaea.  I’ve either played or reviewed everything that has come out for a system I own from these guys.


With that said, it’s really time for NIS America and their developers to move into the 21st century.  While the artwork in their games is uniformly well-done, it’s time for the third dimension and camera control to come a bit more to the forefront.  This isn’t a slam against Atelier Iris 3, or NIS America themselves, by any means.  However, if their first title on the Playstation 3 looks similar to a PS1 game…it won’t be pretty. 


That being said, AI3 is a very solid roleplaying game, and definitely worth the $40 that it’s fetching on the retail market.  If you’re a fan of RPGs or NIS at all, you owe it to yourself to pick this title up.

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