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Developer:
Gust
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PS2
Release Date: June 28, 2005

by Josh Ferguson




Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is NIS America's first published title not to be developed by Nippon Ichi. Instead, Atelier Iris was created by Japanese developer, Gust. Even though Nippon Ichi did not develop the title, it still features a similar look and feel as some of their previous releases. So how does Atelier Iris compare to other Nippon Ichi titles? Well, read on to find out.


The story of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana follows a relatively young inexperienced alchemist by the name of Klein. While the art of alchemy used to be fairly common, it seems to be have become nearly extinct. The alchemists of the past are said to be able to use the powers of the great mana spirits to create powerful magic items. With the help of the spirits, Klein must resurrect the ancient arts of alchemy and use it to save his friends and defeat the evil that threatens the world!


As an alchemist, Klein is a very unique character with his own weapons and abilities. While Klein travels through dungeons, he is able to use his cane to extract elements from the environments. For example, if he uses his cane on say.... a barrel, he will then extract a small amount of stone and wood elements. A second example is when Klein uses his cane on a bush, he will extract some water and wood elements. In order to pull off most of Klein's abilities, you must first extract enough elements to use them. However, in order to use his abilities, Klein must first have a mana spirit.


Mana spirits are one of the main things that make Klein such a threat to his enemies. These spirits are what make it possible for Klein to produce different mana items. Mana have two types of health bars, one that shows their amount of energy and another that shows the friendship level that they have with Klein. When a mana creates an item, their energy bar will begin to decrease. The more items created, the lower their energy will become and the higher chance that they will be unsuccessful at creating mana items. Also, the more stressful work you put on a mana, the more its friendship level will drop. However, Klein is able to give his mana gifts that will not only raise their friendship level but it will also raise their energy. Of course, if these two indicators are high, the better the item creation success rate and the better chance that they will create an extra item or two.


While Klein is the main mana user, it is also possible for other characters to get some use from them, because each character is able to equip one of the different mana that Klein acquires. When a character equips a mana, that character will receive certain stat bonuses. For the most part, each mana will give characters different stat bonuses, but of course, any bonus is helpful. It is also possible to get the most out of your mana by making them go through a metamorphosis. This metamorphosis can be done by gathering aroma material, which will then transform your mana into much more powerful spirits.


Unlike previous games released by NISA, Atelier Iris features a turn-based combat system. The combat is done in 2-D, and features your characters on the right side and the enemies on the left side. During battle, your team can only consist of three of your party members, but it is possible to switch characters in and out of battle. However, if you switch a character in or out of combat this will remove that individual's turn. Still, characters who don't actually take place in combat will still receive about half of the experience points as the ones who actually do the fighting. I've always loved when RPGs do something like this because, well... let's face it, there are always a few characters that gamers often won't use. But if those characters receive experience too, then it makes it much easier should the need to use that character arise. Plus, I always like to keep my characters relatively close in levels.


As characters gain levels, they will occasionally be rewarded by unlocking new abilities. However, every time a character gains a level they will receive a few points to distribute toward upgrading their skills. In each level, a character normally gains three of these points, and once they distribute the required amount of points toward a skill, it will then gain a level. There are a few different ability types, including those that are unique to each character and some defensive skills.


While Klein and the rest of your characters are able to pull off abilities during combat, it is also possible to pull some off while traveling through dungeons. Aside from the ability to use his cane to extract elements, Klein is also able to use a destruction blast, which consists of launching a fireball to destroy certain barriers. These abilities are used by using the R1 and L1 buttons to switch through a dial located at the top left of the screen. There are several choices that Klein can use, including checking the current mission objective to summoning more monsters for random battles.


Aside from the actual storyline, Atelier Iris is one of those games that features some extra things to keep gamers occupied for long periods of time. Throughout the game there are several areas where you can find certain items and synthesize them to create some sort of material. An example of this is a bar that is found early on in the game. The bartender informs you that in order to help him create something to please his customers, he will need certain items that he can synthesize to make something even better. There are also weapon shops that allow for weapon synthesizing, but these seem a little more rare than the actual item synthesizing locations. Of course, these synthesizing sidequests add a lot more gameplay, but they also lead to a lot of backtracking and tend to become rather boring, which will more than likely turn many gamers away.


As for graphics, this is one of the weakest areas of Atelier Iris. The character designs are fairly decent looking, but there really isn't a lot of detail. Still, the characters and designs of the towns and so on seem to fit well with the overall look of the game. Also, traveling around the world map isn't very impressive looking and is kind of plain and, well... boring! It should also be noted that most of the enemies seem to be constantly used over and over with repetitive designs. Rather than battling new enemies, much of the game you will face the same enemies but with a slightly altered appearance.


The overall sound of the game is one area that I have mixed feelings about. While the game features a pretty strong soundtrack and, for the most part, some good voice work, it still has its share of problems. The biggest problem is that occasionally during some voice acting the sound will completely cut out, or at other times it will begin to skip. It is too bad because I generally liked most of the voice actors.


Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana suffers from some minor problems, such as some dated graphics and the occasional glitch in sound, but by no means is it a bad game. If you can get past these small problems, chances are you will find another good title released from NIS America. With its unique sense of humor and style, Atelier Iris will more than likely appeal to fans of previous Nippon Ichi titles.


Final Grade: 75%




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