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Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm: A Boy, a Girl and a Book.
Company: NIS America

Though Final Fantasy and Dragonquest tend to get all the press, Gustís Atelier Iris series has quietly gone about its business delivering some of the best old school RPG experiences available on the PS2. With two games already released in North America, Gust is at work readying a third entry (the eighth in Japan) in the series with Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm.

You begin with two characters at your command, a young alchemist named Iris and a sword-wielding fighter named Edge. Both work for the Raider's Guild, a group that specializes in exploring the recently discovered Alterworlds. Unlike previous games in the series, Grand Phantasm is quest-driven (as opposed to following a strict plotline). Most of your time is spent traveling between town and various jobs. Some are pretty short and can be completed in a couple of minutes while others can take a while longer. By completing quests, you'll earn money and rank points, which will allow you to move up in the guild and take on better jobs. The entire quest system is laid out really well. You don't have to complete every quest, though some are required to push the story along.

During one such job, Edge and Iris discover a hint that leads to the discovery of the location of Wizard's Libram of Excalario. According to legend, the book contains infinite knowledge, which is why it was divided into eight parts. The person who finds and joins the books will have his wishes granted, setting the duo on a quest to find them all. Of course, they soon learn that others are also in search of the books.

Grand Phantasmís gameplay sticks to the same mechanics as the previous game. The game is played from an isometric perspective during exploration sequences and jumps into a 2D side-view when you come in contact with an enemy. The great thing about the battle system is that you donít have to fight every monster on screen Ė at least not by entering the battle screen. Monsters are represented as blobs on the exploration screen. Youíll still have to enter the battle screen with blobs that are on or above your level, though weaker ones can be dispatched with a single-blow, saving you from pointless battles.

While in the battle screen, characters take turns trading blows, with the battle order based on their speed. When it is time for your characters to attack, you can choose from normal and special attacks, as well as use items. With the exception of major battles, the flow and pacing is really good. Battles tend to speed along and never feel like they are dragging.

Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm doesnít make too many changes, but the ones it does are smartly done and improve an already great game. If youíre a fan of the series, the next one isnít far off. Other RPG fans should use the time between now and May wisely and track down copies of the first two games Ė it is worth it.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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