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Atelier Iris 2: Azoth of Destiny
Score: 86%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Gust
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Atelier Iris 2ís visuals are much like those offered in the first game. That is to say theyíre bright, colorful and have a nice style and charm to them. Characters and backgrounds are hand-drawn, giving every area you enter a storybook feel that carries a charm and life you normally don't see in games. The hand-drawn sprites (all of which are high resolution) are accented with just a touch of 3D. However, 3D is used sparingly and really only shows up during battles in order to lend a depth of field effect as well as create flashy attacks.

The gameís soundtrack is a step above the original, which is saying a lot. The changes come mostly in the way of adding more to everything. There are more songs with more variety and more instruments in each. Voice acting is also well done, but doesnít rank among the best localization efforts (that is a title that is still firmly held by Working Designs). Still, most of the small annoyances I found in the first game are thankfully absent in the sequel, though some of the jokes do feel a bit forced at times.


Gameplay:
Atelier Iris 2 follows the story of two characters, Felt and Viese, two orphans who live on the floating island of Eden. The two are studying to be alchemists, though Felt would rather be swinging a sword while Vieseís idea of a fun involves staying locked in the library. One day Eden is struck by a mysterious earthquake, causing big parts of the world to disappear. The earthquake also awakens the Azoth of Destiny, a sword that is said to be the pinnacle of alchemy, that begins to call out to Felt and activates a portal known as the Belkhyde gate. Felt decides to venture into the gate and see if he can discover what is going on while Viese decides to stay in Eden and use her alchemy skills to help Felt.

A large part of the game focuses on Feltís adventures, though you can also switch over to Viese in order to create new items that you can then ship over to Felt using a Share Ring. While the concept is certainly interesting, it could have been used in a more compelling way. When switching to Viese, the game breaks down to a group of simple fetch quests that can become frustrating later on. The system also carries over into Feltís adventures. After Felt discovers a recipe for an item like a health herb, you need to switch to Viese in order to find out what elements are needed to create the item. If Viese doesnít have the items handy on Eden, you must then switch back to Felt and roam around looking for the elements -- a task that is both time-consuming and tedious.

The deeper you delve into the game, the more tedious these quests become. Nearly every person in the world has an obscure item they want you to find for them, which requires that you find some other obscure item. Of course, in order to get that item, you need to create another item. Situations like these can go on for hours, making you feel more like an errand boy than someone out to save the world.

As you travel through each area, youíll also have to contend with the bane of the RPG world, random encounters. Atelier Iris 2 handles these encounters in a slightly different manner than most RPGs. At the bottom of the screen, a gauge turns from red to blue. When the gauge is blue, youíre safe from attacks, while red means that a battle is coming. While the warning aspect of the gauge isnít all that helpful, it also keeps track of how many enemies youíve encountered. Each area has a set number of encounters and as the gauge fills up, the fewer enemies youíll have to face.

Story is one of the gameís real bright spots, and it almost makes the long quests enjoyable. All of the characters you run across are likeable, and have a depth to their personalities that you normally donít see in most RPGs. Sure youíll see the stereotypical tough-guys (or in this case, tough girls), but their personalities go a little deeper than, ďIím tough. Everything I do is tough.Ē


Difficulty:
Compared to the original, Atelier Iris 2 isnít a very hard game provided you keep churning out items. Though tedious, gaining the right mana for basic healing items isnít all that difficult, so you should have a steady supply of herbs if you take the time to grab them from the environment.

Game Mechanics:
Combat is turn-based and very easy to get into. Actions are based on an Active Time System, where characters take turns based on where they appear on a gauge at the top of the screen. After taking an action, characters go back to the beginning of the gauge and slowly race to the end, at which point they get another turn. Characterís positions on the gauge can be shifted by using certain attacks, like break attacks, that will either knock them back on the gauge or stop their movement for a short time.

Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny is an RPG for the old school RPG fans. Rather than taking cues from new RPGs, the game instead builds on ideas found in SNES era RPGs. It might not appeal to RPG fans who came to the genre after Final Fantasy VII, but fans of classic RPGs will enjoy the nostalgic experience.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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