Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm PlayStation 2
Published by: Koei
Developed by: Gust
Release Date: Out Now
Last year we looked at both Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana and its sequel, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny. Essentially we enjoyed both of them and when we found out a third Atelier Iris game was being released in the UK, we were more than pleased. Now that the game is here and we have played it, it has to be said that the game isn't quite what we would have expected from an Atelier Iris game. That's not to say it's not enjoyable, far from it in fact. There are some key differences this time around however and whilst some of the changes will please fans of the previous games, there are some changes that probably shouldn't have been made.
In Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm you'll follow the fortunes of a young man named Edge Vanhite and Iris Fortner. At the start you'll only have these two in your party but later on in the game you'll acquire a third member, Nell Ellis. The game is set in the town of Zey Meruze and Edge, Iris and Nell are members of the local guild and are known as Raiders. Grand Phantasm is a quest based RPG and you'll have plenty of quests to keep you occupied during the 30+ hours duration of the game. Essentially, to increase in rank as a Raider you'll have to complete quests in order to earn quest points. When you've earned the required amount of quest points the characters will move up a rank and get to carry out a quest that will progress the story. Once this important quest is completed you'll move to the next chapter in the story.
There are many quests in Grand Phantasm; fortunately you don't have to do them all. You'll have missions that task you with battling enemies, finding information, finding certain items and of course there's the run of the mill fetch quests too, which you won't receive quest points for. To obtain a quest you'll have to pay a visit to the guild and select a quest from the notice board. You'll then have to visit the person who has commissioned the quest for further details before heading off to complete the quest. For the most part, you'll have to enter areas known as Alterworlds, accessible through portals, in order to carry out your quests. There are a variety of Alterworlds and each has its own particular enemies. There is one catch however; you can only stay in the Alterworld for a limited amount of time. Essentially this means that you'll have to remain focused during a quest and you can't afford to hang about. Of course you'll have battles and these can take some time off you if they aren't finished quickly. If you don't complete a quest before the time runs out you won't fail a mission. You'll simply have to re-enter the Alterworld and try again. These Alterworlds can be explored at any time, if you have been granted access to them, and there are certain bonuses, aside from levelling-up your characters, that can be acquired by achieving certain goals in each of the Alterworlds.
Both Atelier Iris and its sequel offered random battles, something which does irritate a lot of RPG fans. Grand Phantasm does away with random battles and you'll see graphical representations of your enemies so you can choose to engage them or avoid them in most situations. These graphical representations are coloured blobs that give you an idea of the enemy's strength with a green blob being an enemy which is much weaker than you and, at the other end of the scale, a red blob signifying an enemy that is stronger than you. This is a nice touch as it gives you the opportunity to avoid a weak opponent as well as giving you fair warning that you are about to take on an enemy who might give you some problems.
Once you enter a battle you'll also notice some differences from the previous Atelier Iris games. Grand Phantasm uses an Active Cost Card Battle system that shows you the order that characters will fight in. The greater a character's speed, the more quickly their turn will come around. In most RPG games characters carry out their special attacks using their own magic/mana points. In Grand Phantasm this isn't the case however. Instead your party has a Skill Gauge that fills as you attack. Performing special skills costs skill points and these are taken directly from the skill gauge. There is also a Burst Gauge that fills as you attack the enemy. Should you manage to fill the meter you'll enter Burst mode, which essentially means the enemy is stunned and you'll get to make consecutive attacks on your enemies. Later in the game Iris will have access to mana spirits which can be summoned during a battle. On the whole I think the battle system is far more satisfactory this time around. The battles may be turn-based but they do have a fast flow to them and they always remain enjoyable. The battles also seem a little easier this time around which might disappoint some fans of the series but for the most part the battles are far more enjoyable than in the previous Atelier Iris games.
What I like about Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is that you need no prior knowledge of the previous games in order to enjoy the game. This makes the game perfectly accessible to those who haven't come across the series before which is a good thing. There are various concepts that have been carried over from the previous games such as synthesising and the use of mana spirits. Quite a few things have been simplified this time around. The synthesising of different items for instance is much more straightforward and even those who have never played an Atelier Iris game before will find it all pretty intuitive. Where the game falls down a little is that there isn't much of a storyline here and the story certainly isn't up to the standards of the previous two games. Whilst the quests are enjoyable, they are no substitute for a quality storyline and it's a shame the developers didn't make more effort in this respect.
Like the previous Atelier Iris games, Grand Phantasm uses charming 2D visuals which do look a little dated but are completely in keeping with the other games in the series. The introduction features a very impressive, anime-style, cutscene but apart from that, the other cutscenes all pretty much use the in-game graphics which in some ways is a shame. The game plays from a fixed, isometric perspective so you don't have to contend with looking after the camera angles which in some ways is a blessing. I daresay some will be put off by the 2D sprites that are used in the game but in truth they do look good and in some ways I think it gives the characters more personality, than using 3D polygonal characters, which certainly helps in an RPG.
Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm won't give deaf gamers any problems. There is only a small amount of speech in the game and text is provided for all the dialogue in the game so deaf gamers will have no problems in following the game's story. Large character portraits are placed alongside the text, as well as the character's name, so you'll always be aware of who is saying what. All of the quest details are given in text and you can recall them at any time. All of the game's tutorial messages are exclusively in text and you can access all of the tutorials you are given at any time which is excellent and means that if you come back to the game after a long while away from it, you can access the tutorial messages to brush up on anything you might have forgotten. In short then, Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.
In some respects Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm manages to both please and slightly disappoint. The new battle system is definitely an improvement and battles are much better in Grand Phantasm than they were in the previous Atelier Iris games. Generally the game is more accessible too and whether you've played the previous games in the series or whether this is your first Atelier Iris game, you'll have no problems in getting to grips with the game and its concepts. The quests are generally enjoyable too but as we said earlier, they are no substitute for an enjoyable storyline. Of course you could have both the quests and an enjoyable storyline but this hasn't happened in Grand Phantasm and that's a shame in all honesty. Still, Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is an enjoyable RPG and well worth 30-40 hours of any RPG enthusiast's time.
Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm offers a superior battle system and generally more accessible game-play. However, a more involving and enjoyable storyline would have certainly been appreciated.