Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny
Reviewed by Tiffany Craig
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-12-02 PS2 RPG E10 (Everyone 10+) Gust / Koei / NIS America

RPGs tend to deal in very limited territory. Unleashing an RPG that didn't contain a fight against the odds, heroism, love and XP would cause riots. Does the new Atelier Iris measure up? Is it just another RPG? You manage the care and feeding of Felt and his childhood friend Viese as their world begins to crumble. Our unfortunately named hero plucks a sword from a stone and goes on an adventure in the land beyond the gate called Belkhyde to save them all. As he makes new mysterious friends, he leaves Viese lovelorn in disintegrating Eden, charged with his support. All the RPG boxes are ticked yet; Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny's simple exterior belays something more exciting and complex.

There's a lot of questing in Atelier Iris 2. One might actually call it questastic because there are so many quests within quests within quests. Eventually, you might fall down on your knees and beg the game for one simple quest that isn't wrapped up in a delicious dripping taco of other quests. The premise, which you get early on, doesn't adequately foreshadow how much questing you will actually do. But once you realize that this game is beset with the idea 'for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction' you'll be able to cope with the rest of its mechanics and get down to the enjoyment.

Alchemy is the center of the Atelier Iris series. Item gathering, healing potions, armor, weapons, skills and plot points all surround the characters' ability to cajole Mana NPCs and various naturally occurring items and elements. To synthesize items you must first have the recipe, usually gathered, wait for it... as part of a quest. Then you must track, hunt and bag the ingredients. Finally, you must also have the relevant Mana that can help you create your item, usually via a sequence of favors. All of this eventually turns into something that you can use. The highly underrated Pendulum, for example, requires Dem Ore, Moonstone and the assistance of the metal Mana. Viese, the girl Felt left behind, undertakes all Mana pacts and most synthesis. In a unique twist, she's still connected to Felt via a sharing ring and you can switch between them at any camp. What she creates, he can access and what he acquires, she can use.

Atelier Iris 2 has its fair share of battling forces of nefarious evil for the glorious victory of the forces of good. Battles only happen in dungeon areas, as indicated by a gage that displays how likely it is you encounter monsters. When it's red, it's almost inevitable that you're going to get into a fight with one of the locals. At engagement, the three characters chosen to be part of the front line party drop in and initiative is calculated. Battle becomes mostly turn based, but turns can be interrupted using Break attacks. Special skills are charged when your characters are attacked or by using the Charge attack (which doesn't interrupt initiative.) Thankfully, blessedly, they now included a health gage over all parties, unlike in Eternal Mana.

Character development is a mixture of levels and skills upgrades. Leveling is obvious, the more enemies you destroy, the more XP you gain, the more health levels you get. Skill upgrades are needlessly complex to the point of jumping up and down on the couch in a frustrating frothing red rage. In keeping with consistency under the rest of the game, it appears suspiciously elementary. To gain various skills you must equip various items. The longer you use the item, the more adept you become at gaining a skill. But browsing through each item later in the game and locating the skills can become a nightmare. Various items can be overlooked because they seem counterintuitive to use. Many times the item that contains a useful skill will be as useful as a swimsuit in the dead of a Manchester winter for anything else.

The surface simplicity and rounded quality of the game is enhanced by cheerfully vibrant colors and comely characters. With the exception of some incredible cut scenes similar to those in Makai Kingdom, Atelier Iris retains its olde timey two-dimensional splendor. Voice acting is cheesy, but then, so is everything else in appearance, so it pretty much works. There isn't any music as catchy as Poto's Forest this time around. Again, I'm thankful. That made for some odd conversations when I was caught humming it on the train. And though I've escaped from auditory hallucinations on public transportation from this game, some of it borders on cringe-worthy. In one particular cave, the African synthesizer arrangement is a little embarrassing if someone else is in the room.

Someone at Gust heard the whimper of a thousand players and rid the Atelier Iris series of its largest hindrances. Sadly, though, some of the game's original charm was lost in the streamlining process. This prequel is a tale of two halves, due to not only the singular system of character cooperation and concept but also because of what was replaced. Shop synthesis was a pain, but now many of the NPCs aren't very interesting. Battle and element extraction is far simpler but using skills is more complicated. The balance is slightly tilted in favor of Azoth of Destiny because the majority of the original charm is still there and some of those improvements were quite important. Maps and weapon synthesis, for example, are leaps beyond its predecessor in ease.

I could write about 2000 words on Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny. There's a lot to describe, explain and attempt to get you to enjoy. What I will say is though it follows the formula of a typical RPG, this is anything but and all the better for it. Like a cloned kitten, the surface may look adorable and cuddly, but the background and execution are strikingly engaging, unique for being a sequel and well worth investigating.

Special thanks to Mikey Foley and Koei for providing a copy of this title.