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Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana PlayStation 2

Published by Koei
Developed by Gust
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £34.99

Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, an introduction.

2006 could well be the year of the RPG. With such titles as Final Fantasy XII, TES IV: Oblivion and the latest in the Dragon Quest series are all due to arrive within the next few months. Aside from those illustrious titles there are other RPG's arriving this year and the one we are about to look at, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is a quality game that fans of RPG's should definitely pick up. In many ways it's a traditional console RPG but there are a few twists here and there to make it feel like a unique experience to us here in Europe.

What's the game about?

As all RPG enthusiasts will know Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana isn't the first game in the Atelier series but it's the first one to be released outside of Japan. In fact the series has been around for a while and is very popular in Japan. In Eternal Mana you'll play as the alchemist Klein Kiesling. Actually Klein is an alchemist in training and has taken it upon himself to explore the land of Regallzine. At the city of Kavoc, Klein and his Mana friend Popo meet Lita, a monster hunter who has special abilities. All three embark on a journey to Avenberry.  To perform his alchemy Klein needs the assistance of Mana Spirits and throughout the game you'll befriend quite a few of them who can help you create all kinds of useful items, providing you have the required elements to allow them to synthesize the items that is. In fact synthesizing is a big part of Eternal Mana and when you combine this with a good story (that once again is concerned with a megalomaniac, who also happens to be an alchemist, who our heroes have to stop), some bizarre characters and a decent dose of humour you have a RPG that's very deserving of your attention.

What's good about the game?

Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana may be a traditional RPG in many ways but there's some interesting features in the game that you may not have come across before. Klein can extract elements from all kinds of objects in the game. These elements are then used by the Mana Spirits to make essential items such as bombs and healing items. Elements can be extracted from plants, rocks, fruit and even enemies (when Klein acquires the ability). Mana Spirits aren't just for making special items though and they can also perform attacks and serve other useful functions. You have to look after them and give them various items to help them maintain their energy levels. It isn't only the Mana Spirits that can synthesize items (over 300 items can be made). There is also shop synthesis where you give a shopkeeper the required items and they will synthesize the item for you. With shop synthesis you can alter the ingredients and try and make something new. There are many items to collect too. You are rewarded for this in a variety of ways such as money, rare items and other objects that will be of use to you.

The battle system in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana will be familiar to anyone who has played a console RPG over the last 15 years or so. The game uses what's known as a "Cost Turn Battle System" which allows you to either perform quick attacks that don't have a great deal of power or more powerful attacks that take more time but do more damage. Although you can amass quite a collection of characters in your party you can only have three in a battle at any given time although thankfully you can swap out members at anytime so you can make use of those who aren't initially involved in the battle which allows you to try different strategies should you run into difficulty. The battles, whilst being fairly simplistic, are quickly resolved and enjoyable too.

What's not so good about the game?

Those expecting Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana to be a radically different RPG may be disappointed. The battles in Eternal Mana have a dated look about them. Like the old SNES Final Fantasy games the battles are in 2D, from a side-on view. The battles are turn-based (which I personally prefer over real-time battles) but even I have to admit the battle system here does seem a little dated. That's not to say the battles aren't enjoyable though. It was disappointing to see that the game doesn't actually run full screen. Having rather large top and bottom black borders was disappointing but this isn't really a major problem.  

How does it look?

Whilst Eternal Mana might not have complex 3D graphics it certainly has a lot of charm. The game has a 2D anime inspired look to it. You'll play the game from an isometric viewpoint and during battles the camera changes to a side-on view which you'll be familiar with if you've played the older Final Fantasy games and such like. These battles do look dated but there are some decent effects for the magical attacks. Most of the character art in the game is beautiful and if you like the anime style you'll find yourself being very impressed by the character art in the game. The various locations in the game all look great, despite not being 3D, and are very easy on the eyes.

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

By default the dialogue in Eternal Mana is subtitled and deaf gamers will be able to enjoy the game's story. Virtually all of the speech within the game is displayed in text. During dialogues, a character's words will appear in a speech bubble and this speech bubble has the character's name on top of it so it's always possible to know who is saying what. The only exceptions are the comments made in battle as these are not subtitled. There's also a sentence from Lita very early in the game (on a loading screen) that's not subtitled. Whilst these are hardly important it would have been great had they been subtitled. Tutorial messages are shown in text and these messages can be recalled at any time, which is great. You can also check your mission status (displayed in text) to give you a hint of what you should do next.

Final thoughts.

Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is a delightful RPG that fans of the genre should purchase. In some ways it's a very traditional console RPG and the game will feel familiar to everyone. Despite having a traditional look and feel about the game (and a dated battle system), Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is an enjoyable game. The artwork, the synthesis system and the humour all go some way to compensating for the game's shortfalls. When you also factor in the quality story and the interesting, anime-style characters you have a game that RPG fans will want to get their hands on. I also feel that Eternal Mana is a RPG that newcomers to the genre should experience. The learning curve in the game is fairly gentle and the difficulty increases at a comfortable rate, which is something you can't say for every RPG out there.

Overall Game Rating: 8.2/10

Deaf Gamers Classification:

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Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is an enjoyable RPG that should appeal to fans of the genre and those who want to pick up their first title in the genre. The quality of the artwork and visual charm the game has more than compensates for the lack of 3D graphics. The interesting and sometimes humorous nature of the story also deserves praise.