Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Gust Incorporated
Release Date: June 28, 2005
Buy 'ATELIER IRIS: Eternal Mana': PlayStation 2
Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is the latest development for a long-running, alchemy-based RPG series by Gust. Atelier had its first debut on the Sega Saturn under the name Marie no Atelier and since then has graced consoles such as the Wonder Swan Color, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Dreamcast, Game Boy, and Game Boy Advance. However, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is the first of the series to land itself on American shelves under the publisher NIS America, who has delivered big in the past with titles like Phantom Brave, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, and La Pucelle: Tactics. That alone should speak highly of Atelier Iris, but if you are still skeptical about what this game has to offer, please read on.
The game takes place in the world of Regallzine, which is comprised of three continents surrounded by a vast sea, and the dwelling place of the Great Spirit Mana. Time spent in the game is in the region of Esviore, which is the most nature abundant land in this world. About 100 years ago, Growloons and other monsters started appearing in the southern region of Esviore, causing King Slaith’s ruling powers to dwindle until his sovereignty was completely gone. Today, each city rules its own land.
In the game, you play the role of Klein Kiesling, a 17-year-old young man and aspiring alchemist. Klein’s journey begins in the city of Kavoc, where he meets Lita Blanchimont, the first of many different party members you will find in the game. After meeting Lita, she asks if Klein wants to join the Galgazit, a club that gets jobs to hunt Grownloons and other monsters in the Esvoire region from the city of Kavoc, primarily from the barkeeper Norman. Klein agrees to join the Galgazit, and the journey begins.
At first glance, Atelier Iris looks like a normal turn-based RPG created from a Super Nintendo game on steroids. However, its clever 2D sprite style design is just a disguise for a very in-depth game. The game utilizes what is known as the alchemy system, designed so that the player is responsible for both the collection and the utilization of mana essences, which is in almost every object, after it's been broken down through mana de-synthesis. Mana de-synthesis is completed by approaching an object like a rock or bush and using Klein’s staff to break down the item. Different item will give you different mana, so in the case of the rock, it will de-synthesize into stone mana, barrels will de-synthesize into wood mana, and in some cases, items will break down into more than one mana element. After collecting the mana elements, Klein can then use them through mana synthesis to create items like healing pots, mana jars, ice bombs, and lightning rods. Collecting mana and creating your own defensive and offensive mana items helps in that they don’t cost you anything but time. As the game progresses, Klein finds new mana items and also the ability to create them; finding and creating these items is a key part of the game, as it will make or break your arsenal if you have certain items when you come to certain enemies.
Using certain kinds of mana elements is also dependent on having a matching kind of mana. This means you can’t create a mana item that uses fire mana elements without first finding the fire mana, which in this case is an actual being – a mana spirit. When you first start the game, Popo, the mana spirit of the wood element, travels with you. As you progress through the game, you will find more mana, which gives you the ability to create mana items which you previously couldn’t create. Each mana also allows you to use it as a new ability, which usually allows you to get to areas you previously couldn’t reach. Examples of these are Uru, the mana of the fire element who gives you the ability to use your staff to shoot fire at objects while in the explore mode of the game. While you can destroy mostly anything with this fire, its primary purpose is to destroy pink blocks that you can’t otherwise destroy, because although being a pyro for a day is fun, it still doesn’t get you any mana elements from any destroyed items. Destroying the pink blocks allows you to reach needed items and areas you couldn’t reach before. Another example is Diemia, the mana of the stone element who, at the touch of a button, will turn himself into a stone stepping stool for you to climb on. Some mana spirits have other abilities, such as healing party members.
Having a mana spirit in your party is a lot like having a three-year-old with you. When a new mana joins your party, they are not too fond of you, and their health is not the greatest either. Mana, like party members, have status bars: one shows the health, which decreases based on how often you call on that mana to help you, and the second shows the mana's love for you. When a mana is in good health and not in a state of depression, it will actually reward you for taking care of it by making extra mana items for you when you are creating one or two of a certain item. Taking care of your mana by keeping it fed and rewarding it with gifts is the key to having a healthy relationship between Klein and the mana. Certain items, such as a skinny log, are good health-up items for Popo, the mana spirit of the wood element, and silver legions are good health-up and love-up items for Diemia, the mana spirit of the stone element. All of the items you will need for keeping your mana happy can be found mostly anywhere in the explore mode of the game. However, you are limited to carrying only nine alike items.
Another usage of items is shop synthesis, a way of obtaining new items and gear from local shopkeepers. Some shopkeepers are like alchemists in the way that they too can make items, but they use items that you pick up throughout the game to create new items, not mana elements. The new items that can be created can be anything from food and drink all the way up to explosive bombs to throw at your enemies. You can also create clothing and other armor such as rings. When starting shop synthesis, you are shown a recipe of sorts; for instance, when making fairy clothes, the recipe might call for flux cloth, string, and some water. You can use any item within each category to make different items, unlike the one you originally set out to create. By taking silk cloth, string, and pure water, you could possibly make an entirely new item with better stats. Also when using shop synthesis, you have to try to combine objects to make menus for the store. Each store has a rating that can be viewed upon entering and talking to the clerk. A good store rating allows you to unlock other synthesis recipes and also brings extra shoppers to the store.
Mana spirits also allow you to make weapon add-ons from mana stones you find during your travels. Different mana spirits will change each mana stone into something completely different. When you use a mana spirit to alter a mana stone, the stone gains a stat that can be viewed by a card that is attached to it, like fire resistance + 1 or +2. You can combine alike resistances up to nine times, giving you a total of x9 resistance. After making three card combinations that you like, you can then combine the cards into sets of three, turning all three stones into one main stone with three new properties. After you finish perfecting your new mana stone, you can then apply it to a weapon, which in turn applies those properties to the weapon. If you make better mana stones later or wish to remove the stone that is currently on a weapon, you can easily do so and reuse that stone at a later time.
The fighting system in Atelier Iris is turn-based and includes elements from most RPGs. Each character can attack, defend, run, use item, or use a special ability, and each also has his/her own special ability based upon the weapon they use. Klein is the only character in your party who is able to use the mana items, though. Additionally, you can only use three members from your party in each battle, so if one is very low on health, out of mana, or just dead, you can change to a different member on the fly, which proves to be very useful in boss fights.
The game itself comes off as very simple, but with all of the added elements, Atelier Iris can actually get pretty rough. A lot of the enemies are very easy to win against, but as you progress, the battles do get harder, especially the boss fights. Each boss does have its weakness so finding that weakness may be the difference between life and death.
All in all, I found Atelier Iris to be a wonderful game and recommend it for any RPG fan who needs a game to spend 40-80 hours on. It can be a very simple title for a new RPG player who is just starting out, or for the hardened RPG player, it can be a very advanced experience and take many hours to fully complete.