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Fullmetal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Destineer
Developer: Bandai


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NDS Review - 'Fullmetal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy'

by Katarani on Feb. 7, 2007 @ 2:53 a.m. PST

Fullmetal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy integrates an innovative twist via the use of alchemy - which is the ability to transform objects from one form into another - and its strategic impact on the game. Whether repelling defenders, removing obstacles or engaged in battle, all six characters have unique and devastating alchemy attacks, which range in scope from bolts of fire and stone spikes, to monstrous cannons and gigantic fists. By holding down the alchemy button on the Nintendo DS touch screen, players can transform their initial alchemy creation into a mega-weapon of tremendous proportions and impact.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Destineer
Developer: Bandai
Release Date: December 12, 2006

Over the past several years, America's obsession over anime has died down to a quiet bubbling, and the droves of sub-par cash-in cartoons have all but vanished. A few shows from that time have remained, diamonds in the rough that they are, such as the surprisingly deep Full Metal Alchemist. It only stands to reason, of course, that with a cartoon's (or in this case, anime's) extended popularity, games are certain to follow.

Somewhere along the line, though, a person in charge of licensing the Full Metal Alchemist games lost sight of what the series was actually about. In turn, a dramatic, character-driven story about the atonement for one's sins and the lengths to which one will go in order to achieve power was turned into nothing more than a combat-driven action title. Both of the franchise's former titles, Full Metal Alchemist and the Broken Angel and its sequel Curse of the Crimson Elixir were jaunts into Action/RPG territory, and both were met with lackluster reviews. Sadly, Bandai hasn't entirely learned its lesson, as Full Metal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy strips off even the slight RPG flavor of the PS2 titles, leaving it simply a full-on beat-'em-up. Could it be just the thing to breathe a little more life into the series?

Unlike Broken Angel and Curse of the Crimson Elixir, Dual Sympathy follows the plot to the show, allowing players to control Edward Elric and his brother Alphonse in their quest to gain the power of the legendary Philosopher's Stone. With it, they would also gain the ability to return their bodies to the way they were prior to their fatefully disastrous attempt at resurrecting their mother. The game follows the plot fairly accurately, starting out at the beginning in the town of Liore and leading the player throughout the entire plot of the show. While the series has a lot of action in the early episodes, it quickly becomes far more introspective and deep, so how exactly does that carry over to a full-fledged beat-'em-up?

The answer is, with pages upon pages of text. In Story Mode, the only available game mode at the beginning, each short five- to 20-minute stage is bookended by roughly 30 minutes of reading, a ratio seen typically only in the more maligned of PlayStation 2-era RPGs. The worst part of this is that the story isn't even in its full form; you'll get bits and pieces of storylines that take sometimes five or six episodes to cover, but have been simplified into 10 pages of dialogue that pretty much omit much of the who, what, when, where, why, and how. In turn, the story mode feels incomplete and half-baked.

It doesn't help that the gameplay is standard beat-'em-up fare, really. One button attacks, the other causes you to jump, and the touch-screen serves for two special Alchemy moves: a defensive wall and a damaging attack move that varies from character to character. For Story Mode, you're stuck as protagonist Edward Elric and occasionally switch to his slower-but-stronger brother Alphonse for a boss fight area here or there. However, slog through the Story Mode and you unlock Character Mode, which allows you to play through the game, sans cut scenes, with Edward, Alphonse, or any of four other of Full Metal Alchemist's more well-known characters.

Luckily, the controls and graphics alike are sharp, the former being quite responsive and the latter delivering the feel of the show's art quite nicely. Controls aren't as precise on the touch-screen, which is predominantly used for mini-games throughout Story Mode, but luckily, the tasks (typically "touch the dots in order" or "scribble out this alchemy symbol") are forgiving enough that it's manageable for all but the least coordinated of gamers. Dual Sympathy is one of those frustrating games that practically demands you find a place to hold your stylus while you play, but to keep easy access to it when it's needed.

Surprisingly, the sound is one of the best features of the title. While the music is generic beat-'em-up rock and techno similar to all other games in the genre, it stands out as actually being noticeable; you may not remember it after you turn off the system, but there's nothing stopping you from humming it while you're playing. More notable is the fact that they got most of the dub voice cast, and their voices are crisp and clear even through the DS' lacking speaker system. However, the voices are limited to occasional lines in Story Mode and the typical grunts, growls, and cries of pain inherent in such a game.

Sadly, Dual Sympathy has a lot of wasted potential. Had the game been a bit longer — perhaps through an original story similar to the other games in the franchise or more level variety — then it'd be quite an impressive arcade-style romp indeed. In addition, all the makings of a two-player game are present, from addictive gameplay to multiple characters, and at times, the game even has an A.I.-controlled second character follow you around. Simultaneous, cooperative goon-busting was certainly possible, so why didn't the developers capitalize on the opportunity?

In addition, while many of the mini+games are quite enjoyable, it wouldn't be difficult to add in multiple difficulty levels or more games, would it? There are plenty of arbitrary unlockables — including loads upon loads of concept art and character voices — so why not a few more mini-games?

Full Metal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy is a bit shaky from whichever perspective you take it. Fans of the show will get irritated that the story with which they fell in love has been chopped up, cannibalized, and made into another generic beat-'em-up, and people new to the series will be confused as the plot bounces around viciously in Story Mode — which must be completed before the much quicker, more notable arcade-style Character Mode is available. It's a disgustingly short game emphasizing multiple playthroughs, but at the same time, the gameplay is moderately repetitive and the levels all reek of sameness. Go ahead and give Full Metal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy a look if you long for the days when games like Streets of Rage and Final Fight were prevalent. Otherwise, you aren't missing anything by keeping away.

Score: 6.3/10

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