Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm PS2 Review

Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is like an old friend and has retained some traits from its childhood, but nonetheless meeting up with a buddy after a considerable time can leave things feeling different to what they were, because, like it or not, things change in life.

This third entry in the Atelier Iris series retains the wonderful alchemy system of the previous two games, its lovely art style and all round approachable simplicity, but apart from this, the game is very different to what has come before.

Rather than being a linear RPG like the previous games were, Grand Phantasm is now more open ended, which isn’t to say that it has a Knights of The Old Republic style good and evil branching mechanic, but rather that the game is mission based, allowing you to choose what order to do quests in.

Many of these quests are simply there as a means to obtain items and money for your adventure rather then to advance the game, but others will reward you with quest points, which will eventually allow you to rank up. Whilst many of the quests have mini stories to tell, it isn’t really until this point that the true narrative progresses to any great degree. These segments are also the only time you’ll ever get to hear the adequate voice acting at work.

Talking about the story, due to the aforementioned structure, it’s rather flimsy in comparison to previous games in the series, but, whilst its playful sense of humour is loveable, it’s not a great loss as storytelling has never been Atelier Iris’ greatest forte.

To be frank, it’s a simple seen it all before affair, featuring a seemingly cold hearted hero in Edge, a contrasting cheerful heroine with the titular Iris, and finally there’s Nell who plays the annoying comical personality, and that’s your lot as far as playable characters go. All three characters are members of the Raiders Guild, which are essentially mercenaries, this going some way to explaining the ranking up business that I mentioned earlier on.

Going back to the gameplay, accepting quests will, more often than not, require you to journey to afterworlds, the games’ dungeons. There’s only one town in the entire game and this acts as not only a place where you can stock up on equipment, but also as a hub to reach the more dangerous environments.

Arriving in an afterworld will bring into play a countdown timer, which runs down (even during a fight) but can be retained by swiftly defeating your enemies. When time runs out, you’ll end up kicked out of that afterworld and find yourself dumped back in town and will be forced to traverse the area all over again, nasty.

Mercifully it isn’t half as evil as it appears, though, as hourglasses can be found, which extend your time. Also, in spite of what other reviews may have said, I rarely felt as if I had to rush through the area, leaving no room for any real exploration. The time limit is so generous that usually both before and after you head to your objective, you’ll have ample time to do a bit of exploring and fighting.

There are only a handful of dungeons in the game, meaning you’ll revisit the same locations again and again, which can on occasion get repetitive, but is relived somewhat when you obtain certain items, which allow you to progress deeper through the stage.

Moving on to the combat system, first of all the random battles are out and enemies can now be seen roaming the field (we hear many a sigh of relief) and can – providing they’re weaker then your party – be defeated by a single slash of Edge’s sword, even before the battle has a chance to begin.

Fighting itself is accessible, never requiring you to scour the manual to find what command does what (the drip fed tutorials do that nicely enough anyway). Like the second game, there’s no MP, but rather a gauge that the entire party share, adding some subtle strategy to proceedings. The Burst Gauge is an important new addition, which begins to fill when you attack enemies. When it’s full, your entire party will enter a limit break like state, significantly increasing the strength of their special attacks which is handy for the nastier baddies. In addition to this, you are rewarded bonus money and exp at the conclusion of a battle (which felt like a nice pat on the back to me).

Mana forms are another brand spanking new feature. These can be made use of once Iris makes a pact with the mana and are essentially class changes for your two melee fighters, Edge and Nell. This brings a whole host of new skills for you to experiment with and makes up for the fact that there are only three playable characters.

Back in town, with the items found in the afterworld or purchased in town, Iris is able to craft some items with the always pleasing alchemy system. This is even more of a simplified version of the original game’s system than the second game was, but remains as a more enjoyable way to acquire new items, then simply just buying or purchasing them would have been.

It may be much more repetitive then its predecessors and a bit questionable in its structure, but this third game does feature familiar elements, including its wonderfully deep alchemy system and fast, dynamic battle system. Atelier Iris 3 is still a hugely likeable RPG, but also in many ways a bit of a stranger, one that I wasn‘t always comfortable being around. After all, things do change and not necessarily for the better.