Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny

When Nippon Ichi Software America localized the first installment of Gust’s Atelier Iris subseries, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, it received generally decent reviews, although critics were mixed about the fact that the game didn’t push the PlayStation 2’s visual capabilities to its limits. About a year later came the North American release of the game’s sequel, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana 2, which NIS America translated as Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth Destiny, which received even more mixed reception in the Anglophone world, but definitely has plenty positive aspects.

The game mechanics sport the bulk of changes from the first game, with an indicator in every enemy-infested dungeon and open field gradually changing color from blue to red to note how close the player is to encountering enemies. With each victory, the encounter gauge depletes, and once completely empty, the player won’t encounter any foes in a particular area or room, each map having its own fixed number of fights. Entering camp via violet auras to replenish life completely refills all enemy gauges in a dungeon’s room.

The battles themselves contain many changes from the first Atelier Iris, among them being a turn order meter on the top of the screen that functions similar to those in the Grandia series, with the player’s party of up to three active characters and the enemies gradually moving from left to right, taking their turns once they’ve reached the right end. When one of the player’s characters reaches their turn, they have at their disposal two types of normal attacks: charge attacks that increase the skill gauge in the upper-right corner, with up to nine total levels, and break attacks that push an enemy back on the turn order gauge.

Near the left end of the gauge is a portion to which the player can push the enemy with break attacks, which will consequentially “break” the enemy, stunning them and allowing the player to chain combos with their attacks. The player can continue to push foes back on the gauge with break attacks, although their effectiveness against the same enemy will decrease with subsequent strikes. Also at each ally’s disposal are skills that require a certain number of levels from the skill gauge to execute, with this value being one level when a battle begins, standing in for a generic MP system.

Characters can also defend, use consumable items the player can synthesize with raw materials and harvestable elements of various types once they’ve made an item at least once with other items, switch places with an ally currently not in the battle party, or attempt to escape, with this feature mercifully working most of the time. Aside from the resetting of the encounter gauge whenever the player enters camp, and perhaps the possibility of missing an elemental spirit and item recipes, the battle system works fairly well, and is one of the sequel’s high points.

Control is mostly solid, with an easy menu system and easy shopping, among other things, not to mention the ability to get reminders on where to go next if the player finds themselves clueless as to the current objective. The sequel simplifies world exploration, replacing the first game’s overworld with limited exploration until the player advanced far enough in the time with a dot-connected map that functions similarly, but is devoid of random encounters. There are some minor hiccups such as the lack of in-game maps for each area, and the inability to see how new equipment, before synthesis, increases or decreases a character’s stats with their current equipment, but otherwise, interaction works well.

The sequel tells a decent story compared to its predecessor, with an endearing cast of characters and some occasional humor, although at some points it’s run of the mill, what with the rebellion against an evil empire, and the dialogue is full of oddities such as “Listen up, you random encounter.” The translation could have definitely been better at times, with battle dialogue, for instance, such as “The light of HEAL!” and other errors such as a misuse of “it’s” at times. Ultimately, okay story, albeit a translation that leaves plenty room for improvement.

The Gust Sound Team, as usual, does a nice job with the soundtrack, with plenty bouncy, energetic tracks that always fits the game’s various moods, not to mention a variety of battle themes that sometimes changes throughout the game. The English voice acting is okay, although some of the laughable dialogue, in battle for instance, may make some players switch to the Japanese language track instead. Even so, a nice-sounding game.

The first Atelier Iris sequel uses a visual style nearly identical to that of its predecessor, with anime-style character sprites and scenery, although some shadows for the sprites outside battle would have been nice. The typical JRPG flaw of an ugly overworld is mercifully absent, what with the sequel’s replacement of a traditional world map with dot-connected areas. Overall, an excellent-looking game.

Finally, the sequel is fairly short, taking somewhere from fifteen to twenty-five hours to complete, with scarce post-game content and little reason to replay. In the end, Atelier Iris 2 is a solid sequel that hits many of the right points, particularly with regards to its game mechanics, control, sound, and visuals, although it also leaves some room for improvement, particularly with regards to its narrative and translation, not to mention lack of replayability. Despite these shortcomings, the game proves that there is good even in titles that mainstream videogame critics don’t care much for.

The Good:
+Solid battle and alchemy systems.
+Great control.
+Superb music and graphics.

The Bad:
-No in-game maps.
-Story and localization are weak at times.
-Not much replay value.

The Bottom Line:
Great sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 6/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Difficulty: Depends on Skills, Equipment, and Items
Playing Time: 15-25 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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