Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm
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Nippon Ichi Software’s North American branch has become a godsend among role-playing game enthusiasts, what with their localization of niche Japanese titles that other companies would largely ignore such as Gust’s Atelier series, with the company localizing the first and second installments of the Atelier Iris subseries. In 2007 they brought the subfranchise’s third entry, Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm, to North Americans, providing another solid Atelier experience.

Like the second game, the third mixes things up yet again with regards to the battle system, with enemies now visible in a few varieties of blobs: blue that the player can immediately kill by slashing, with these foes sometimes dropping items; white whose levels are on par with those of the player; and red, whose levels are higher than those of the player. Slashing a red or white blog will bring players to the battle screen and typically give the player the initiative, while running into them will usually result in the faster side in terms of agility getting the first turn.

Rather than having a Grandia-esque turn order meter like the second game, the third game changes to a system where cards represent player and enemy turns, with each character and enemy’s next turn always represented unlike the half-assed system of the Xenosaga trilogy where the turn order meter runs out of icons and refills at times. That aside, character commands include attacking normally, defending, in which case the player is free to select when that character’s next turn will be, attempting to escape, which seems to work most of the time albeit with the penalty of lost time to explore the main dungeons, using an item, or using a skill from a character’s list that consumes a certain number of levels from a gauge that can hold up to nine skill point levels.

An improvement over the second game is the ability to use character skills outside battle such as healing, although they still consume points from the skill gauge. An addition to the third game is Blades, which is basically a class system for Edge and Nell, which gives each of them unique abilities, with each set of Blades having up to five levels the player increases with special points earned alongside normal experience for occasional level-ups after battle. The third playable character, Iris, cannot use Blades, although she can earn occasional stat increases the more she creates new items through alchemy.

Another addition to Atelier Iris 3 is the Burst Gauge, which fills the more the player’s characters attack the enemy, although enemies attacking the player’s characters causes the gauge’s points to decrease a little. Completely filling it triggers the temporary Burst Mode, where the player’s skill points increase to the maximum of nine points, and attacks and abilities have much greater effect against the enemy. In the end, the battle system works well, although endgame bosses can be somewhat difficult without a specific class ability for Nell that extends healing items to the whole party.

The third game’s control scheme is largely decent, with easy menus, maps for the main town and dungeons, and the ability to check the current objective, although there are some parts, particularly in the middle of quests and missions, where it can be difficult without a guide to find out how specifically to advance. Alchemy, moreover, doesn’t bear the shortcut from another Gust title, Ar tonelico, where the item creation interface instantly guides players to the items they need to produce in order to produce the first selected item. Otherwise, the game largely interfaces decently with the player.

Another area where the game could have been better, to a larger extent, is its narrative, which feels joined and unnatural at times given the mission system, along with general disconnection to the previous Atelier Iris games and a spotty localization. The translation itself contains plenty of punctuation errors and unnatural battle dialogue, and ultimately, these areas could have easily been better.

The soundtrack, as with the previous two Atelier Iris games, features bouncy, energetic tracks that are never out of place, and a few vocal Japanese theme songs. The voice acting, though, is hit-or-miss for the most part, but players can switch to the Japanese voices if they wish. Otherwise, the aurals do their job nicely.

Like its two predecessors, Atelier Iris 3 uses visuals with two-dimensional sprites and scenery, which for the most part look nice as with the game’s predecessors. Granted, the sprites could have shown more emotion, and the game could have relied less upon the static character portraits to tell its story. Still, an excellent-looking game.

Finally, the third game takes as little as thirty hours to complete, surprising given the limited number of dungeons, although extra missions can easily boost playing time up to around forty-five hours, and provide nice replay value, given the variety of missions. In conclusion, Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is a solid sequel that hits most of the right notes, particularly with regards to its game mechanics, music, and graphics, although it does leave room from improvement in areas such as its control and narrative. Even so, those who enjoyed the first two games will most likely enjoy the third.

The Good:
+Solid alchemy and battle systems.
+Nice music.
+Gorgeous graphics.

The Bad:
-Some parts are hard without a guide.
-Story is somewhat disappointing.
-Localization is spotty at times.

The Bottom Line:
Nice conclusion to the Atelier Iris line of games.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 5/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 30-45 Hours

Overall Score: 7.5/10

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