After all is said and done, the Nintendo 3DS might just might be remembered as the system with the highest quality JRPGs of all time. It’s staggering to look at its vast library of quality games in the genre, and Atlus continues to bring the goods. Their latest entry is The Alliance Alive, an epic adventure with a likable and memorable cast and entertaining story beats. The game might not have all of the bells and whistles of a Square Enix or Nintendo published 3DS game, but it more than makes up for that with its innovative gameplay mechanics.
The game begins in the Rain Realm, where (as you may have already guessed), it’s always raining. You play as Galil and Azura who soon go on a mission to explore some ruins where some ancient artifacts have been dug up. Supposedly there is a painting featuring the world with a blue sky, and Azura has to see this with her own two eyes. As you bounce around town getting ready to venture off, it immediately becomes apparent that humans are at the bottom of the totem pole. Long ago ancient Daemons split the world into regions, each blocked by a huge wall (wait, maybe this isn’t so far-fetched?) and these deities sent down Beastfolk to rule the world and to control humankind. Somehow humans have continued to flourish under this oppressive rule, and although they’re treated like dirt, they have an uncharacteristically happy-go-lucky attitude about them.
As the game progresses, more and more plot points are revealed and your party expands to include a vast array of characters. Even better you can take up to five into battle at once, creating for some exciting fights. Depending on the number of allies, you’ll have various formations that you can choose from. Front row is attack, middle is guard, and back is support. Each of your team members will have different buffs and attacks based on their positioning.
Making the game even more unique is that you don’t really level up your characters with experience. Instead, you upgrade and learn new skills by constantly using special attacks with weapon types. For example, if you have a spear and keep using it, you’ll eventually level up its attack power or “Awaken” a new skill that gives you a new move to use with that weapon. Using these special attacks uses SP, of which you can get refilled to some degree after battles or by staying at an inn. There are passive skills that you can also acquire by spending talent points to unlock them. With over ten different weapon types, you can imagine that each character can learn a vast array of special moves over the course of the game. I’m barely scratching the surface here, but there are systems upon systems that have an impact on your effectiveness in battle, and they’re fun to mess around with because they allow you to customize each character the way you see fit.
Although the game has a set story and if you only follow the main quest line then the game can feel rather linear. Luckily the overworld offers up plenty of exploration opportunities and you can really dig into some side quests as you see fit. You’ll be able to activate and unlock towers that will allow you to find people to join different guilds. They can research new technology and invest time and resources into studying enemies to aid you on your journey. As you build your network they will begin to help you out in battles with extra buffs that can turn the tide in your favor.
Graphically the game is pretty solid. While many 3DS games have forsaken the stereoscopic 3D functionality of the system, The Alliance Alive is very strange in that it uses it very sparingly in certain situations. For example, if you’re in a city and stand still for a few seconds, the game will sort of zoom out slightly and turn on the 3D effect. As soon as you begin moving again the game reverts to 2D. Some of the menus and status screens are presented with the 3D effect, whereas others are not. In the end it almost seems like someone was brought in on the project during the 11th hour to mess around with the 3D and found ways to throw it in, but not activate it everywhere. I appreciate the effort that was given, but since the main parts of the game don’t showcase the 3D, it seems kind of wasted. Most of the game is zoomed out, so there’s not a ton of detail to be found here, but there are varied environments and the character models suffice. I don’t think anything will blow anyone away here, but it’s not ugly either. I found it funny that the characters’ feet look like they were stolen from Fire Emblem Awakening – it almost looks like they’re walking on stubs.
As for the soundtrack, it’s rather good. I liked many of the tracks in the game, and only after I looked online did I find out the game was composed by Masashi Hamauzu, who has had a role in some of the Final Fantasy games. Really the only thing that feels missing here is the lack of voices. It just seems weird that the characters’ mouths move along with the text, but nothing comes out. Given that Atlus normally does a fantastic job with voice acting, I expected more.
In the end I really enjoyed my time with The Alliance Alive. It has a fully original story and I enjoyed roaming the world and discovering new things to do. I actually had more fun playing this game than Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology. I found the combat and the way skills are unlocked and learned to be much more entertaining. If you have the time to invest 30+ hours into a JRPG, this one is a perfect choice.
The Alliance Alive was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo 3DS download code provided by the publisher.