previews\ Apr 1, 2007 at 8:00 pm

Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm - PS2 - Preview

Atelier Iris, the series that charmed RPG lovers with its 2006 sequel, is getting a third update later this spring – Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm. The game is being greatly improved with three minor but significant changes. The first is one that gamers have been debating since the beginning of time…or at least since the release of Chrono Trigger: should enemy encounters be random?

Until now, Atelier Iris believed that answer should be yes. From this point on, however, the answer is no.

Players now seek out enemies within the game world, and may choose to avoid them whenever a battle doesn’t seem necessary. This is especially helpful when exploring a new world. If my health is low and an unfamiliar enemy appears, why jump head first into battle? I’d rather jump over the monster, search for health recovery items, and stick to the battles I’m certain I can win.

In most cases, when an RPG has enemies that are visible pre-battle, players can influence the forthcoming battle by approaching the enemy in a specific way. Thus far that has not been the case with Atelier Iris 3. Whether you jump into an enemy, strike it with Edge’s sword, or let it touch you first, the battle will start the same. There weren’t any apparent advantages to initiating the fight, nor were any penalties incurred for trying to avoid the inevitable.

Two Times Eight

The second change relates to Atelier Iris’s answer to the active time battle system the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series more or less invented. In Atelier Iris 3, enemies and party members’ turns are designated by a 16-card layout on the top of the screen. Each character, friend or foe, is given a card. The cards move from left to right, clearly indicating whose turn is coming up next.

I wasn’t too excited when I read about this addition. But it has added a lot of strategy to the core battle system. The most obvious change is that players are now aware of who they should attack and when. It’s not easy deciding who to slaughter when three bugs stand in your way. But if you look at the card layout, you’ll be able to determine which of the three bugs will attack first. That’s the one you want to eliminate.

After attacking, cards normally wind up in the back of the deck. But character speed and agility may give you the chance to attack sooner. If they do, your cards may reappear ahead of the enemy cards – before certain enemies have had a chance to strike!

Strategic value aside, you will also find that the card layout has increased the speed of battles. Players are awarded a “fast kill” rating for quickly finishing a battle. By studying the cards, it’s possible to defeat enemies much faster, keeping the flow of the game consistent and enamoring without stepping into the deadly world of repetition.

Guild Wars

More and more games are moving into realm of pick-your-own-journey gameplay. Atelier Iris 3 makes the leap, and with it comes the option to accept mini-quests by visiting the bulletin board at the local guild. Quest objectives may involve item retrieval / item creation (synthesis), and may also lead you to town exploration and NPC conversations. But the bulk of these quests aim to send Edge into battle.

The battle worlds are separate from the town and do not look or function like a typical dungeon. Enemy encounters are frequent, but as you’re well aware, they can be avoided by any skillful jumper. There are the occasional oversized enemies that are nearly impossible to avoid – but if all battles were avoidable, it wouldn’t be much of an RPG, now would it?

You’ll also see chests, barrels, and goodie bags in almost every part of the battle worlds. Chests and goodie bags are pretty much guaranteed to have something cool inside – health recovery items being the most common find. There’s less than a 50% chance you’ll find something in a barrel, but it’s still worth slashing ‘em just in case.

Many of the retrieved items can be combined with the synthesis feature, adding greater importance to everything you collect. Combined items are more effective, and may be one of the items you’re requested to find in a mini-quest.

If you thought your PS2 could finally rest in peace once God of War II was finished, think again. Atelier Iris 3 is shaping up to be the next (but hopefully not final) must-have RPG for the seven-year-old console. Its quick and painless, less-repetitive battles; new guild system; likable characters; and imaginative, retro-style graphics are everything an RPG fan could hope for. I’ll be recommending this one to a few friends, and to anyone who is at least moderately intrigued by the newly revealed details.

Plan your vacation for the end of spring – Atelier Iris 3 ships May 15th.

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