MUSIC & SOUND
25 to 45 hours
Somewhere inside every RPGamer is a crafter, just waiting to get
out and synthesize items like it was the last stand of Firiona Vie.
Of course, most hide this side under blubbering talk of end-game
raids and PvP ganking. Some even scoff at the notion of enjoying
crafting and openly mock those who dare to set up storefront.
But now crafters have a secret. A dirty, no-good secret. A secret
that allows them to craft to their heart's content - offline, where
no one will be the wiser.
That secret is called Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana.
Though the first game brought to North America, the Atelier
series has seen a number of incarnations previous to Eternal
Mana. Much of the focus of this series revolves around an alchemist
who begins to learn the ancient art of alchemy; in Eternal Mana,
the main protagonist is young lad by the name of Klein who is following
in his grandmother's footsteps in becoming an alchemist. While alchemists
used to be rather common in the period of the great alchemist Iris,
by Klein's time, they were becoming increasingly rare. Part of the
plot will revolve around unraveling the mystery of why there are
so few alchemists left and what can be done about it.
Find the right long-haired
Very early in his journey, Klein meets a beautiful young girl named
Lita who serves not only as love interest but also as story catalyst
through her mysterious past and hidden secret. The two band together
with several other characters throughout the story, but the other
characters tend to be peripheral at best.
The plot itself covers little new territory, going so far as to
rip Final Fantasy X's flashback opener, and will likely seem
a "been there, done that" romp to most RPGamer veterans.
Beyond the basic love story, the pair will encounter a megalomaniac,
bent on reshaping the world to suit his desire. Klein et al will
naturally be the one thing able to prevent this, and they do so
by tracking down the aid of Mana spirits.
Fortunately, these Mana have a much greater impact on gameplay
than is normal for a Mana-centric RPG. Almost every Mana that Klein
finds not only enhances his ability as an alchemist but also adds
actions to the action-dial. For example, the fire Mana will give
Klein the ability to use the destruction blast, useful in clearing
away obstacles on the path, and the stone Mana will become a portable
platform, useful in reaching upper ledges. While not a full-fledged
action RPG, the combination and utilization of an increasing set
of abilities makes dungeon exploration a fair sight better than
most other RPGs.
While the plot may be lackluster, the localization should be brought
to the limelight separately. NIS America has taken up the Working
Designs mantle of humorous, contemporary localization efforts. Sometimes
this is a good thing, sometimes not so much. Eternal Mana
proves to be a little bit of both. Beyond the obvious contemporary
references (Blue Bull is an energy drink that restores MP), dialog
ranges from surprisingly good to face-smackingly cheesy, with most
falling in between.
Unfortunately, the localization effort falls short on technical
issues. Despite not being any sort of action game, the disc suffers
from the occasional slowdown, particularly when mixing large numbers
of ingredients into an item. Furthermore, the sound also has issues,
occasionally cutting off one of the voices or getting stuck on a
particular clip. While the game usually corrects itself quickly,
it happens often enough to be a noticeable detraction from immersion.
Do not anger the female
with the giant claws. It is bad for you.
Battle falls into the traditional, turn-based format. Each character
has the standard arsenal of commands at their disposal: attack,
defend, special skills, item, etc. The one exception to this is
Klein who is the only character able to use and/or synthesize mana
items during battle. While the battle system is certainly passable,
do not expect it to shine or be any more exciting by the end of
Oddly, the difficulty is very unbalanced. The vast majority of
the game is quite easy, and it's entirely possible to get all the
way to the very precipice of the end before losing a character,
much less actually having a game over screen. But this is by necessity;
Eternal Mana is seriously lacking in revive items. Klein
gains access to one by mid-game, but the only item usable by all
characters is available only in the latter stage of the game. What
that translates to is this: if Klein gets knocked out, the rest
of the party won't stand much of a chance if they start dropping.
While generally not a problem, a few bosses have cheap tactics that
can render a character unconscious before a player turn is even
taken. And to confuse matters even more, enemies are seemingly plopped
about at random - it's entirely possible to run into the same exact
weak set of enemies in the first hour as it is the fortieth. Beyond
this overuse, Eternal Mana does not feature a wide variety
of creatures, relying heavily on palette-swapping to differentiate.
Despite all that, if a player enjoys crafting and side-quests,
the game can still be quite a bit of fun. The synthesis system is
multilayered and complex, encompassing a variety of forms, each
with its own quirks. Mana stones can be crystallized into cards,
then combined and attached to weapons/accessories for a variety
of effects. Klein will discover a number of Mana items during his
quest; he can then use Mana gained by elemental extraction (a fancy
way of bashing stuff to bits) to make reusable useful items.
But the heart of the system is item creation in various shops.
Klein will encounter five shops that will be able to synthesize
items for him, assuming that he can provide ingredients. These ingredients
are scattered all over and generally freely available (although
hunting for a particular ingredient can be rather toilsome), but
the system is designed to be unlockable through a series of scenes
and side-quests that last the entire game. And since many of the
possible items are not explicitly listed, the system encourages
experimentation not only to find new items but to improve the quality
of existing ones.
All your base are belong
The downside is that Eternal Mana can turn into one eternal
fetch quest, looking for the correct set of ingredients. This is
further hampered by a truly gimped teleportation system, requiring
the player to backtrack numerous times over previously trodden ground
even in the main story sequence. Even so, the item creation and
associated side-quests are easily the most enjoyable aspects of
Visuals are a mixed bag. The towns and dungeon areas are well done
in a traditional hand-painted style, but the overworld is a jarringly
bad rendition of CG. While there are no FMV scenes, dialog is presented
through a series of nicely detailed character portraits in the anime-style.
Audio - when it's not cutting out - is generally good. The soundtrack
is appropriate but reused too often. Voice acting is professional
and nicely done, a good effort by a number of industry veterans.
Overall, Eternal Mana is an intriguing entry into the RPG
market but probably too niche for most to consider it a great game.
Though the game does not offer much in the way of replayability,
a bonus dungeon and unlockable extras do let players squeeze every
last bit of gameplay. Even so, it is worth looking at, especially
for RPGamers who enjoy crafting in all its aspects.