Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny

by Amanda and Colin
author awarded score: 80/100

Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny Review
Developer: GUST
Publisher: KOEI
Format Reviewed: PS2
Reviewed by: Amanda and Colin

It's been a year since we reviewed the first Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana game, and if it's possible to feel nostalgic in less than a year, then that's definitely what we felt when we were handed this cute RPG sequel to review. Eternal Mana was set in a fantasy world where alchemists learned amazing powers that could turn basic elements into useful and sometimes amazing items. This, tied in with a novel but hard-to-follow combat system, and an engaging story made a very enjoyable game that we gave 7 out of 10, which was not bad for a PS2 game that still used 2D graphics with one or two 3D effects. Being given the opportunity to review Azoth of Destiny has given us a chance to see if it lives up to Eternal Mana, and if it has made any improvements on some of the few hang-ups we had.

First off, this is a sequel in terms of theme and gameplay style, but sadly it's not a continuation of the first game's story. We find that one of the most important parts of any RPG is the story and the cast of characters as they numb out a lot of the repetitiveness found in RPGs and keep you playing. The characters in Eternal Mana really grew on us, so we were disappointed to find that they weren't re-appearing. That said, we were more than relieved when the intro sequence for Azoth of Destiny kicked in with the usual flashy delivery and a whole new bunch of kick-ass characters for us to play. The story of this game revolves around two orphans, Viese and Felt. Viese, the female playable character, is a recently qualified alchemist (with the ability to use mana to create items) and her brother Felt is the alchemy school dropout who's more interested in sword fighting and adventuring.

The story begins after their world of Eden has just been shattered by an unknown force, and a portal to the secret world of Belkhyde has opened, encouraging Felt to pass through and set forth on a quest to restore Eden and discover the mystery behind the catastrophe. Viese remains behind to synthesize items for Felt as they always share a magical connection—thanks to their ‘Share Rings’. You can switch between the characters at will, and you must use both of their talents to reach the end of the game, and eventually bring them together again. This style of play is new to the Atelier Iris series, and definitely renders a lot of the puzzles more straightforward than they were in Eternal Mana, where the central character had to do everything himself.

The gameplay in general has been refined since the previous title, and we must say that we're very impressed with the results. The old 'tool' select wheel has been done away with completely, and the characters now interact with objects intuitively. It was such an annoyance in Eternal Mana when you couldn't open a chest because you didn’t 'equip' your bare hands instead of the element extraction wand. It was a bit of a waste of time, so we're happy that it’s gone. The quest journal now exists in the form of letters that Viese and Felt send back and forth to each other, and they serve as lighthearted reminders of what you're actually supposed to be doing in order to progress the story. There is also a new indicator on the screen that lets you know how likely you are to encounter enemies, and limits you to a set number of fights per area, giving you time to explore the larger areas without the constant start and stops.

The biggest change in the game is the new battle system, which we haven't seen used in any other RPG we've played to date. It's turn based, but not in the usual ‘we attack, they attack, we attack, they attack’ way that other turn-based combat systems employ. The display has a timeline, and all members of your team and the enemies are placed on it to show whose turn is next, and you can affect the order that everyone lines up by the way you execute your orders. Essentially, if you were good enough at it, the enemy may never get a chance to hit you at all. This allows for a lot of variance in strategy, as you can continue taking hits from the lesser enemies while holding back the larger one(s) that could do you some serious damage. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it's refreshing to see a new take on turn-based combat.

We said before that this game is in 2D for the most part, and doesn't exactly harness the full power of the PlayStation 2. It would have been nice to see the graphics upgraded to 3D, but the game would likely have suffered from bad camera angles and the like; and, to be honest, the old SNES RPG look is a big part of the game’s core attraction—in that sense it's certainly very colourful and just good to look at. The music gets a bit repetitive, but that can be forgiven simply because the sound in general is great. The voice acting is impressive for a game translated from Japanese, and it's always fun to turn the original voices and Kanji text back on for the real Japanese experience. Being an RPG, you have captions at your disposal and other text thrown at you constantly, so the deaf and hard of hearing gamer definitely wouldn't have a problem playing this game.

The game’s playable character, Viese, perhaps lacks a bit of character and she spends more time worrying about Felt than trying to be herself, but there are a few other female characters who have their moments too. The wittiest lines are (predictably?) saved for the guys though, and we were relieved that none of the characters were as cheesy as those in the first game.

Overall, Azoth of Destiny stands up well against other RPGs available today, despite the 2D graphics, and it’s a great improvement on the first Atelier Iris game. We'd recommend it to anyone starting out on RPGs that didn't want to tackle anything too complex, but still wanted enough depth that the experience isn't simply discarded as a kid’s game.