Guest Author - James Shea
Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is the first game for the PS2 (and the 6th game overall) in a role-playing series by Nippon Ichi Software, the gaming company that made Disgaea and Makai Kingdom. Many of the graphical conventions used in the game are familiar in style and elements.
Atelier Iris, compared to Disgaea, is a much more traditional RPG. Set in a fantasy land where mana - the source of magic - is running out, Atelier Iris' story is for the most part fairly standard for an RPG like this. The characters, too, are fairly standard caricatures of RPG conventions, like the good-intentioned but clumsy main character, or the overbearing female sidekick, or the catgirl wizard. Despite its creator, the wacky humor found in the Disgaea is not especially present here. For the most part, the story isn't even a requirement to play.
Despite its simplistic turn-based gameplay, said gameplay is probably the game's strongest point. Each character - there are six total - has a different ability to use on the world map. The first one, for the main character, is converting items into alchemic elements to use as spells. This means that he collects or transmogrifies almost ANYTHING he can find. Walking down the street and spot some crates? Go ahead and turn them into Wood points. See a pitcher of water? Hit it with your staff and make some ice grenades out of it. The hilarity of going through a town and just smashing and disintegrating everything you see doesn't wear off quickly, let me tell you. With these elements, Klein (the alchemist character) can synthesize potions, weapons, and other comestibles. To do this, he also needs the assistance of his Manas, or alchemic spirits; work them too hard, and they'll become cranky and less capable. Other characters are capable of demolishing objects, flight, or summoning spirits to help with a specific problem.
The combat system is, mainly, as expected for an RPG. It works decently, however. The same cannot be said of the moving-around parts of the game. There are awkward jumping puzzles to reach chests and bonuses that are difficult to pull off because of the camera's view and the game's arbitrary invisible walls.
The graphics are very similar to the cartoonish style of the Disgaea games, with a bit of a more conventional fantasy motif than that series. However, any way you look at it, it's very reminiscent. Depending on your opinion, this can be good or bad, but as a rule in this game the towns are well-animated and well-drawn (with lots of little side animations also coming into play, not just the same 2 or 3 recolored sprites over and over).
The music isn't noticeable one way or the other. It's the same kind of background music that every console RPG has used, and it's so generic that it's unbelievable. The voice actors sound like they're trying, but are constrained by the weird, sappy lines. Because of an effort to match the voices up to the graphics, most of the voices are cutesy; at times, this gets a little obnoxious.
As a whole, this game isn't remarkably different from its peers, but by itself it's not that bad. There are enough fun little elements to keep things interesting, though if you generally don't like RPGs, this probably isn't going to change your mind about that.