Guest Author - James Shea
The third AI game to be translated and brought over from Japan, Atelier Iris 3 retains many of the gameplay conventions and stylistic types used in the previous games. However, compared to previous games in the series, it is actually reduced in quality in many ways.
The game centers around a central city. Quests are accepted at the guild, and then the characters go through a portal to reach a smaller sub-world (the "afterworld"). Doing these quests is what advances the plot. There are rules for these afterworlds, though; there is only so much time that can be spent in one. After this time is spent, the party is automatically ejected from the afterworld. Thus, it is necessary to plan wisely. On the afterworld map, enemies show up as colored blobs - red for hard, silver for medium, and blue for easy. Time spent in fights counts as time in the world, so fights must be completed quickly.
There are three characters (a large reduction from AI's previous games) - a swordsman, an alchemist, and another girl who joins later on. Their talents are simplified, lacking the diversity of earlier installments. Besides the regular use of magic and items, the only different gameplay element is the burst chain - racking up hits gives you the game's version of a Limit Break, where your skill and strength are at maximum.
Like in previous games, alchemy is used to construct new items using elemental spirits. However, it has been scaled down from earlier games. For one thing, items in the game field can no longer be turned into elemental points (one of my favorite parts of the first PS2 AI game). Secondly, the general types of items that can be made has been reduced.
Story-and-writing-wise, this game has gone way downhill. Even though the first AI was fairly standard for an RPG, the characters were at least endearing. In AI3, the main characters are one moody guy and two perky girls, and none are particularly charming. The graphics seem to have dropped in quality, and most resembles Ragnarok Online (losing a lot of the little details that made the earlier games more like Disgaea or a similar series). The sound is good, but repetitive, and quality is quickly overshadowed by how much you'll hear it.
As a game, this is a major step down from the earlier Atelier Iris games. It feels a lot less vibrant and real, and seems more like the setting for an MMO than a game in itself.