Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana Reader Review
Cute little catgirls! Panty thiefs! Knights with silly German-sounding names! Dirty jokes aplenty! All wrapped up in colourful 2D graphics! Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is the first game in Gust's long-running RPG series to leave Japan, and you can tell why publishers have been reluctant to pick it the earlier titles just by looking at some screenshots. The game is an anachronism with its sprite-based graphics and chirpy tunes, and I just know it is going to bomb at retail when Koei releases it in Europe early next year.
Well, why should anyone be interested in Eternal Mana anyway? Because it's a great little RPG, that's why. The only real shame is that with a better plot it could easily have been a great great RPG. Here's the story in a nutshell: Evil overlord with world domination ambitions is stopped by an unlikely group of heroes. During their travels, the protagonist and his magical girl sidekick become an item, despite their initial quarrels. Now where did I hear that before?
Speaking of items...
So the plot is weak and the characters are rather shallow. Who cares, that isn't what the game is about. It's about shopkeepers and items. Yes, that's right, at its heart Atelier Iris is some sort of obscure dating sim, in which you synthesise items to gain the affection of NPCs. Item creation isn't a novel concept, you might have seen it in other games such as Star Ocean or Vagrant Story, but Gust has somehow managed to turn a usually tedious feature into a rather compelling gameplay element. It's actually fun to gather ingredients, experiment with variations of the basic recipe and try to create everything from a new long drink to a bunny costume.
The main reason why you should synthesise items are the comments you get from the shopkeepers though. They are the real stars of the game, with deep and interesting personalities, intricate back stories and a seemingly endless supply of hilarious one-liners. The downside is that those subplots make the main storyline pale even more in comparison, to the point that you really don't care about your party or your enemies anymore. To be honest I don't even remember what happened in the end, but I could tell you all about the life of Veola the shopkeep.
Drop your pants! I need them.
There you have it then. Atelier Iris is two games in one, a remarkably average RPG with a passable turn-based battle system and thankfully rare random encounters, and an exceptionally witty and fun item creation/dating sim hybrid. Similar to Disgaea it doesn't even try to be epic or please everyone like Final Fantasy and other games, but if you look past its shortcomings you might just find one of those rare games that keep you up all night just because they're fun to play.
The US version (released this summer by NIS America) comes with English and Japanese voice-over. It also has some sound problems and a rather crippling bug which crashes the game right before the ending FMV. Doh!
8 / 10