Three Atelier Iris games within two years and yet few who so eagerly put the boot in EA's sequel-spitting loins have cried foul. Partly that's because we're not used to cash cows arriving in the form of quirky Japanese alchemy RPGs, a genre in which it's perhaps harder to reuse art, assets and story from debut to sequel. But also, there's undoubtedly a romance to the idea of a small-time development studio nestled somewhere in the heart of the Nagano Prefecture working hard to improve their craft game by game. It's easier to forgive such brazen money-spinning when it's to fund an underdog Japanese studio whose children are probably on the brink of starvation or something.
But don't be fooled, while this is only the third game from the cutesy 2D RPG series to reach Western shores, in Japan it's the eleventh Atelier game to roll out since its 1997 debut. That Atelier Iris is essentially the Fifa of Japanese alchemy-based RPGs would be more forgivable if its quality was systematically on the rise. But, while Eurogamer described the first game as being "executed delightfully" the sequel fared less well due to feeling too much like "tiresome and often unrewarding work". And with Atelier Iris 3, the series settles into a steady conservatism (albeit within its niche) that ensures the game will find no favour outside of its core audience. In fact, even amongst this most forgiving of videogame demographics, this quirky game brings with it precious little to delight in.
Nevertheless, for fans of the first two games Atelier Iris 3 is immediately comfortable. A familiar bright and vibrant palette colours the lush forests and remote town that forms the game's hub. These environments lack a little detail and intricacy (even when compared to some ten-year-old Super Nintendo titles) but, nevertheless, they do have something of a simplistic childlike appeal. Perhaps it's too much time spent with the PS2's other recent 2D offering, Odin Sphere, but this time around Atelier Iris' cheap and cheerful sprites feel tired, samey and shallow. This isn't helped by some sparse animation work: characters glide over environments, an obviously economical approach which hinders the player's immersion.