Developed by Cattle Call, FuRyu Corporation, Grezzo Published by Atlus USA Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
Japanese game publisher FuRyu has a history of attracting impressive talent to collaborate on their games with very mixed results. Legend of Legacy, designed by Kyoji Koizumi (SaGa series designer) and penned by Masato Kato (Chrono Trigger scenario writer), suffered from repetitive gameplay and a paper thin plot. Caligula Effect, written by Tadashi Satomi (scenario writer for the first three Persona games), was a complicated, technical mess of a game. For The Alliance Alive, Furyu recruited Yoshitaka Murayama (creator of the Suikoden series) while bringing back Koizumi and composer Masashi Hamauzu (Final Fantasy X, World of Final Fantasy). So how does this latest collaboration hold up?
The events of The Alliance Alive takes place in a perpetually overcast world where Daemons are on top of society’s hierarchical order, followed by Beastfolks, and then humans. A group of humans have formed a resistance against the oppressive ruling Daemon class. The game’s protagonist is Galil, a headstrong member of the resistance. Azura, a spunky girl who experiences dramatic personal loss early on, is obsessed with seeing a blue sky and accompanies Galil through his journey. They are eventually joined by a colorful cast ranging from Beastfolks to Daemons. The plot doesn’t stray far from the standard save the world JRPG trope, but is still compelling enough. There’s plenty of enjoyable party member interactions, particularly from Vivian the fox woman, and supporting character development, one popular aspect of Murayama’s work in the Suikoden franchise.
One key improvement over Legend of Legacy is the more engaging combat system. There are no random encounters as combat is initiated when Galil comes in contact with enemies in dungeons or on the world map. If Galil is approached by multiple enemies it’ll trigger a chain battle where you must fight consecutive battles. You can have up to five active characters per battle that can arranged in different attack, defense, or support oriented formations. Each character is able to equip multiple weapon types and can have either sigil or sorcery abilities, offering diverse combat options. Your party doesn’t level up in a conventional sense, but do gain HP and SP occasionally after battles. They’ll also accumulate talent points that can be spent on improving weapon and skill proficiencies.
Using skills in combat can trigger Awakenings, which gives your character new attack skills. For instance, if Galil uses his Plunge skill in combat, there’s a chance he’ll learn and activate the more powerful Charge skill instead. This encourages players to use various skills in anticipation of triggering an Awakening. You’re also able to charge up your attacks to unleash a powerful Ignition attack for a devastating final strike. Unfortunately, Ignition attacks will break your equipped weapon, so you’ll have to use them strategically. These aspects add a layer of complexity and excitement to an otherwise straight forward turn based RPG fighting system.
Another Suikoden inspired touch is the guild system where you can recruit NPCs. Assigning them to various the various guild towers you establish throughout the game will result in combat buffs as well as guidance on the world map. You’ll spend the first few hours exploring the rather large world map on foot, but eventually acquire traditional RPG modes of transportations such as the airship. The Alliance Alive is a well paced game, offering about 30-40 hours of gameplay depending if you do all the side quests and recruit the bonus characters. Other appreciated features include being able to quick save at any point as well as fast forward options for cutscenes and battles.
Visually, the game sports a chibi art style (characters have big heads, large eyes, and no noses) that’s unfortunately all too homogeneous in 3DS era JRPGs. Still, Hirao Ryo’s character designs are expressive and charming. The towns have a picture book-esque look where simple building models are adorned with hand drawn textures. The sparsely detailed, low poly world map is reminiscence of early PSOne JRPGs. Key story moments are told using compressed FMV cutscenes. It’s a strange stylistic choice as these FMVs are not a huge improvement over the gameplay visuals, but still effectively add cinematic flair to these pivotal segments. The game doesn’t use any 3D functionality outside of various menus, another common trend as the 3DS generation comes to a close.
Hamauzu’s atmospheric, synthesized score accentuates the rain-soaked vistas and forlorn cityscapes. Conversely, important battles are elevated with his stirring use of stringed instruments. The absence of voice acting during the aforementioned FMV cutscenes is odd, especially since the characters have animated mouth flaps that match up with the subtitles.
Of all the Atlus USA published FuRyu titles, The Alliance Alive is the most well rounded game to date. It’s a tremendous improvement over Legend of Legacy, particularly the fleshed out plot, superior character development, and deeper battle system. The game definitely benefited from having a bigger budget and more development time. It doesn’t offer anything new to the genre, but is still an excellent, original RPG in the 3DS’ waning days. Fans of traditional, turn based RPGs will appreciate almost everything this game has to offer. With a larger budget and future collaborations with industry legends, perhaps FuRyu can be a major player in the JRPG market in the years to come.