If you were an avid RPG fan locked away in a time capsule 10 years ago, only to reawaken today, you might find not much has changed visually in some of the RPGs coming your way. Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm will easily strike gamers as the kind built for the old school and traditionally turn-based Japanese RPG mentality. If you only focus on the game's aesthetic though, you may be in for a surprise. You take control of Edge Vanhite and Iris, two Raiders job hunting in the city of Zey Meruze. Edge is your typical angsty and tough protagonist, bringing safety and company alike to the main heroine, Iris. She's as clumsy and care-free as he is cold and devoid of any real emotion.
As Iris continues to venture the land in search for new things she can create via alchemy, the two also take up various bounty and item fetching quests at the nearby Guild. For one thing, the game is incredibly honest in showcasing how it's built more on mission-based tasks than actual story. Story elements are far and few between, and linked very lightly to keep it going on an almost passable flow, though being charged with fetch quests and job hunts keeps you busy, and this turns surprisingly becomes fun after a short while.
Phantasm's story can be wrapped up fairly quickly – one of Iris' oldest possessions just so happens to be the fabled Libram of Escalario, a magical book said to harness great power and make anyone's deepest wish come true. Quests eventually stream into collecting eight of the worlds elemental gems, which each slowly feed themselves into the book, unlocking the potential of the Escalario. Each gem eventually offers Iris additional summoning and alchemy powers, and allows party members who wield Blades the chance of heavily upgrading their equipment.
Alchemy is what makes the Atelier series so addictive in the first place and thankfully, the system is still going strong in its 8th title. Crafting anything from a Salty Steak to a Bloody Rapier is as easy as gathering the right "ingredients," and throwing them into the pot. To make matters even more interesting, the more you create, the more you learn and the higher your alchemy level eventually becomes. Levelling up Iris' alchemy skills increases her own magic stats for battle, as well as awarding her with new treats to motivate the player to continue experimenting with their latest recipes.
The entire land of Meruze is completely devoid of monsters. The only spot you could even think of finding them would be within Alterworlds, which are accessible by several scattered portals around the village. Entering these worlds is limited by a multi-layered hourglass which displays on the right. Clearing objectives as well as hunting down the right monsters becomes key whenever you enter Alterworlds, since you'll always be running the clock. Enemies are no longer random as in past games and are categorized in terms of difficulty by color. So right off the bat, it's up to you whether you wish to tackle several foes weaker than your party, or risk it the area's strongest foes for some much needed bonus points.
After the 15-hour test run with Grand Phantasm came to an end, we were very happy with the results. From what we've seen, it's the same high level of voiceovers and presentation we've come to expect from the series. Coupled with the much faster and seamless battle systems and Alterworlds phenomena, Atelier Iris 3 is easily a considerable improvement from the first two Iris titles. This one will cross our shores this late May.