I keep hearing a term used everywhere and it confuses me to great lengths: What exactly are "traditional RPGs" and where may I purchase such things? From what I've gathered, these dungeon crawlers of old are said to be archaic, turn-based, 2D experiences. Not without it being complimented by a flourishing degree of spiky-hair and angst. So the old-school RPG apparently contains more unappealing conventions than actual positives.
And then Atelier Iris 3 waltzes in and completely breaks that mold. Oh sure, it is very old-school, traditional or whatever you want to call it, but hardly archaic. In fact, it's the most exciting experience in the largely popular alchemy series. Running on it's 8th title, Grand Phantasm focuses on the adolescent years of the famous Iris, legendary alchemist. She's in her growing pains and aspiring to be a great alchemist. By her side, she has Edge Vanhite, a young, moody yet spirited youth wielding a giant Cloud-like sword with teeth.
The entire game revolves around exploring the inner parts as well as outskirts of the town Zey Meruze. In this world, hunters are nicknamed Raiders and accept jobs to ascend in the ranks. Iris and Edge are clearly Raiders and you take control of the two youths in their early Raiding days. Jobs come from clients and are posted in the Raider's Guild north of town. Checking the billboard, as well as ringing up the reception will toggle a list of available missions.
There are two kinds of missions to sort through in Grand Phantasm. One of them is deliberately and shamelessly labeled under fetch quests. Once said quest has been accepted, Iris and company are on the job to hunt out for specific items or NPCs. At times, the items required from a client are so superfluous and silly that you'll have to resort to the series' main line of antics (and addiction): alchemy. Provided that Iris has the right ingredients and a high enough alchemy level, she can throw anything from a Salisbury steak to a boot in her magic cauldron to create just about anything the heart desires. The more alchemy you tamper with, the higher your Alchemy rate grows, which also increases your repertoire of recipes.
A well-constructed RPG for those wishing to play something new that still has that old-fashioned feel to it.
Don't expect the magic of chemistry to end the lines at cooking and concocting potions. Alchemy also permits the creation of much stronger weapons. Vanhite and the rest of the party's weapons grow exponentially in strength from each following chapter due to Iris continuously upgrading your weapons and armor (provided you let her) and not due to the conventional armory and weapons shops you come across with in most RPGs. Also, gradually opening up the book of Escalario through several plot-based gems unlocks Iris' potential to an even greater and more rewarding extent for your party.
Bounty hunting is the second sort of mission listed and these are obviously more fun to explore. Whether ghost or beast, if you take up the job, you're kind of forced to go through with cleaning those baddies from the face of the planet. Then again, monsters aren't anywhere near Zey Meruze to begin with. All enemies are fought and found within external portals placed all around and outside of town. These portals lead to Alterworlds, or strange dungeons from parallel dimensions. Entering these portals triggers an hour glass on the right of the screen, which continuously loses more and more sand as you progress through the area. Battles are fast-paced and are governed primarily around speed and number of hits. The top screen lists foes and party members in a line of cards, heavily determined by speed. The bottom portion of the screen displays the Burst bar, which accumulates with party members attacks and decreases with enemy's successful ones. Once the bar is full, Burst mode is activated. Party members gain a bonus in SP and are able to deploy their stronger attacks heavily in succession as well as cause far more damage than usual. It's very exciting and considering the fact that enemies are not random and appear on map, it makes really fun, expected when wanted and enjoyable.
Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm takes a solid 30-40 hours to complete, though it may take a while longer to complete depending on how far you're willing to dive into the game's optional hunts and item creations. Much like the first two games, the art and sprites were pretty much recycled and have a very bubbly, traditional feel to them that might not appeal to everyone. And since its focus is heavily pressed on missions, the story kind of wanes and loses itself as the chapters go by. It is a well-constructed RPG for those wishing to play something new that still has that old-fashioned feel to it. Fans of the first two Iris titles dare not worry, for Grand Phantasm is surely grand and does not disappoint Atelier fans in the least.