Before we begin...
If you don't know anything about Atelier Iris, here's the last line of this review: "No game out right now benefits more from not knowing a single thing about."
First, this is a must-play for fans of console RPGs, anime art, some nice music, menus, talking, walking, running, and hitting things with canes. Second, this game is designed around exploration and discovery, of letting the game's charms slowly reveal itself throughout the adventure, which can be ruined by an extensive review such as this. Ideally, you'll rush out of the house right now to get Atelier Iris, and when you’ve finished it, you can come back, read the review, and see how right I was.
And now, the review...
How easy is it for you to forget?
Like, say, can you forget your prejudice towards that anachronistic institution known as randomized battles? (Even though you're totally justified!) What about all the training in pretty graphics recognition culled from MTV commercials? (World map fetishists beware: Atelier Iris has hands down the ugliest, most turdy one ever witnessed by man.) Can you ignore all the media hang-ups about how classic, how precious the feel of the game is? (Often something with an overt old-school manifesto is only enamored with theory, whereas Atelier Iris this is a blood-and-sweat creation from a tiny, virtually unknown group.) Because if you can, if you forget that dirty inhibition demon in the back seat when you head for the shop, then you're ready for one of the most irresistible, engaging, and rewarding RPGs in recent years.
Search and Destroy
Atelier Iris's world is a cornucopia of sundries to pluck. Expect upwards of a dozen things, randomly appearing, on nearly every screen: plants growing from the ground, fruit hanging off trees and roofs, books piled high in hidden libraries. The game connects us and encourages knowledge of the lay of the land, and this is Atelier Iris's crowning achievment: the destruction of our capacity to be detached, totally jaded and unfascinated by the boundless fantasies games present. How often is it that for all the architecture, floating continents, designer clothing with a billion zippers on them, and other hat tricks that RPG illusionists conjure up they elicit only yawns, because it is exactly what we have come to expect and demand?
Here, we take notice of our surroundings and exploration -- it's an absolute thrill, valuing every new world for the indigenous items growing there and the unique monsters inhabiting its shadows (most monsters occasionally drop one of two items upon defeat, and they have a specific food they can morph into once the necessary spell is discovered). Acquired abilities encourage backtracking to forage for once inaccessible areas, and there are items you think you'd never find until you finally kill the monster that carries it or chance upon the area that hoards it in abundance. Every time I get a lump in my throat like those treasure seekers in the movies, an Aladdin at home in his wondrous Cave.