Forget everything you know about the Atelier series. Wait, you don't know anything about it? Well, to summarize it's a long running videogame series always starring the female alchemist the particular installment is named for, (i.e. Marie for Atelier Marie). Like any reputable scientist, these lady alchemists sell finished products like cakes and bombs to help fund their research, while doing a little exploring and monster bashing on the side.
Iris was also a legendary alchemist. She also happens to be dead, so it's fortunate that she isn't the main character this time. The hero of his game is Klein, a male alchemist who is having a hard enough time getting started. He doesn't need to be harassed by giant hawks, as he is at the beginning of the game. Fortunately, he's soon joined by Rita, a mysterious young woman with iron claws as weapons, Delisus, a self-styled crossbow ace and ladies man, and others. Though Klein won't have much time for alchemy with the adventure he soon finds himself smack in the middle of.
High resolution 2D graphics. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? While 3D in games has advanced greatly since the early days of the Nintendo 64, there's still an element of personality that seems missing when compared to their sprite counterparts. The graphics of Atelier Iris are lush and detailed, from the pacifier of the baby slimes to the clockwork machinery of the... almost said a spoiler there. A little hard to avoid when the game saves the best visuals, especially the giant bosses, for last. Though still frames alone do not do this game justice. It is the animation that brings it to life, like the way Rita shifts her weight from foot to foot before battle with her long hair swaying behind her, showing she means business. The 3D world map and other minor polygon elements get the job done, but are nothing to write home about.
You'll get plenty of chances to see the diverse imagery of the game as you wander from locale to locale in search of the latest plot element, though you won't spend all of this time simply pushing the analogue stick forward. They gave you the jump button for a reason, making some areas of the game almost feel like a platformer. You might even think Klein should trade alchemy for plumbing when he gains the ability to call forth fireballs. Besides these minor puzzles, every area is ripe with alchemy ingredients just waiting to be collected and put to use, or to be smashed with Klein's staff and broken down into their base elements.
Alchemy comes in two flavors in Atelier Iris. The first are mana items, constructed from the building blocks of common objects and reshaped by mana spirits into the forms Klein has learned thus far. No tools but his staff are needed, meaning he can whip up a healing potion right in the middle of battle if need be. The second kind requires equipment and facilities a little out of his price range, so it's fortunate that the various shop owners are all too happy to let Klein use theirs, as long as they learn how to make these items as well, to sell them at a considerable profit. Help a store owner increase his or her business and you'll kick start one of the game's many sub-quests and side-stories.