I’ve been on a “NIS” (Nippon Ichi Software) kick lately, playing whichever of their games (Disgaea, Atelier Iris, Ar Tonelico, etc.) I can get my hands on. I just finished Al-Revis, so I thought I’d give you my opinion on it. (As usual, spoilers will be tagged.)
Let me say this: I can’t remember the last time I was SO divided over a game. Half the time I loved this game, the other half I hated it. But let’s start with the basics:
MK:AOAR is a variation of NIS’ popular “Atelier” line of Alchemy-based RPGs. The twist this time is that it takes place in a a whole academy for teenage alchemists. In other words, it’s a Harry Potter take off. But hey, that’s OK. It’s an unusual setting for an RPG, and the concept is explored fairly well. Your goal is to complete three years of training and get your cast of oddball students to graduate. Of course, being an RPG, your “training” consists of killing monsters and exploring dungeons (to get those rare ingredients, natch.) Beats taking written exams anyday. One of the playable characters is the cute-but-ditzy ghost girl Pamela, a recurring NIS supporting character.
Let’s go now to the things that annoyed me (bad news first, I always say.) First, there’s the fact that you’re NOT supposed to fight monsters, apparently. You can evade them, most of the time. If you do fight them, you’ll find than they’re harder than the usual walking cannonfodder you find in most RPG dungeons. In fact, at certain parts of the game, you are requred to avoid fights. This wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that your characters do not level up by fighting! In most games, by the time you’ve exited a dungeon your characters have risen by a level or two, making them though enough for the next one. Here, you have to buy ALL their abilities, including increases in Attack and Defense, from a “grid” not unlike the one in Final Fantasy X, using points obtained in combat. This means that you HAVE to fight at least SOME monsters, so that you can get enough points for the abilities. Oh, and those abilities can only be unlocked after you’ve made a new alchemy item (don’t ask me why) which means you can only update AFTER you’ve gone through a dungeon and gotten the necessary ingredients. While interesting, I found the system tiresome. Complicating this further is the fact that the game keeps track of time, and if you’re caught outside at night, ALL MONSTERS BECOME TOUGHER, inexplicably. Yes, you can get your ass served to you by the same band of kobolds whose tails you kicked during the day. VERY. ANNOYING. At least you don’t die if you lose a fight (you’re sent back to the academy) but STILL. If night catches you outside, your only recourse is to teleport out and start the dungeon over, or to WAIT until dawn… which takes like 15 minutes (of REAL time.) Boooriiing.
Then there’s the character sidequests. You PC party eventually gets to have 8 members, and you can engage on quests to get to know them better. Nice idea, except that most of them turn out to be… idiots… or jerks… or BOTH. To the point of NOT making sense! Example: Muppy, the cute pokemon-like alien, at one point HOLDS THE PRINCIPAL OF THE SCHOOL HOSTAGE and even makes plans to destroy the planet (or so he claimed anyway) if he was expulsed from the academy (he needed to learn alchemy to fix his spaceship.) The other PCs try to stop him, fail miserably (some even just WALK AWAY!) and the whole thing gets resolved when the Principal decides he feels SORRY for Muppy!! O_O Ok, I know, these games are always semi-humorous and the whole thing was meant as a joke, but it was so absurd that I cannot reconcile it at all with what happens in the main storyline (which gets very dramatic towards the end.) It doesn’t help things that the main character, Vayne, is a TOTAL doormat who always does what his friends ask, even when he knows it’s wrong. About the only sidestory that didn’t piss me off was the one where we find out that happy-go-lucky girl Jessy is DYING and that was fairly tragic. To cap it off, you HAVE to complete at least ONE of these sidequests before the end, or you get the BAD ending!!!
A lesser but still annoying thing: the item-making system includes a “roulette” feature where you have to “nail” a specific symbol in order to increase the “quality” of the item. This doesn’t affect the item’s properties at all, except for giving them bonus abilities, so it isn’t that bad, but I still find it annoying that I couldn’t just synthesize things right away like in the other Atelier games (except for armor and weapons- which sadly you needed the compounds for first.)
Ok, now for the things I DID like:
Although the main story is somewhat convoluted (more for the way people reacted in it than any really absurd concept) it IS effective in getting you to care for the characters. I cannot help but feel that the whole mess could have been avoided if only they’d told Vayne the truth about himself from the start, but then again maybe not. The characters themselves were interesting, especially Pamela and Muppy.
I really liked the combat system; although you can only use three characters at a time, you can swap them in and out at will, which has lots of in-game uses: you can move out a character who is about to be killed, allow the offscreen characters to rest (regaining HP and MP) or chain together attacks for some truly long combos. Even the characters’ base physical attacks change form (and animation!) as they gain new abilities, which keeps combat from getting old (at least on their side- the monsters tend to be too repetitive.) Possibly the best teamwork of any game I’ve ever played.
Speaking of animation, the combat effects are spectacular- EVERY character has several eye-popping techniques, and that’s not including the combos! Oh, and I found many of their abilities VERY inventive; perhaps the best is Pamela’s ability to remove a monster’s special defenses; this actually WORKS on Bosses!! If only those random enemies were easier to take down, I would have found fighting them less of a chore. Oh, and the design of the dungeons was VERY detailed and original; my favorite was the one made entirely out of dragon bones that hung in the sky.
The voice acting was very good as well (I particularly liked Flay’s over-the-top superhero acting, and the vice principal’s Bad German Teacher accent.) The music was pretty good (and boy is there a LOT of it! You can unlock all of it after beating the game, too, so you can replay it at will.)
In short: I found Al-Revis to be a good game to play, look and listen to- too bad the dungeons were such a chore to explore, and the character sidequests were honestly an infuriating waste of time (though I’m sure less picky players than me wouldn’t complain.)
Dunno what my next game will be yet, but I’m still not giving up on NIS. We’ll see what I find on my next trip to Gamestop…