Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm Review (PS2)

Rising somewhat incongruously amidst a series of blockbuster RPG outings this year, you’d be forgiven for not stopping to think twice over the impending release of Koei’s latest instalment in the Atelier Iris franchise; Grand Phantasm. Indeed, juxtaposed with the likes of Final Fantasy XII and Kingdom Hearts 2, the game’s obvious old-school charms and linear quest system is perhaps not the most appealing aspects in a world of sprawling, story-driven epics; least not on console clinging on to it’s last lease of life as the high definition era sets in. However, dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that Grand Phantasm’s simplistic, charming quest-driven antics actually provide a counter balance to today’s overwhelming complicated endeavours, that many will find refreshingly rewarding.

Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is ingenuously open from the start; it doesn’t attempt to dazzle you with its visuals, nor does it attempt to break away from traditional RPG’s in terms of gameplay. It does, however, manage to provide the player with plenty to see and do, offering up multiple quests and collectable opportunities, while maintaining old school production values. The game itself casts you in the shoes of two Raiders; Edge, a battle-hardened, sharp tongued combatant, and Iris; a meek, but powerful alchemist. As mentioned, Grand Phantasm is entirely quest driven in core gameplay; in order to proceed through the game, players must accept quests via the guildhall located in the middle of town. Completing these tasks ultimately rewards you quest points, allowing you increase your rank and accept more difficult quests.

Hidden beneath this tame-looking offering is an enjoying RPG
The turn-based combat should be instantly familiar to fans of the genre

Standard quests typically consist of procuring a certain item for people around town, slaying monsters or utilizing the games Alchemy system to conjure up various potions, items and other useful tools. Fortunately, though some quests are relatively uninteresting (usually consisting of running around town, grabbing an item, then returning it to its owner) the game makes your job easy by pointing you in the right direction using a handy quest log feature, so shouldn’t find yourself wondering around town without so much as a clue where to go. Some quests can also be cancelled mid way through if you change your mind, which is handy. The meat of the game, however, comes in locations known as the ‘Alter World’; these areas are fundamentally the equivalent of your typical dungeon area, where enemies and traps lie in abundant, usually guarding key items or weapons. As you might expect, the more difficult quest will see you visiting these locations on a regular basis. However, an odd inclusion here is that of a time limit, giving you only a set amount of time to complete your dungeon quest, before the game sends you back, unharmed, to Iris’s workshop.

It has to be said that this feature is somewhat frustrating, and partially redundant, as you’re allowed to warp back to town any time you wish as it is. As a result, these locations can feel rushed, instead allowing the game to spread its wings and flesh out a little more. Still, more than often, you’ll have ample time to fight enemies and explore as long as you follow the map icon, which luckily points you in the direction of your objective, so you don’t get lost. Meanwhile, battles are the familiar turn-based approach, where Edge and Iris have the opportunity of unleashing both a standard or special attack, the latter of which consumes battle points. Again, as with Final Fantasy, battles are instrumental in increasing your characters abilities and strength as you accumulate experience points each victory. Grand Phantasm also adds a special ‘Burst’ gauge, which fills or decreases each time you character lands a hit, or is in turn attacked by his/her enemies, respectively. After filling up, your team is afforded a short period where your attacks inflict a substantially larger amount of damage than usual, letting you pummel your foes into submission. While some adversaries can be obliterated by your standard attacks quite easily, boss battles and stronger enemies in particular require economic use of Burst attacks in addition to standard manoeuvres to finish off. The balance can be off at times, though; while stronger enemies are pretty tough, most battles consist of foes that can be promptly dispatched via a single special attack, ending the fight in a matter of seconds.

Dialogue can be quite humorous at times
The game accommodates a familiar usual weapon/armour system

As mentioned, you will be able to take part in more advanced quests as your guild rank levels up. Concurrently, this will also trigger the next ‘story’ mission, which are used to advance the games plot. Typically, plot quests are the most rewarding, and are usually twice as long as their side-quest counterparts; they also inaugurate the arrival of a new Alter World location for you to explore, usually during the same mission. Although linear, the quest system is varied enough to hold your interest, and the dialogue is particularly charming (and more than often, humorous) for the most part. Sure, repetition is part of the Grand Phantasm recipe on noticeable occasions, but for the most part, the quests are varied enough to avoid monotony. The Alchemy system is the most rewarding aspect though; using Iris’s workshop, you can construct various different items, weapons and equipment for use in battle, simply by obtaining the necessary equipment in the field. Alternatively, you can sell off anything you create to the various shops dotted around town, supplementing your income. As such, the Alchemy system offers further incentive to explore the game, particularly the Alter Worlds, where you’ll encounter some of the more rare ingredients.

Although atheistically pleasing in a JRPG fashion, it has to be said the games visuals are somewhat disappointing. The 2D backgrounds are rendered in an explicably low resolution, looking particularly shoddy and married to equally modest character and enemy sprites. On the flip side, the storyboard sequences are especially well done, showing off some amusing caricatures in vibrant, suitably Japanese fashion; however, overall, the PS2 is more than capable of doing better. Aurally, there’s nothing especially noteworthy; the game’s score is somewhat under whelming, though the dialogue, while somewhat cheesy, can provide a few chuckles now and then.

Alchemy plays a vital role in Grand Phantasm, so use it wisely

The ‘Burst’ function allows you to deliver devastating attacks against foes

Overall, while tame by today’s standards, Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is still a thoroughly enjoyable JRPG. It probably won’t convert those who jumped on board the RGP ship in the last couple of years, but it’ll no doubt entice long time fans of the genre with its old-school, charmingly simplistic offerings. Don’t judge a book by its cover; give it a chance, and, surreptitiously, you may just find this delicate little offering growing on you – if anything, think of it as a swan song before you make that crucial next-generation leap.

Top Game Moment:
Activating that all-important Burst meter during against one of the many tough creatures dotted throughout the game; he’ll never know what hit him.