In an effort to re-connect with some RPGs that I'd let pass me by, I endeavored to dust off some of my more neglected titles, namely: Blue Dragon (360), Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana (PS2) and Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis (PS2).
I'd abandoned (or at least lost interest) in Blue Dragon about 10 hours in, so I wasn't expecting much when I fired it up again for the first time in at least six months. How wrong I turned out to be though - I was quickly caught up in the action and, three hours later, and to force myself to save and take a break.
I remember the opening to the game being fairly slow, without a lot of story to get your teeth into but, by the time your party is escorting the population of your village to safety, things start moving at a decent pace and it feels like the game starts to come to life. I think I'll be putting some more time into this one after all.
Embarrassingly, the only reason I'd put Atelier Iris down in the first place was my own amazing ability to get lost. It took watching a video of the relevant section before I finally realized what I'd missed (a small pathway obscured by trees) and then I could finally get back into a game that I'd been enjoying up until that point.
I quite like that the regular RPG combat system that has been spiced up with Alchemy elements - creating attack/healing items on the fly is quite a nice touch - but it would have been nice to have more than three active characters in battle.
The world itself is made to feel quite large as you're forced to walk long distances between settings and there's a good amount of variety in terms of the enemies you battle. There are also rewards for finding the many (many!) items available as well as side-quests focusing on the Alchemy side of the game.
I've spent quite a bit of time with Atelier Rorona (PS3) which as a traditional Atelier game focuses mainly on item creation and running a shop, so it's nice to see those elements added (in a slightly watered down fashion) to a traditional RPG style game.
I gave Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis a try due to it being a part of the Atelier series but with a few new twists. The most significant is that the setting is a high school (well, the Alchemy version of one, at any rate) much like in Persona 3/4, which changes the focus from wandering the world to things like relationships with other students/teachers and attending classes/completing assignments. While much of this is just another way of setting up fetch/create quests like in most of the games, it still feels a bit weird to be signing up for classes and completing homework...
I've only had a quick look at this one, but one highlight (for me) so far is the strong Seiyuu lineup, featuring actors very familiar to Anime fans such as Nonoka Ai, Satou Rina, Kawasumi Ayako and Nogawa Sakura. A nice touch and one that suits the setting of the game completely.
In terms of polish Mana Khemia doesn't feel like much of a step up from earlier PS2 titles but that's not really the aim of this sort of release, is it? The characters I've met so far seem to be reasonably strong and fleshed out, so hopefully they, along with the story, are enough to keep interest levels high through the various item creation quests that no doubt await me.