Friday, March 30, 2018

The Alliance Alive (3DS) Review

When I first started The Alliance Alive, I wasn't sure what to expect.  It has the same (or very similar) art style to Legend of Legacy, so I thought it was a sequel to that.  While there are some similarities, it definitely is not a sequel.  It is a turn-based RPG with an interesting world, distinct characters, and unique battles.

The backstory is this: one thousand years ago, daemons invaded the world.  They defeated the humans, and separated them into different realms with the Dark Current.  I think it's a very interesting idea for a world.  The story is well told, and there is just the right amount of dialogue.  Cut-scenes can be paused or sped through, which is always a plus for me.  In the beginning, you will switch parties a few times, which introduces the characters.  I really like how these separate stories intertwine for the first few hours.  The story is pretty linear, but it does open up more after 10-15 hours.  There are even a few times where you have more direct control over what part to tackle next.

Battles are turn-based, and you select each character's action at the start of the round.  Characters can equip 2 different weapons/shields, and each has their own set of associated skills.  They can only defend if they have a shield equipped, and can only use an item if it or an item bag is equipped in one of the accessory slots.  Sorcery spells (more attack focused) can only be used by certain characters, while Signimancy (more heal/support focused) can be used by the others if they have special items equipped.  Skills take a certain amount of SP to use.  SP is normally gained back at a rate of 1 per turn, but this can be increased with passive skills.  Combat seems pretty simple at first, but is pretty involved as you dive into the systems.  Once I figured out that using a shield in the front in defensive stance can block for the whole party, I understood a great battle plan, and I like it.

If you take enough damage in battle, you will enter ignition mode.  This makes you a bit stronger, but also allows access to your weapon's ignition attack.  These attacks are powerful, but break the weapon.  Can you guess why I barely use them?  The broken weapons can be repaired at the blacksmith guild, or at an inn after a certain point in the game, but it's still not something I would use except to finish a boss fight.  There is a way to use sorcery for a cheap one, but I still rarely actually used the ignition attacks.  Decent idea, but the downside is too great for me to actually use it more than a scant few times.

Damage your party receives can be pretty high, but that's because HP is usually completely restored after battle.  While this works well for normal enemy fights, it can be a huge detriment if you fight a strong enemy that can hit your whole party.  After 45 hours I still don't have a whole party heal, so one strong attack that hits them all can wipe out one or more characters.  For better or worse, that's the only difficulty I have in combat with my current set-up.  Liberal use of the quick save slot is recommended.

If a character runs out of HP in a fight, their maximum HP is temporarily reduced.  This can be fixed with items, or by staying at an inn.  Getting hit by an attack while you are incapacitated or retreating will also lower your max HP.  If a character's max HP becomes zero, it's another game over.  Even though the lowered max HP is temporary, I don't really like the whole idea.  It's also worth noting that there are no resurrection spells because just a normal heal spell will bring the character back, but with lowered max HP.  Being able to just cast a heal spell to resurrect is nice, so I can put up with the lowered max HP for a bit.

So how do you increase your max HP?  There is no experience system for combat (which may break one of the RPG rules, but I digress), but instead a random chance to increase your max HP or SP at the end of every fight.  It's far from a perfect system, since my front row fighter Galil had less HP than my healer for the first few hours of the game.  It isn't a fixed chance, since there is a skill that increases it, and it seems to increase more often when fighting stronger foes.  Still, there are times that your character choice is more restricted, so it is beneficial to try to cycle in lesser-used characters and hope to increase their HP and SP.

Since there are no levels for characters to gain, there are only two ways to get stronger.  First is your equipment.  The weapons and armor you wear will be the primary way that you deal more damage and reduce what you take.  Past that, all the skills you use in battle have their own level of effect in one of three areas: attack, defense, and support.  Depending on your stance in the formation (I promise that is easier to understand when you are actually playing), you have a chance to increase the corresponding potency of a skill with every use.  Damage dealing skills get stronger as the attack level rises, guarding techniques are better with higher defense levels, and you can heal more with higher support levels.  The game does tell you this, but only randomly, and probably well after you would like to know about it.  For the most part, my characters got stronger as the game progressed, but it was gradual.  I thought I would miss the lack of leveling up, but I really didn't.

For passive skills, there is a robust talent system.  Talent points are earned at the successful completion of a battle.  These points are then used for a myriad of skills, like increasing the chance of increasing HP or SP after battle, or increasing the sale price of items.  The ones I like best reduce the SP cost of weapon skills.  Couple it with the skills that give more SP per turn, and you can use stronger and stronger techniques more often.  The best part is every party member gets the same amount of talent points, even if they aren't used in battle, or even acquired yet.  When a new person joins your party, they have the same total as the rest of your party.  The after battle HP and SP may make it harder to swap in characters you don't use, but at least they don't lose out on talent points.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one other aspect of the game that I enjoyed.  There are five guilds that each perform a certain function, such as blacksmithing or signimancy.  If you are close to one of the towers, they can sometimes help you in battle.  However, their better use comes later in the game.  You will meet many different people who you can recruit to these guilds.  Assigning them to a guild will help increase its level, which will give you different benefits.  Some didn't seem that good to me, but others are invaluable.  For example, the recon guild didn't look too appealing at the start, but each level up increases the amount of talent points you get from battle.  Beyond that, many of the level bonuses were actually very useful.  I loved finding all the people I could to recruit for the guilds, often going back to towns to see if I missed anyone, or if someone new showed up.  While you can find a lot of them, I'm sure a guide would be best to track them all down.

While there are a few aspects of The Alliance Alive that I don't like, overall I enjoyed the game a lot.  I played it when ever I had a few minutes to spare, and had a hard time putting it down.  I would heartily recommend it to all RPG fans.

The Good:
Fun RPG with interesting world/characters, and several unique systems.

The Bad:
HP/SP gain is random, people you don't use can fall behind easily.  Attacks that hit multiple team members can be absurdly over-powered.

The SaHD:
I really could have done without the little "x" on the back of the snow bunny, and...the other things it looks like they put there.  I guess it's a male?

(Review code for The Alliance Alive was received from the publisher)

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