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Gust Corporation might not be a household name among the majority of video game fans, but courtesy of NIS America, their games have begun finding an audience in the United States. As the developers of the Ar Tolelico games (including the recently released Ar Tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica) and the Mana Khemia series, Gust is know for their anime-style roleplaying games, and 2006's Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny certainly falls into that category. While its not the sort of game that will appeal to everyone, if you're the type of person who enjoys playing offbeat Japanese RPGs, this will be right up your alley.
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The plot of Atelier Iris 2 is pretty standard JRPG fare. Main characters Felt and Viese start the game in their homeworld, a paradise fittingly known as Eden. Viese is an alchemist, which is an inventor of sorts who forges pacts with elemental spirits and uses them to create various items. Felt, meanwhile, is a swordsman who is obsessed with trying to pull a legendary sword, the Azure Azoth, from a stone, Excalibur-style. He has tried time and again without success, but following an earthquake one day, Felt feels the blade calling him and is able to gain possession of the Azoth. Eventually, Felt winds up having to travel to another realm, while Viese stays in Eden. Though separated, the two of them must work together to save both worlds. Naturally, in typical RPG fashion, they will be joined by a number of a host of other companions, each of whom have their own backstories. It's nothing special, but needing to switch back and forth between the two protagonists is an interesting hook.
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Of course, you don't just switch between Felt and Viese for story purposes. Each character also contributes something different to the gameplay as well. When you control Felt and his companions, you need to focus on traversing dungeons, fighting enemies and other standard roleplaying game activities. Viese's bits, meanwhile, focus mostly on gathering ingredients for item creation, using alchemy and forging pacts with elemental spirits. There is a symbiosis between the two heroes as well, as Felt must find recipes for Viese to use in item creation, while she in turn provides new and better stuff for his party to use in their quest. Other than that, this is a fairly standard turn-based RPG, though it does feature a monumentally difficult final boss battle that will require much pre-fight preparation. It took me several attempts and much trial and error in terms of choosing equipment and participants to finally emerge victorious.
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Graphics and Sound
The graphics aren't exactly state of the art, but they get the job done. The character sprites are fairly large and colorful, and essentially look like an evolved form of the old SNES-style sprites RPG fans know and love. The same can be said for the environments, meaning that this game essentially looks like a 16-bit title on steroids. Old-school fans will like it, though some newer fans may be turned off by the look. The voice acting is pretty good, and the opening song is quite catchy, but the rest of the sound quality is pretty forgettable on the whole.
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While the story, the graphics and sound are pretty average on the whole, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny features strong enough gameplay and a certain 'x-factor' that compels me to give it a four-star rating. When judged individually, various parts of the game might come up short, but the whole experience comes together in such a way that it just makes this game feel worth playing. At the end of the day, it wound up being one of my favorite roleplaying games of 2006. Considering that most gaming retailers should have a used copy available for under $20, I'd definitely recommend this to fans of Japanese-style RPGs.