Over a millennium ago, Daemons invaded the world of man. In the ensuing war, humanity was nearly annihilated. Afterwards, the Daemons created the Great Barrier, dividing the world into various realms. With the powers of darkness, they blocked out the sun and the sky, denying all below the possibility of a brighter tomorrow. As their power grew, they employed Beastfolk as enforcers, bullying the populace into submission. Even in these dark times, all it takes for the flames of rebellion to rage is a spark. While exploring ancient ruins, Azura and Galil witness the most curious sight, a painting depicting a blue sky and a flying ark. Is this simply idle handiwork, or is it a window into the future? In any case, that inspiring image is reason enough for them to join the rebellion and put an end to the Daemon’s rule. Join the resistance and overcome the depths of evil in The Alliance Alive.
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Frequent readers of this website may recall a review for Romancing SaGa 2, an RPG originally released during the Super Famicom era. Although this critic thinks very highly of the classic, he recognises that some aspects of it have become dated. All told, it’s not a particularly balanced game, and some essential features could have been explained a little better. In numerous ways, The Alliance Alive is a more modernised interpretation. It features a battle system that revolves around the same core concepts, which allows for a unique take on character progression. Anybody who decides to take on this adventure will be treated to a familiar, yet very fulfilling tale, one that consistently rewards its players through creative game design.
Yoshitaka Murayama served as the writer of this production. Formerly the director of the earliest Suikoden games, his writing style has resulted in a traditional storyline, one filled with idealistic heroes and cruel villains. That said, there’s plenty of nuance to uncover, and the sizeable cast is endearingly quirky. Of particular interest is the attention to world building. Rather than dump encyclopaedias on the unsuspecting, hints as to how the multiple realms came to be, as well as the daemon’s motivations, are smoothly intertwined with the current conflict. The usage of differing perspectives gives the adventure a pleasing sense of dimension, and the climatic encounters are exceptionally realised.
The world, and the multiple realms it has been divided into, is explored in a manner that also exudes tradition. In the 3D overworld, the protagonists traipse through valleys, and take command of both air and sea, all in the search for their next destination. Creatures roam about, dragging any who get too close into battle. Each realm and its surrounding islands are filled with secrets, luring the curious into side-quests or potentially fatal encounters with great fiends. The Dark Current, especially, is filled with all manner of sea devils. Twisted remnants from a forgotten age, the foreboding lairs they inhabit serve as sufficient warning. Never underestimate these foes. In fact, don’t go anywhere near them without making the necessary preparations.
In this game, the abilities of a playable character aren’t set in stone. Granted, their unchanging stats are an indicator of their strengths and weaknesses, but players still have plenty of freedom to develop them however they like. Vivian, for example, is well-versed in sorcery, making her an exceptional spell-caster. Fitting her with a giant axe probably isn’t the optimal strategy. However, given enough time and dedication, she becomes quite adept at crushing adversaries with pure force. Armaments of all types can be equipped on everyone. At all times, tabs should be kept on their weight. The heaviest armour is the most protective, which is just as well, since enemies will always strike first if everyone is wearing it. Dedicated healers should consider lighter clothing, so they can ensure that their life-saving techniques reach those that need them in time.
Positioning is also an important aspect to consider. Each of the five members of a party is arranged into a formation. Their individual placement determines whether their abilities are focused on offence, defence, or support. In the interest of efficiency, skills should always be used from their respective positions. Offensive skills, such as weapon attacks or damaging spells will become stronger with constant use, increasing the pain they inflict on foes. While in a defensive position, a shield-bearing character can use skills like blocks or counters to protect everyone in the party. Anyone in a supportive position gains a boost to their healing skills. Furthermore, skills actually level up when used frequently, increasing their usefulness. During a battle, the formation can be changed at the beginning of every turn. Take full advantage of this feature to guarantee that everyone is working at their peak effectiveness.
The battles themselves typically revolve around weapon skills. With constant use, the heroes will awaken the latent abilities of their weapons, and then unleash powerful attacks. Skills have a myriad of uses, and will get more effective in accordance to the character’s position. While almost every skill has some damage potential tied to it, they might be utilised for different reasons, such as for their AOE effect or ability to stun. Again, this aspect plays into the importance of weight. Faster characters can perform stun-focused techniques, such as Water Slicer or Circle Swing, preventing monsters from ever getting a chance to attack. In the constant cycle of skill awakenings and level-ups, there’s always this sense of anticipation whenever a party member makes its next move. Learning and strengthening these impressive manoeuvres is extremely addictive.
Oft-times, battles don’t always go as planned. Defeated characters are not only knocked out of action, but their maximum HP also suffers a penalty. A healing item or spell can bring them back, but a stay at the inn is required in order to recover their full health. However, these moments cannot be dwelt on. They have to look at the bigger picture. During battle, it’s common for heroes to become enraged by what’s occurring around them. If a fellow ally falls, then they are certain to enter a state of ignition. While ignited, the hero can perform an ultimate technique called Final Strike. This move uses the full-strength of the weapon to deliver a devastating attack. However, it shatters the weapon, rendering it unusable, until it’s repaired. Naturally, this technique is best saved for pitched battles, particularly against foes that are using their strongest attacks. Undoubtedly, they are just as desperate to win as the heroes, so use Final Strikes to snuff out their chances of victory.
During their travels, the alliance will stumble upon guilds. These towers play host to a wealth of party-building features. Blacksmith guilds allow Galil and his friends to commission new weapons and armour. They will also repair broken weapons while the party rests at an inn. Signimancy guilds specialise in spells and wizarding apparel. Anybody looking for information should seek out the library guild. Then there’s the recon guild, which tracks enemies, while providing survival tools, such as healing potions. Finally, the tactics guild allows players to create their formations, as well as the option to create more specialised positions. Guilds also provide support in battle, such as by obliterating the opposition with cannonballs, or boosting the party’s defences. In time, these towers can be built all over the world, and then levelled up through the recruitment and distribution of various recruits. Higher-level guilds offer better services.
The acquisition of recruits is perhaps one of the cleverest sub-systems in an RPG. Usually, the player’s reward for completing a side-quest is a weapon that will be rendered obsolete within the hour, a nominal amount of gold, or some trinket that only collects dust in the inventory. The Alliance Alive prefers to reward the heartiest explorers with recruits, who can then be sent to work for the guilds. This essentially allows them to choose their own reward. If they want better equipment, they can send their newly-acquired allies to the blacksmith. If their eyes are set on unlocking fights with especially tough monsters, then they will funnel recruits into the recon guild. This system ensures that players will want to dive into every nook and cranny of the world just to grab everyone.
This game also takes a different approach when it comes to “grinding.” If the player’s strategy is flawless, then it’s rare that they will ever have to waste time killing the same set of monsters repeatedly. In most cases, the grind exists merely to make the journey easier. Talent points are earned after every battle, and they can be spent on various bonuses, such as increased SP gain, or faster weapon-skill levelling. Aside from that, a party member’s maximum HP and SP can sometimes increase at the end of each battle. This is scaled according to the level of the monsters, so it’s not uncommon to enter a new area and receive a substantial bump in HP. However, under no circumstances is anyone required to engage in constant battle. The system is designed to balance itself out, and it’s very easy for weaker characters to get caught up, when they are rotated into the active party. Oh, and the best part? There’s a fast-forward feature! Enable it and burn through encounters in seconds.
All that said, there is one point in the story that can be a bit of a roadblock. It requires players to have sufficiently developed all nine of the main characters, and it involves a series of battles, some of which can be quite punishing for the unprepared. This segment ends with a very challenging boss, one that demands an understanding of the game’s multitude of mechanics. There’s sufficient warning beforehand, so take the time to either learn the intricacies of the battle system, or gain enough HP and weapon-skills to overcome through sheer numbers. On a positive note, overcoming this hurdle will lead to some exceptional rewards, more than making up for whatever headaches might be suffered.