Light, Fluffy Fun
As a Japanese RPG, The Alliance Alive is pretty accessible. The tone is upbeat and positive, but it never spills into saccharine territory. The story uses familiar tropes, but it also contains a unique world and a variety of characters. Finishing the game can take 40 hours, but it can also be beaten in as little as 25. Alliance is like the equivalent of a good summer action movie. It moves quickly, has a lot of fun with its ideas, and never outstays its welcome. It might not be the most memorable thing out there, but it’s a good time for what it is.
One thing that’s important in action movies, as well as in Alliance, is compelling characters. Yes, well-executed action and spectacle are good too, but without characters you care about in all of the acrobatics and explosions, it can be boring. For the most part, The Alliance Alive lives up to this – with nine main characters (plus more to unlock), the game finds ways to make most of them interesting. The only exception, ironically, is the lead character, Galil. He’s a guy that looks like a bit like a chibi-Cloud, and comes across as a more emotive Squall, but beyond that, his character does little to develop. A running gag is for him to get flustered and indecisive whenever characters look to him for a decision.
Aside from his nominal presence, the characters work well within the context of the story. In this world, the Daemon race won a war against the Humans, and subjugated them with the help of the Beastfolk race. Separating the surface of the world into separate realms, Daemons and Beastfolk alike treat Humans as an undesirable lower class. Not everyone is okay with this, however. One Daemon, Vivian, is sympathetic to Humans and curious about their technology. She’s most interested in one scientist named Tiggy, and finds her just as she finishes up a mech in the shape of a rubber duck. This duck mech, which Tiggy takes into battle, can also float on lava. This pretty much makes her a genius.
Speaking of the rubber duck, one area where Alliance makes its mark is its use of vehicles and mounts. Though many RPGs still rely on the simplicity of airships and boats, The Alliance Alive has these and more. You can cross fields of snow on giant bunnies in one realm, while in another you’re flying on backs of dragons, opening up a whole aerial combat system in the process. Part of the excitement of going from realm to realm is seeing what kind of vehicle gets introduced next. Each one has their own balance of advantages and disadvantages, making each one a treat.
This balance extends to the combat. Unlike most RPGs where characters level up in locked class systems, The Alliance Alive allows (almost) all of its characters to wield a wide variety of weapons at any time. Leveling is accomplished by using the same weapon-type repeatedly to unlock new attacks, while the stats associated with these attacks are upgraded when the more these attacks are used. Earning Talent Points in battle then can then help change how fast attacks are learned and how much stamina they cost. This allows for a spellcaster to become dynamite with a sword, or for an axe-wielder to develop their archery skills quickly. It’s up to the player to optimise the best team.
Though the 3DS seems underpowered today, Alliance serves as a reminder that the system can still produce good visuals. The CG cutscenes look great and help sell the believability of the world. Another interesting thing is that when the game is left idling when in a city or outside a dungeon, the camera will zoom out to show the scope of the area. This often leaves the character as a tiny figure against a large backdrop that is often breathtaking. The 3D can be turned on here for full effect, and I’ll admit it was almost enough to leave it on. The scope for some of these areas is just that large.
It hasn’t been discussed much, but this game marks the return of Yoshitaka Murayama, writer and creator of the first three Suikoden games, after a decade working elsewhere. Initially, I wondered it he was drawn to the project because the story involved so many disparate groups joining together to form an alliance, and that might be it. But it might also be because, once the alliance is formed, players can build an alliance network by building guild towers at various locations around the world. To get a guild going, players need to recruit an NPC to serve as a guildmaster, and several more to serve as members to the five overall guilds. By doing this, players can spread the influence of the guilds and get greater bonuses in and out of battle. Recruiting is as simple as talking to NPCs at the right time, but it’s on the player to find them all. Suikoden‘s influence is definitely felt here.
One last thing to mention is that this game has CG cutscenes – but no voice acting. This means these moments play out almost like silent movies, with the subtitles conveying what characters say. It feels odd at first, but I quickly became accustomed to it. By doing this, the game also focuses much more attention on Masashi Hamauzu’s (Final Fantasy XIII) bouncy, groovy soundtrack. Hamauzu knows how to create tracks that stick with you the more you listen, and The Alliance Alive is no exception.
As The Alliance Alive is a spiritual successor to the earlier The Legend of Legacy, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect too much. But Cattle Call has done a wonderful job of developing a neat game. It’s all too easy to see why Atlus picked it up for localization – the world needs more games that are fun and do their own thing, instead of trying to be The Best. It might not be essential playing on 3DS, but in 2018 when we can’t even get Dragon Quest XI localized on this system, it certainly fills a gaping hole, even if it isn’t the same. Check it out, if you can.
A version of this review can be found here.