The Alliance Alive Review
You may or may not remember a game from a few summers ago called Legend of Legacy. It was a 3DS RPG that was met with some of the most mixed reactions in my recent memory. Some people, myself included, absolutely fell in love with its bizarre, open-ended structure and haphazard battle and upgrade systems, while others saw it as a jumbled mess of ideas that never really came together. The developers, FurYu, are now back with a new 3DS RPG, The Alliance Alive, a game that will certainly be met with a similar polarized viewpoint. The Alliance Alive is definitely a more focused experience, with an actual coherent story and some trope-y but interesting characters, but like Legend of Legacy, this adventure is a love-it-or-hate-it game. Unlike Legend of Legacy, though, I don't fall solidly into either camp. What I can appreciate, however, is FurYu's dogged dedication to making games that break the typical mold, and if nothing else, that is something to be celebrated.
Those who hated Legend of Legacy generally had one major complaint was the lack of a story. Like... any story at all. And that's fair; the game didn't really have much of a narrative whatsoever, other than discovering new lands, treasures and powers for your team of heroes. The Alliance Alive does a complete 180 and rocks the player with a story that is instantly gripping and wholly original. The setup is that 1,000 years before the game even begins, a race of Daemons enslaves the world and divides it up by erecting a Great Barrier. With the sun blackened out, the Daemons enlist a race of Beastfolk to oppress and generally crush the hopes of the remaining humans, and these, for lack of a better term, jerks, take their jobs quite seriously.
Skipping ahead 1,000 yours, you take on the roles of Galil and Azura, two dreamers seeking out a mythical ship that will allow them to traverse between the worlds separated by The Great Barrier. As you make your way through the adventure, though, you eventually accumulate nine party members, each with a distinct personality and set of powers. These characters are likeable, believable and ones you can genuinely root for, a task even easier due to the oppressive backdrop of the rule of Beastkind. What really impresses about the story is that in the vein of another personal favorite, Stella Glow, the plot is chock full of humor, heart and most of all, twists that come seemingly out of nowhere. One particular late game shift had my mouth hanging open in genuine surprise. At that point, I was invested in the story, but after that point, finishing the main story became an obsession; I HAD to see how things worked out. FurYu clearly heard the complaints about Legend of Legacy's lack of story, turned it around and produced a tale as compelling as any other I've played this year.
Before I get to the battle system, I want to address the main complaint I did have with The Alliance Alive. Afrter the first few linear hours, I found it insanely easy to get lost and have little cle as to what to do or where to go next. If you remember the maddeningly vague clues given out by NPCs in the 8-bit area of RPGs ("I heard there is a cave to the north" was what passed for a hint back then), then you know what to expect here. The overworld is expansive to say the least, and I spent much more time that I would have liked combing every inch of the area trying to figure out what the hell the game expected me to accomplish to move on. While I try to avoid using online guides as a general rule, The Alliance Alive forced me to on three separate occasions. I hated doing it, but if I wanted to finish this review, I didn't have much choice.
Ok, let's talk about the battle system now. Don't get me wrong; I loved how it was set up and how different it felt from a lot of games, but complicated doesn't even begin to cover how multi-faceted, deep and intricate it is. Luckily, the game does a FANTASTIC job of easing you into things bit by bit, which not only keeps learning manageable, it also introduces new mechanics often enough that things never get boring. I ask that you bear with me if this seems confusing, but I'm going to do my best to lay it all out for you.
Your party of eventually nine characters can be any one of 11 different classes, and each character can wield each weapon type. Use a weapon that is correctly paired with a certain class will randomly unlock new arts, which can be spells, attacks, etc. The random nature of it can seem frustrating, but they are granted often enough that it never becomes frustrating. On top of just unlocking arts, said arts can be leveled up, again, randomly, up to three times. So wrap your mind around this - characters can be any class, use any weapon, learn and level any art and switch these up at any time. If that isn't true party customization, I have absolutely no idea what is.
Oh, you though I was done? Not by a long shot. After some serious gameplay, you'll be granted the ability to seal certain arts outside of battle. Doing so prevents you from using the sealed arts - and by the time you have this option, you'll have TONS of arts - with the bonus of sealed arts boosting the power of those that remain unsealed. And as complicated as this may all sound, it its an extremely intuitive and relatively speedy process, meaning changing things on the fly for experimentation's sake is something you'll come to truly enjoy.
While the gaining of arts is random, so too is the gaining of HP and SP upgrades, something I wasn't quite as big a fan of. With the arts, seals and random nature of it all, those systems work flawlessly, and it makes the game feel like a RPG that doesn't require the kind of endless grinding that can turn so many off. But when you come up against a powerful boss, if you haven't been lucky enough to get the kind of HP/SP boosts you needed over the previous few hours, grinding does become a necessity. It throws off the flow of things in a weird, unnecessary way. It doesn't break the game AT ALL, it just feels like a weird design choice.
I saved presentation for last mainly because there isn't too much to say abut it. This is visually a middle of the road 3DS RPG. The semi-chibi look of the characters, the sporadic cutscenes... all of them remind of a slightly less polished Bravely Default, but the music is definitely a high point. Some of the tracks are memorable on memorable on waffles, so make sure to keep an ear out for those. The presentation gets neither cheers nor jeers from me; it does the job and that's about it.
Even if you hated Legend of Legacy (you monster!), The Alliance Alive is still worth a look. The story is interesting, the battle system is complex, fun and bizarre and the overall package is a polished adventure that will keep you playing until the very end. The 3DS may be on its way out, but hopefully this isn't one of those late-in-life games that gets overlooked for year until people realize how good it really was. Check it out.
Final Rating: 85% - Don't get rid of your 3DS just yet.