Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana was very clearly an attempt to do something different with the Atelier series… and also a bit of a playground for the development team to experiment with a wide variety of ideas.
This much becomes obvious almost from the moment you boot up 2005’s Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, which takes many of the things that worked from Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, fixes the things that almost worked and ditches the things that didn’t.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny builds on its predecessor, and how this becomes clear over the course of the game’s early hours.
Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana’s crafting systems were solid and interesting, but there were a few things about them that felt like they didn’t quite make sense, particularly in the grand context of the series as a whole.
For starters, despite the fact that protagonist Klein was an alchemist, he actually didn’t craft all that many of his own items; his repertoire was limited to the “mana items” he found in special chests around the game world, which could then be created using a combination of elemental mana energy collected from objects and enemies, and specific capital-M Mana who were able to shape that energy into an actual object.
Klein’s mana items were exclusively combat-centric; they took the form of various types of bombs that could be thrown at enemies, and items that buffed the party or debuffed his foes. In battle, his skills mostly took the form of ways to manipulate the exact functionality of these items by extending their range or increasing their power.
Meanwhile, the crafting of more mundane items, equipment and consumables was left up to the shopkeepers that Klein met over the course of his journey, with each having their own particular specialism and repertoire that gradually expanded as you worked your way through their side-stories. This worked well from a structural perspective and ensured that the core crafting gameplay that the Atelier series had been based on up until this point remained intact — but it did feel a little like it underplayed the capabilities of alchemists.
Perhaps one could read it as a thematic thing; in Klein’s time, alchemists are relatively rare, and thus it stands to reason that they wouldn’t have as much social responsibility as they are depicted having in other Atelier games. Crafting has become the domain of tradesmen, and thus alchemists have little to do besides develop increasingly creative ways to make large numbers pop out of monsters.
Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny unfolds many years prior to Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, however, and it’s a very different world we see. Well, actually, it’s two very different worlds; there’s the floating continent of Eden, which seems to mostly be populated by alchemists and Mana spirits, and the surface world of Belkhyde. Early in the game, the two protagonists separate, with male lead Felt descending to Belkhyde in an attempt to solve the mystery surrounding parts of Eden disappearing, while his adoptive (and non blood-related) sister Viese remains behind in Eden to offer support through her alchemy.
The narrative justification for this — which we’ll explore in more detail another time — is that Viese is presented with a pair of items called “Share Rings” as part of the ceremony confirming that she is a full-fledged alchemist, and told to give one to someone important to her. Naturally, she presents it to Felt as he is about to step through the (apparently single-use, one-way) portal to Belkhyde, and the pair subsequently discover that more than just a mark of friendship (or more, as Viese clearly wants), it is actually an alchemical tool that allows the pair of them to share knowledge, elemental mana energy and even items with one another.
With this concept, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny sets up its unique selling point: what it refers to as its “dual scenario” system, whereby at any save point, you can switch between Viese and Felt’s perspective and get things done. Each chapter generally focuses on one of the pair — with Felt getting the majority of the screen time in the early game, since he’s the one travelling around finding things out — but you’re free to switch at any time as you see fit. And it’s important to do so.
While Felt is able to craft items using mana energy out in the field like Viese is, Viese is the one that actually “initialises” these items and makes them available. This time around, rather than finding an example of the item and immediately becoming able to craft it, a recipe must first be found, then Viese must craft it at least once using actual ingredients and finally both Viese and Felt become able to essentially “duplicate” the item using mana energy.
This places a certain amount of importance on Viese’s efforts to make a good quality item in the first place, since all mana synthesis in Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny copies the item quality and properties as well as the item itself. And it’s here that a significant upgrade over Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana becomes apparent: the fact that those mysterious “reviews” are actually important this time around.
In Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, crafting an item at a shop would result in a variety of “reviews” being attached to the various items. These were almost completely irrelevant in gameplay terms and ended up being mostly for flavour, though there was something of a relationship between the final quality of an item and the reviews it had attached to it.
In Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, meanwhile, the reviews are less about descriptions such as “stinky” and “huge” and more about actual additional effects that are added to various items — things like increasing the amount of healing a consumable does, or bumping up the damage an attack item does.
Much like in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, many recipes have ingredients that can be substituted for other ones, and this will either affect the properties that end up attached to the final item, or sometimes result in a completely different item altogether. You get a message informing you that you’ll get a new item before using the ingredients in Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, too, so you can quickly determine which items are worth experimenting with.
Oh, and the quality bar actually works properly in Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, too, rather than misleadingly never depicting anything over about 5% of an implied “maximum” even for items that were the best they could possibly be.
Outside of the alchemy component, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny also evolves both exploration and combat. We’ll look at both of these in more detail in subsequent articles, but suffice to say that both once again build on what Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana did.
On the exploration front, the game runs a lot more smoothly, making use of a the common PS2 “motion blur” trick to make the frame rate look a lot higher than it actually is. The PAL version also supports 60Hz mode now, so no more squashed visuals for European players.
Probably the most signficant addition, though, is the “encounter gauge” that would also go on to be used in the Ar Tonelico series, which kicked off a year after Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny first released.
The gauge serves two purposes: firstly, it indicates when one can expect to get into a random battle by gradually changing colour from blue to red; and secondly, it indicates the amount of enemies in an area. Having enough battles to drain the gauge completely means you will have no more combat until you either rest at a save point (which replenishes the gauge completely) or move into a different area, such as another floor or another part of the complex you’re exploring.
This is a great addition to the formula, particularly bearing in mind that Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny’s dungeons are quite large, often have multiple routes to explore and plenty of treasures to find. Now, you can simply get all of the fights out of the way as you start to explore the dungeon, then worry about cleaning up everything after the gauge is drained — or, if you do actually want to grind a bit, you can just rest at a save point to restore all your hit points, refill the gauge, and get into some more battles.
On top of this, the use of various Mana spirits to provide various movement abilities has been replaced with consumable items that can affect specific objects in the world in various ways. Wonder Grow and related formulae can affect plants, for example, allowing you to quickly fertilise them into either harvestable items or mana deposits, while hammers allow you to break rocks and harvest the ores or gems within. Later in the game you acquire hooks to climb up platforms too high to jump on, and gain the ability to blow up various types of tough rock formations. And there are two types of locked chest to contend with, too; there’s still a lot to do, even if you can’t stand on the Stone Mana’s head any more.
We’ll explore the specifics of the mechanics and the narrative in more detail in the next few articles; suffice it to say for now, at least, that Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny is a worthy successor to its predecessor, an immediately intriguing adventure in its own right… and the home of some of Gust’s cutest girls of all time.
Which is, you know, nice.
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