Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny – Worlds Apart

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The Atelier series, as we’ve previously explored, was primarily based around an isometric perspective right up until its shift to full 3D in the PlayStation 3 era.

If anything, this aspect of the game’s overall design and structure is even more apparent in Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny than in its immediate predecessor, with much of male protagonist Felt’s quest consisting of exploring labyrinthine dungeons presented from this distinctive viewpoint.

With that in mind, then, let’s take a closer look at how one gets around in the world of Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, and how it differs from Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana.

As we’ve previously seenAtelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny makes its “dual-scenario” system its key selling point. Felt gets the majority of the screen time, since he’s the one going on the grand journey to save his homeland, but female protagonist Viese has plenty to do along the way, too.

Both protagonists have access to a node-based map rather than the 3D polygonal world of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana. That said, Eternal Mana is still effectively node-based to a certain extent; you can’t wander off the discrete pathways, and certain routes are blocked until you make appropriate story progress. The main difference is that in Eternal Mana, you have to manually walk from place to place and have the chance of getting into random encounters along the way, while in The Azoth of Destiny, you’re completely safe on the map screen and immediately “snap” from one node to the next.

The way in which both Viese and Felt find new places to explore differs somewhat by the very nature of their respective roles in the game. Viese lives on the floating continent of Eden, which is already well-charted, and thus has access to a number of key locations from the outset; as Felt proceeds through his quest and restores the missing areas of Eden, Viese is able to go to additional areas, but all of them radiate out from Eden’s central city Noir.

Felt, meanwhile, discovers new areas in two distinct ways. Firstly, he can be told about a new place, which will add a route there the next time he visits the world map. And secondly, he can simply wander out of a discrete “zone” in a specific direction, revealing what lies beyond in the process. In this latter case, the areas in question are often “hubs” of sorts which branch off in multiple directions (helpfully signposted in most instances), leading to a variety of different places to go. This means that there are a few sequences in the game where it’s possible to visit certain areas “early” — i.e. before the main scenario intends you to — and explore, acquire some treasure or simply grind some levels and skill points. You won’t encounter anything plot-relevant until the game’s good and ready, though.

The other key difference between the pair is that Felt gets into fights throughout the course of the entire game, whereas it’s not until the closing chapters that Viese gets an opportunity to enter combat; Eden is presented as being a blissful land that is completely free of monsters, and as such Viese spends a good 30+ hours of game at level 1. It doesn’t take long for her to catch up when it counts, though!

Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny has two distinct types of area that both Viese and Felt can visit. Firstly, there are areas that are represented as lavish 2D illustrations — these tend to take the form of towns or other important, safe locations such as Eden’s temple. And secondly, there are areas that are very obviously made up of separate, isometrically projected “blocks” of various types — much like the really retro isometric games such as the classic Ultimate Play the Game “Filmation” titles.

Eternal Mana had this distinction to a certain extent, too, but it wasn’t quite so obvious; the “blocks” tended to form parts of dungeons that were otherwise represented as 2D art rather than making up the entirety of an area. The Azoth of Destiny constructs entire areas out of these blocks.

There are pros and cons to this way of doing things. The main benefit is that designing dungeons and field screens such as forests and mountain paths in this way allows far more complex, elaborate and labyrinthine areas to be constructed in a fraction of the time that drawing them all individually would require. The main con, as you might expect, is that they don’t look nearly as nice; the “prefabricated” nature of all the blocks is rather obvious, with repeated textures and models all over the place.

Don’t underestimate how huge that benefit is, however; while Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny’s dungeons may not look anywhere near as nice as those in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana from a purely aesthetic perspective, they’re much more interesting and challenging to explore — and there’s a lot more of them, too. And with the encounter meter system we’ve previously talked about, where it becomes possible to “clear” an area of enemies, you can get into a stage where you have all the time in the world to investigate thoroughly without any interruptions.

With the increased emphasis on dungeon crawling comes a focus on treasure hunting, too; the new “Pendulum” item that Viese can craft and Felt can duplicate with metal mana energy allows you to see a list of all the areas in the game that you’ve visited with a breakdown of all the important interactive items.

Note that this isn’t just chests — although there are three types of those, the latter two of which require silver or gold keys that you gain the ability to craft at various points in the game. No; in order to explore the world fully, you’ll also have to find cliff faces, where you can use a grappling hook item to climb up and access a new area, and two types of rock which require increasingly powerful varieties of bomb to deal with. These obstacles and interactive elements take the place of sequences in Eternal Mana that require the use of field skills such as summoning the Stone Mana to be a stepladder, or using the Fire Mana to blast through boulders.

Like the keys, you acquire the knowledge to craft bombs and grappling hooks at specific moments in the story, but the game is fond of teasing you with these rocks, cliffs and locked chests as you proceed through various areas for the first time. In a lot of cases, there’s no obligation to go back and “clear” all the areas, but there are plenty of benefits in store for those who do — such as powerful pieces of equipment and helpful but optional alchemy recipes for Viese to initialise.

Alongside the elements that the Pendulum reveals, you’ll also acquire the ability to grow three different types of plants as you progress through the game. Initially, Wonder Grow allows you to grow small sprouts, which will either turn into plant-related items (such as the plant’s leaves or fruit) or elemental crystals that can be extracted for large quantities of mana energy; later, you acquire Yugdore Water, which lets you grow larger vines for the same purpose; and finally, even later, Fairy Tea lets you cause bushes to flower and give up their goods.

There’s no necessity to seek out these plants to progress, which is why the Pendulum doesn’t record them — they also regrow if you leave and return to the area — but there are some items that are much easier to acquire that way rather than hoping for a monster drop or getting a lucky Item Wish throw. Even if you don’t need the items themselves, they can be a helpful means of topping up commonly used elemental mana energy, which you tend to use rather a lot of duplicating things like healing items, keys and Pendulums.

All these elements of Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny provide a pleasing sense of “openness” in the mid to late game as, with the exception of a couple of specific story sequences, you’re always free to wander the entire world you’ve explored to date, and there are no time limits to curtail your expeditions, unlike in later Atelier games with a similar structure such as Atelier Totori.

The two protagonists each have a distinctly different focus when they’re out exploring. Felt is generally exploring field areas and dungeons in order to progress from one place to another, while Viese pretty much exclusively takes trips out from her home in Noir to the various Mana spirits’ holy grounds, then returns once she has achieved whatever she needs to — usually making a pact with the main Mana spirit that calls that holy ground home, but sometimes tracking down unique ingredients for specific purposes.

Coupled with her lack of combat for the majority of the game, this gives Viese’s field areas a somewhat “puzzly” — or perhaps “adventure game” — feel at times; particularly later in the game, they often present interesting navigational challenges, requiring you to remember relatively complex routes to specific locations without the aid of a map to help you out, or in some instances simply decipher the isometric perspective to figure out exactly what moves you need to make. There’s also an optional but very helpful sidequest right at the end of a game as a whole that requires you to track down every single NPC in all of Eden, including all the seemingly pointless ones in the various holy grounds — so it’s helpful to familiarise yourself with them thoroughly over the course of your entire adventure.

A highlight of the game as a whole is a major quest towards the conclusion of the narrative that requires Viese to craft the ultimate alchemy item: the Ruby Prism, a reference to the legendary Philosopher’s Stone as well as a recurring item in the Atelier series as a whole. Accomplishing this requires Viese to acquire or craft four different ingredient items, each of which lies at the end of a significant quest in its own right.

These can be tackled in any order based on the information you acquire by talking to various characters, and very little specific guidance is given beyond the clues you’re provided with. This once again provides a pleasing sense of openness at this point in the narrative, and the sense that the game “trusts” you to make use of both its mechanical systems and the information its many characters can give you in order to work things out for yourself. You may recall that there are a few optional sidequests in the game that work this way, too; suitable preparation for this point in the main scenario, for sure.

The fact you really have to work for these ingredient items gives the moment you eventually craft a Ruby Prism real meaning — particularly as creating several of the ingredients requires you to make use of items that are both useful equipment and objects that have considerable narrative and emotional significance based on the context under which you acquired them. There’s a sense of finality to it all — a feeling that you’re doing the right thing, but having to make some noteworthy sacrifices along the way in order to accomplish your goals once and for all. But more about that when we talk more about the narrative.

Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny certainly has quite a different feel to its overall structure, and indeed some people may well prefer the “puzzle Pokémon” approach of Eternal Mana. But, as always, engage with this game on its own terms and explore what it has to offer with an open mind, and there’s a satisfying, compelling adventure to be had here for sure.

cropped-atelier-megafeature-header-1.pngThis post is one chapter of a MegaFeature!
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