Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny – Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

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Although technically a “sequel” to Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana — it was even known as Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana 2 in Japan — Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny unfolds quite differently from its predecessor.

It’s set long before the events of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, for starters, so the world in which the action unfolds is very different. There’s a stark divide between the peaceful land of Eden, where alchemy is widespread and Mana spirits walk (or walk-equivalent) the streets alongside humans, and the “surface world” of Belkhyde, which left the practice of alchemy behind long ago.

Before we delve into all that, though, there’s an important question to address: what the fuck is an “azoth”, anyway?

The simple answer to this is that, in the context of Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, an Azoth is a sword with a Ruby Prism contained within, allowing it to have a certain degree of sentience and ability to communicate. Why was this name chosen, though? Why is it not just “legendary sword” or any one of the myriad other legendary weapons other RPGs have stolen from various world mythologies over the years?

The answer, as you might expect, comes back to alchemy. In traditional alchemy, “azoth” was regarded as a universal medication or solvent; a substance that embodied both all medicines and the principles of all other substances, and which many alchemists spent their lives in pursuit of. It is the Elixir of Life; it is the substance from which all other substances derive their existence; it is that which holds the universe together.

Well, so people believed, anyway; at various points in history, the term was used to refer to both the element mercury and the mix of mercury, salt and sulfur, the latter of which was believed to embody air and water, earth and fire respectively.

As with most arcane, esoteric terms for things that may or may not actually exist and which most people are supposed to take on blind faith, there are no real concrete definitions of “azoth” out there, and most are up to interpretation. Swiss alchemist Paracelsus was believed to have successfully created “azoth”, whatever that means, in the 16th century, and the so-called “Rosicrucian” portrait of him depicts him fondling the bulbous pommel of a sword with the word “Azoth” clearly written on it. So make of that what you will.

Occultist Aleister Crowley, writing in his 1923 diaries, noted that he believed the term “azoth” represented a coming together of beginnings and endings; to this end, he conjectured that the word was constructed from the first letters of the Phoenician and Latin alphabets (“A” or “aleph”) and the last letters of the Latin, Greek and Hebrew alphabets (“Z”, “O” or “omega”, and “Th” or “tau” respectively).

Oddly enough, it’s Crowley’s definition that is probably the closest to the use of the term in Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, since the core conflict in the overarching narrative is between the “Azure Azoth” that male protagonist Felt wields, and the “Crimson Azoth” that antagonist Chaos has by his side throughout. The Crimson Azoth, we discover over the course of the complete story, was a force of great destruction — an ending, if you will — while the Azure Azoth was designed to destroy the Crimson Azoth, bringing about both an ending and a new beginning as a result.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up a bit and look at how we get to earth-shattering conflicts between sentient swords, and what a humble alchemist and her childhood friend have to do with all that.

Our protagonists Viese and Felt Blanchimont are introduced as orphans who grew up together, but who are not blood-related to one another. Despite this, they have adopted the same surname — which the astute will recognise as being the same one that both Lita and Iris sported in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana — and, to all intents and purposes, have a relationship as close as any siblings.

Both Viese and Felt are learning how to become alchemists; indeed, as the story opens, we witness Viese’s investiture as a “full-fledged alchemist” as she completes her studies. Felt, meanwhile, is more of a dreamer; he prefers to get out and see the world rather than spend his time poring over books, so despite his innate talent for mana synthesis — the duplication of items using elemental mana energy — he technically remains a student.

Both Viese and Felt live in Eden, which is a sealed-off, floating land where there are no monsters and everything seems to be pretty groovy. That is, until parts of it start disappearing, anyway; specifically, the various elementally themed “holy grounds” of numerous Mana spirits seem to be just vanishing, and no-one understands why.

Felt, who is fascinated by both the mysterious Azure Azoth, which is lodged firmly in the ground in the nearby forest, and a mysterious stone structure called the “Belkhyde Gate”, which supposedly leads to another world, gets wrapped up in all this when, in true heroic tradition, he accidentally and unexpectedly pulls the Azoth out of the ground and subsequently encounters a projection of a mysterious woman who claims that the “balance in the Land of Mana has begun to crumble”.

After thinking things over, Felt does the only thing a rational person wielding a magic talking sword would do: he leaps into the portal that has opened within the Belkhyde Gate, blissfully unaware of Viese’s blatantly obvious feelings for him as only anime-style protagonists can be. And thus begins an adventure on two fronts: Viese back in Eden, supporting Felt and visiting the areas that he gradually restores, and Felt exploring Belkhyde, learning how people live in a world without alchemy and Mana, and dealing with a wide variety of surface-world problems along the way.

As you might expect for someone who lived his whole life in a peaceful land with no strife until the recent troubles, Felt doesn’t really understand how things work down in Belkhyde. Within a matter of minutes of landing in the middle of a desert, alone and without appropriate supplies, he passes out, only to be rescued by feisty young woman Noin, who is part of an organisation named Simsilt. And this is what kicks off one of the major narratives in the game.

Belkhyde is a land somewhat divided. The local Empire, as Empires are wont to be in role-playing games, is keen to make it as undivided as possible by conquering all of it as soon as possible, but certain portions of the population are not all that happy with this idea. Specifically, there are some who believe that the Slaith dynasty, a royal family who were ousted from the city of Riesevelt twelve years prior to the events of the game, survived the Imperial invasion, and will once again take their rightful place on the throne.

Simsilt is an organisation absolutely dedicated to this cause, and it doesn’t take Felt long to realise that they are the “good guys”. It’s not hard to work out, to be fair; the consul placed in charge of Riesevelt is a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work that even his underlings seem to absolutely despise, so Felt has no hesitation in signing up to help out the group, seeing them, as he does, as “people in need”. Yes, he’s one of those types of heroes.

So where does the whole “conflict between Azoths” thing come up in all this? Well, it so happens that the unfortunately named Chaos, a general in the Imperial army, wields the Crimson Azoth and is more than capable of using it to do some fairly unpleasant things if he feels the need to — most notably a skill named Exzanosis, which turns its target to stone. Felt runs into Chaos on more than one occasion and things don’t always go too well; the Azure Azoth begins to doubt that he is the one who will be able to help it accomplish its mission, but Felt remains resolute — he’s started, so he’ll finish.

Meanwhile, back in Eden, Viese has discovered a lost, seemingly orphaned young child named Iris who appears to display an unnatural talent for alchemy in that she can accomplish item synthesis without using a Mana spirit to assist. This is absolutely unheard of in both the time of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana and Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, but by the time Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm rolls around, it very much becomes the norm — inasmuch a vocation such as “alchemist” can ever be considered “normal” — and indeed becomes the standard for much of the rest of the series.

The observant will, of course, recognise child Iris in this game as bearing an uncanny resemblance to the projections of the legendary Iris Blanchimont in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, she who was doing her best to do alchemy “properly” while the rest of the alchemists in the mystical city of Avenberry were gradually hurtling towards their own inevitable destruction. While Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny doesn’t give any concrete proof that they are the same person, it’s a reasonable conclusion to make, given what we know; Viese makes a big deal of telling Iris that she’s “part of her family now” and “her sister” which would, in theory, see her saddled with the last name Blanchimont.

Further evidence of this is provided by common elements between the two games: while the worlds of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana and Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny might not immediately appear to be the same or even similar, just now and then you come across little bits and pieces that confirm it for you. You visit a location called the Spring of Nelvia in both games, for example, while the ultimate alchemical objective of each installment — the creation of a Ruby Prism for one reason or another — involves a visit to an imposing monument called the Tower of Marcus.

Indeed, even the Ruby Prism is created in the same way in both games, and it’s just as much of a faff to acquire the ingredients in each. Rather charmingly, Gurgu’s Cane, one of the major ingredients required to construct the Ruby Prism, is just found as an item in a completely unprotected, unassuming little chest in an otherwise unremarkable part of one of Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm’s dungeons; there’s nothing like a bit of trolling of long-term fans, is there?

As the narrative on the ground in Belkhyde starts to escalate towards a dramatic finale, we start to learn a little more about Chaos and his motivations. These are actually hinted at right at the very beginning of the whole game, but it’s a scene easily forgotten in the midst of everything else that happens. Chaos, as it happens, seeks the power of the Azoth — or more specifically, alchemy in general, which has long been absent from Belkhyde, remember — in order to resurrect his dead sister Rie. He is willing to do anything in pursuit of his dream, failing to see that the power he is provided with through the Crimson Azoth is corrupting him absolutely. Absolute power and all that, you know?

This is perhaps one of the most important themes in the overarching narrative of Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny: the fact that alchemy — much like many other things in the world — is not inherently a “good” or “evil” field of study. Rather, it is all about how you apply it: whether you use it to help, hinder or hurt others. It’s not hard to extrapolate this message to some real-world applications — science being the most obvious equivalent, since it is science that provides us with, among other things, the vast majority of the things we need to both harm and heal our fellow man.

Viese is a clear example of someone who would never use alchemy for evil purposes. She makes this abundantly clear any time she makes an attack item for Felt; she doesn’t even like making healing items, because it makes her worry that Felt might have to use it on himself, which means he might have gotten himself hurt.

Chaos himself clearly isn’t an irredeemably bad person, either; it becomes more and more obvious as time goes on that the person really calling the shots is actually the presence within the Crimson Azoth; Chaos simply let that presence into his heart and mind by his life-consuming desire to bring his sister back from the dead.

What makes Chaos’ story all the more tragic is that his quest was futile from the beginning; nothing, not even alchemy, can bring the dead back to life. He has been in pursuit of “the ultimate medicine” — in Atelier terms, this is the Elixir item, which Viese is happily producing by the gallon come endgame — in the mistaken belief that this can “cure death” itself. In a rather beautiful and poignant moment in the late game, Felt and his friends come across the elaborately decorated shrine where Chaos has been honouring his sister’s body since her passing, and they administer Elixir, even though they know it serves no purpose whatsoever. It’s a silent acknowledgement that they understand Chaos’ pain, and how it led him down the road he’s trapped on.

The real villain of the piece, however? Now that’s someone who is not above making use of alchemy for purely evil, self-interested ends. And, as you might expect, the mysterious Iris ties in with all this, too, what with her seemingly magical powers of creation. Like the art of alchemy, the ability to create things seemingly from nothing is not an inherently “good” or “evil” thing — it’s all about how you use that power, and accept the responsibilities it brings with it.

And this concept comes back again and again over the course of the various narrative threads as a whole: through the restoration of the Slaith dynasty to the throne of Riesevelt; through Viese’s mastery of alchemy; even through Noin’s considerable daddy issues. In all these cases, the people involved are faced with a choice: given the power to make some sort of significant “change”, what would you do? Would you use that power to benefit yourself? To help others? Or just to destroy?

It’s an age-old question, but it’s always fun to ponder. And Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny certainly gets one thinking about such things.

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