Okay, so we've got the unlikely, underage hero who's been chosen by a talking sword to save the world. Your character, the half knight, half matter-manipulating alchemist Felt, is then off to another realm that's oppressed by a corrupt empire, and gets caught up in a growing rebellion. A larger plan is revealed, and Felt's group of fellow travelers turns out to be more important than it seems.
Hmm ... sounds a lot like every traditional, turn-based RPG we've ever played. From its "gotta save the day" storyline to the repeated, palette-swapped graphics, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny hardly screams originality - but even derivative works can be fun.
The key idea in Iris 2 is balance. Felt's on a mission to restore his magical, floating home by fighting monsters, while his childhood gal pal Viese hangs back and brews up new items. You can switch between Felt and Viese at any save point, but be warned: Viese's role is all about mixing ingredients and crafting new weapons, magical attacks and life-giving potions. It's more than a little frustrating to go from sword-swingin' Felt to Viese's long list of errands. It's cute, sure, and even sweet to see her concerned for Felt, but it wears thin.
What does work, though, is the alchemy system that Viese uses. There are raw ingredients all over the place, each of which can be stirred together to make something new. Obviously, there are secret, more powerful recipes and ingredients hidden in the world, but after you create something once, you're free to copy it forever. Easy inventory means easy gameplay.
Even the most heart-warming characters can't make a game fun to play, though. That's where the breakneck pace of the new battle system comes in. Instead of just taking turns, you're vying for placement on an action bar. Whenever your character's icon reaches the end of the line, you can choose all sorts of attacks - charged-up special moves, items or one of two types of physical blows.
The first is straight-up damage. You hit the dragon or slime or whatever the thing in front of you may be. End of story, back to the end of the line. Or you can go for a break attack, which pushes the enemy further back on the action bar. If you can time your attacks right, you can plow through creatures before they even get a chance to hit back.
Trouble is, they can do the same stuff. Thus, the battles are furiously fast and require constant attention. Iris 2 is pretty easy on the whole, though, so don't expect many knock down, drag out fights. Still, being able to actually clear the room of enemies and random battles is a huge plus.
There are so many ways to create items and customize weapons, it's easy to think Iris 2 has an ocean's depth. It really doesn't. The story shepherds Felt and his intrepid group from place to place, then bounces back to Viese and more potions classes. But dammit ... everything's so crisp and workable that it's hard not to just smile and deal with all the little problems that try to bring the game down.