Our Man in Japan -- Mana in Japan
DeanRaker - Columns - Comments - 09/09/04

By Shou Suzuki (a.k.a. Kitsune)

It seems the next game for Nippon Ichi to translate is Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana from developer Gust. Gust is well known among RPG fans over here for unique high-quality games. Gust has shown for years the level of talent that Nippon Ichi has only recently manifested. That said, I believe Eternal Mana is not one of their better games.

It's true that this anime-inspired game does have gorgeous 2D environments and lively isometric towns with a great sense of scale. It's also true that it has a relatively fresh system of movement in the overworld so that you feel more in control of your character (rather than bumping against a mountains or a rivers, you can actually climb a tree). And it's also true that there's a fun system of converting scenery in the environment around you into alchemical materials. In turn, these are used in battle and in a creation system that lets you make richly inventive items. The battle system is also well thought out, with respect to its mechanical clockwork. With a collector who give you bonuses for items you've hunted, it'll appeal to obsessive compulsive disorders.

However, besides all this, the game is far too conservative. Too easy, not enough variety, doesn't encourage much tactical thought. Although the control in the game is a no-brainer, it has several irritating hang-ups. And while you still own a shop of sorts that you can develop (more on that later), the more normal RPG design guts its complexity so it only serves as a supporting system. Eternal Mana seems to be obsessed with following some sort of blueprint for RPG design that makes it feel like the Thomas Kinkaide of JRPGs. It isn't awful, but it is mediocre.

It is also worth mentioning that Mana is much more designed to satisfy hardcore anime fans. While many RPGs that come from Japan have art styles specific to certain kinds of anime, most neglect to further introduce other conventional elements such as camera angles, character tropes, plot development standards, and general construction. This is true of Gust's earlier games, which don't play like anime come alive, nor are their plot elements inspired by anime tropes. This would be neither here nor there, except that Eternal Mana seems obsessed with checking off as many items in the Great Anime Checklist as it can. You could almost play it as a drinking game: Spot the Anime Cliche. Many games have used anime ideas without succumbing to cliches. Eternal Mana is not one of them.

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