Alive and Well
“I kind of want to play this again right away.” That was the first thing I thought to myself while watching the credits roll for The Alliance Alive. Unless I’m hunting for achievements (which isn’t all too common for me, anymore), that isn’t something that pops into my head all too often after beating a game. Especially when it comes to time-consuming genres, like JRPGs. Don’t get me wrong or anything. I have nothing against back-to-back playthroughs of a game. I just usually don’t have enough time to do things like that. But there I was, ready to play through this game again before I could even finish the credits. And it was that single thought right there is really all that I need to mention when discussing how I feel about this game.
Although I started The Alliance Alive with the same mindset that I have when reviewing any other game, it quickly became less about playing it for the sake of the of this review, and more about playing it for fun. It wasn’t a game I had to play; it was a game that I wanted to play. No, it’s not the first game to have that effect on me — and it won’t be the last — but it’s still worth noting. I’ve already mentioned this in my preview of the game, but there aren’t a whole lot of classically inspired JRPGs out there any more. Let alone ones that are good. But that’s exactly what The Alliance Alive is; a good — great, even — classically inspired JRPG. And that’s all the more reason to love it (despite its occasional imperfections).
Connecting the Dots
The Alliance Alive has a rather interesting approach to its own story. The game begins by following hapless young heroes and childhood friends Galil and Azura. Belonging to the Night Ravens — a resistance group dedicated to breaking the 1000-year rule of the Daemon race over Humankind — these two have been tasked with delivering important information to a guild located not too far away from their own town. Contrary do what you might think, the delivery goes through without a hitch. Things begin to go south, however, when Azura convinces Galil to help her explore a nearby museum due to the fact that, after successfully making it all the way to the deepest part of the building, the two are caught and attacked by a high-ranking Daemon — leaving Galil badly injured, and Azura completely blind.
You would think that Galil and Azura’s adventure would continue on from there — and it does for a little while. Eventually, however, The Alliance Alive throws you into a completely separate story, centered around a curious young Daemon named Vivian and her Daemon butler Ignis who, despite Ignis’ many objective, travel to the Human realm in order to study them further. And, even later on, the game switches over to a third scenario surrounding a Signimancer (a Human spellcaster, essentially) named Gene and his perky, red hood wearing bodyguard Rachel as they scope out information for the Daemons on a so-called Human resistance group. This, in and of itself, isn’t weird. There are plenty of games that switch perspectives. What I did find strange was how long each individual scenario went on for.
As it turns out, The Alliance Alive‘s scenario swapping — the part of the game which I believed to be the intro — ended up being almost half of the game. Now, to be fair, my complaint isn’t with the scenarios themselves. Each new narrative was filled with a unique stories, and vibrant characters who differed so much from one another that it literally managed to change my viewpoints on certain things within the game on several occasions. They were each incredibly detailed. And, in the end, it might have been that detail which confused me. I assumed that, by the time all of the characters finally met up, my adventure would “just be getting started”. And that, since what I had originally assumed to be the “intro” was so long (literally spanning around 20 in-game chapters),I figured that I was going to be in it for the long haul with the rest of the game. But I was wrong. Instead, the “intro” served up the bulk of the game’s story, leaving the second half to help connect the dots and wrap things up.
The Alliance Alive‘s so-called “Act 2” also has a noticeable air of ambiguity about it. While all of the major plot points are tied up in the end, I couldn’t help but notice how many smaller questions were left unanswered. Without spoiling too much, the latter half of The Alliance Alive serves up several interesting questions regarding the various races inhabiting the world, and doesn’t outright answer them. Instead, detail duty is left to the player. As much as I enjoyed the game’s story (which, despite what I may be conveying, I legitimately did), I couldn’t help but feel like it was too easy to gloss over certain things. I knew that there were a few things that I hadn’t done when I beat the game, and I couldn’t help but wonder if, had I done them, the game would have made more sense. Then again, I suppose that that was part of the reason why I was so tempted to dive back in right away.
Beyond the Horizon
When it comes to The Alliance Alive‘s gameplay, exploration is king. Most of your time within the game will be spent traveling from one place to another, never bothering to stay in one particular area for too long. On paper, that might sound kind of strange. Aren’t these classically inspired RPGs supposed to have sprawling dungeons? Isn’t exploration only a medium used to get players to get from one story-related location to the next? Well, yes. And it does work that way for the first part of the game. But, just like how the game gets less specific with its story, it also gets less specific with what it demands of the player
Traveling around a world map — much like switching between character scenarios — isn’t anything new for a JRPG. But there’s just something different about the way The Alliance Alive handles it. Something that makes it feel more… whimsical than any other games. After gaining the ability to freely travel in between worlds, the game gives you a vague set of goals to complete. But it never tells you when and how to go about accomplishing most of them. Instead, a good chunk of the story progression is left up to the player. Barring a certain floating continent, The Alliance Alive is balanced in such a way that allows you to essentially do whatever you’d like, however you’d like to.
Yet another thing that helps the exploration-heavy gameplay stand out is the absolutely ridiculous amount of optional content. The Alliance Alive is the kind of game that you could probably get through in a good 20 or 30 hours if you rushed through everything. However, that time doubles when you add in everything that isn’t absolutely mandatory. I’m not just talking about things like optional boss fights and bonus dungeons, either. There are a number of unique sub-events that you can complete — three of which will nab you additional party members (including Robbins!) — and many more which help to fill in some of the more specific parts of the plot (which definitely helps!), and expand the world around you. Honestly, while I did enjoy the game’s main story, the optional content is what really helped to seal the deal for me.
More Tower To Ya
Coupled with its “do as you please” attitude is The Alliance Alive‘s most robust new feature (albeit still technically optional) — guilds. There are five unique guilds within the world of The Alliance Alive — Signimancy, Blacksmith, Recon, Library, and Tactics — all of which you eventually convince to help you in your quest to free Humanity (thus the “alliance” part of the title). Each of these guilds serves a separate function — with the Signimancy Guild developing new spells, the Library Guild collecting new and highly useful information, and so on — that the player can take advantage of. And there is a lot to take advantage of. It just requires a bit of work on the player’s part, first!
The guilds may be up and running but, seeing as how Humanity isn’t doing so hot, they aren’t exactly thriving. That’s where you come in. Scattered around the world are characters which can be recruited into one of the five guilds. Naturally, the method of recruitment differs depending on who you’re talking to. Some potential recruits want money. Others want a show of strength. And others still will join you with little provocation at all. There are (at least by my estimation) well over 100 different characters that you can recruit, making recruiting every last character a bit overwhelming. Still, recruiting as many as you can is both beneficial and a lot of fun. After all, the larger a guild is, the more nifty weapons, spells, and skills they can supply you with!
Guild goodness doesn’t just end there, though. Along with guild recruitment, players can also build towers. The Alliance Alive kind of builds up towers to be a big thing, but I can’t say that I understood why they were so necessary. Surprisingly, a guild tower’s primary function isn’t to provide you with new tricks and treasures. Instead, they assist you in combat. When fighting near a tower, the player will occasionally receive guild support. The type of support depends upon which tower is supporting you, with Blacksmith towers attacking enemies, Tactics towers buffing your characters, and so on. The more towers you build in an area, the larger each tower’s reach and chance of helping you per turn is. The added support is nice and all, but its usefulness tends to peter out the further along in the game you go.
The More You Know
If you’ve played The Legend of Legacy and enjoyed its combat, then I’ve got some good news for you; you’re going to like fighting in this game as well. Heavily borrowing elements from its spiritual predecessor, The Alliance Alive features turn-based combat which, although standard in many ways, throws in a few unique twists. Party placement is once again incredibly important, with players being able to delegate each character in the front, middle, or back row, with each row effecting things such as aggro and attack effectiveness. Even more important however is character positioning. Each character is able to be placed in an offensive, defensive, or support position, with each position granting bonuses to attack, defense, and healing/speed respectively (and even more positions being unlocked should you choose to power up the Tactics Guild!). As a mechanic, positioning isn’t all to important in the beginning, and it can be frustrating to learn if you don’t have any previous experience with it. If that’s the case however, I highly advise that you get used to it as soon as possible, as your chances at victory vary greatly depending upon how you have your party set up later on in the game.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Cattle Call’s work, character growth isn’t exactly what you would call “traditional”. Rather than gaining EXP and levels through combat, characters develop based on their combat style. A character who takes a lot of hits, for example, may find their HP increasing, while heavy skill users may accumulate SP more quickly. As someone who enjoyed Final Fantasy II, I don’t mind growth systems like this, but I will admit that it might take some getting used to. And the fact that, while stat growth does follow a trend, it isn’t exactly consistent, doesn’t help much either.
If that isn’t strange enough for you, every non magic-related skill is learned in the middle of combat (known as “Awakenings”). Truthfully, I never got fully accustomed to these. It seemed as though Awakenings would always happen at the worst times — such as having a shield user Awakening to an attack skill, thus leaving my party open for an entire turn — but would almost never happen when I wanted them to. The game does help offset this a little bit thanks to the Talents — an EXP-like system which allows players to acquire special abilities such as reduced SP cost for skills and higher Awakening rates — but I still think that I would have liked being able to learn new attacks at normal intervals or being able to purchase them-flat out (a la Signimancy and Sorcery) better.
An Alliance, Indeed!
Despite any flaws it may carry, The Alliance Alive is a JRPG-scented breath of fresh air. It’s a game that positively oozes quality, providing a classically inspired turn-based combat adventure with just the right amount of novelty to keep things fun and exciting. If you’re an RPG fan — even casually — you’ll absolutely not want to miss this modern-day classic.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed) ; Publisher: ATLUS, FuRyu ; Developer: Cattle Call ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 27, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of The Alliance Alive given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.