One of the great tragedies of the industry are titles published during a platform’s twilight era. While it might seem such a game would benefit from an immense user base, the hype machine is almost always focused on promoting the next big product on the horizon, leaving little bandwidth for deserving titles from the current hardware generation. As such, some truly deserving games like Persona 4 and Etrian Odyssey Nexus ending up with restrained sales figures.
Arriving during the last bountiful year for the Nintendo 3DS, The Alliance Alive wasn’t perfect, but managed to offer a number of enjoyable elements. Much of the game’s merit was rooted in a skillful approach, which gave players direction, but also extended an astounding amount of autonomy for a portable title. While the Switch has a several console ports that let players determine their approach, most portable adaptations aren’t as indulgent. Because of this The Alliance Alive HD is a near-essential experience for RPG devotees who overlooked the original 3DS iteration.
Although 2015’s The Legend of Legacy was predominantly developed by Cattle Call and Grezzo, several industry vets from FuRyu lent their expertise to the title. With The Alliance Alive, many of core creatives returned, extending mechanics that evoked the mechanics of the golden age of role-playing, while offering enough innovation to ensure that Alliance was no retread. If you’ve enjoyed the genre for extended span, expect to marvel at how intuitive Alliance Alive HD all feels, and how the studio managed to get a myriad of moving parts operating in near-perfect unison.
Yoshitaka Murayama, the director and writer of the first three Suikoden games, lends his prodigious talents to the game. Once again, he’s crafted a storyline that’s full of the genre’s requisite twists and turns yet also shirks convolution. The game’s prologue establishes a backdrop where a disheartening dominance looms both in the hearts of the populace and across the drab skies above. After the deployment of the Great Barrier, the world has been segregated into five realms, pushing a faction called the Beastfolk to bully the citizens of Rain Realm about. Another woeful consequence is the persistent layer of clouds in the lower atmosphere, blanking the land with an unrelenting cover of grey. Yet, a seed of hope emerges when a painting depicts an azure sky and a flying ark, suggesting that the possibility of revolution is possible.
Pleasingly, Murayama’s script doesn’t succumb to protracted expository, steadily developing context and character along the way. Another interesting angle is that the narrative doesn’t have an individual focus, opting to shift the spotlight across an ensample of its nine party members. While there’s a seriousness surrounding the proceedings, the tone avoids becoming too melodramatic, making the forty-hour adventure feel thoroughly enjoyable. The sole downside is dialog and even cutscenes lack any type of voice acting, muting some of the emotional impact during pivotal plot points.
But assigning distinctive inflections to the cast might have been difficult, given the mutability of characters. Refreshingly, Alliance Alive moves away from the rigid Dungeons & Dragons style tropes, permitting players to nurture their own distinct adventurers. Sure, members start with an identifiable affinity, but almost any character can be equipped with any of the game’s seven types of weapons.
Naturally, it might make for an awkward fit at first, with a reedy Signimancer able to wrap his hands around a hulking broadsword. But stick with the weaponry, and your repertoire of abilities, called Arts will continue to grow. Instead of earning upgrades at a slow but steady pace, the use of an art can prompt a character to Awaken, where they’ll either improve the ability of their Art, or learn a new one. During much of Alliance Alive HD, it occurs at an energizing frequency, making combat persistently interesting, as you experiment with your new abilities and acquire new ones that renew the gameplay loop. Gratifyingly, the game gives you further control over the cultivation of your characters, spending skill points or even opting to seal Arts, where you’ll forgo new abilities to augment your existing ones.
Additional strategizing is rooted in Alliance Alive’s Formations, which reflect the battle stances adopted by your party. Adjustable at the beginning of every turn, that allow your team up to five combatants to be placed on front, middle, and rear zones. Additionally, there are a trio of functions available, with characters able to Attack, Guard, or Support, thereby earning potential stat bonuses. Like many of Alliance Alive’s other components there’s a lot of flexibility, and much of the fun steam from micromanaging Formations and positional roles, to gain an upper hand against foes. Since different enemies are vulnerable to specific types of attacks, the title goads gamers into studying details and experimenting with the myriad of tactical opportunities at your disposal.
Given the game’s sprawling overworld and the occasional daunting danger that can devastate your party, you’ll need to glean every last advantage. And fortunately, there are a myriad of ways to improve your odds. There are five different guilds who specialize in everything from Signimancy, blacksmithing, to reconnaissance. Typically held up in sprawling spires, these factions can offer an immediate assistance, using say cannon fire to pelt any antagonists you encounter. But they’re arguably more helpful in the long term, with allegiance extending new spells, weapons and armor, and more effective survival tools. Cleverly, the guilds are populated with recruited procured during side-quests, making what’s often meddlesome work feel indispensable.
The sheer number of interconnected systems could sink other games in convolution. But with Alliance Alive components are all intuitively designed, transparently expressing effectiveness or inadequacy. Satisfyingly, there’s seldom a requirement to grind simply to inflate the stature of a boss battle. Save for one or two instances (a midpoint party split and subsequent battle is notably thorny), it’s usually possible for your team to avoid those moments of compulsory battle training. But should you want to strengthen the party in an effort to help alleviate the difficulty, the title offers a fast-forward feature that lets you zip through petty scraps.
Save for Masashi Hamauzu’s multiplicity of melodic accompaniments, the original release of Alliance Alive has some utilitarian aesthetics. As the new moniker demonstrates, the game has been given a makeover, which contributes clarity to the game’s characters and backdrops. That said, the title still shows its roots at times, with a lack of voice acting and chibi characters that exhibit only a modicum of facial expressions. On the upside, the use of a watercolor-esque palette and environmental variety across the five realms make up for a presentation that’s occasionally a bit plain. While The Alliance Alive isn’t a visual stunner, it’s rarely unattractive, merely uninspired.
On the 3DS, Alliance Alive succeeded by providing an autonomy that was rare in portable role-playing games. But on the Switch, the title is forced to face competition that often began life as full-fledged console title. FuRyu’s remastered effort is elevated by progression system echoing Square’s SaGa series as a compelling storyline as engaging combat. It’s just not as essential on Switch.
The Alliance Alive HD Remastered was played on
Switch with review code provided by the publisher.