The animated Fullmetal Alchemist remains one of the most popular shows in the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim bloc, and those enthralled and entertained by the exploits of the brothers Elric are in for a treat. The second game based on the anime series lurks on the near horizon, and Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir looks like it will offer both a solid story arc and an abundance of transmuting action. We've played through the first few chapters of the game, and we've been enjoying the tweaks developer Racjin has made to the series' formula.
Fans of the show will be familiar with FMA2's personality-packed protagonists, the Elric brothers, who suffer under the effects of a forbidden transmutation gone wretchedly wrong. The younger Alphonse Elric lost his body and lives on as a soul bound to a large suit of armor, while the older (and shorter) Edward Elric lost an arm and a leg, both replaced by special "automail" metal. The pair seeks a legendary amplifier, called the Philosopher's Stone, that can restore their bodies. And on this adventure, their search for the stone leads them to discover a number of mysterious dupes, or "crimson stones," that possess great power. The appearance of the crimson stones is concurrent with incidents of shadowy golems of unknown origin terrorizing the countryside, so it's up to the duo and some of their military state alchemist friends to ferret out the cause of all the trouble. The initial chapters of FMA2 actually draw from the earliest episodes of the anime (albeit with alternate endings) before embarking totally on an original storyline. As a result, series' fans will be on familiar footing.
Much like the first game, you'll play as the scrappy Ed, with the artificial intelligence-controlled Alphonse lumbering along behind you to lend a helping gauntlet. As the Fullmetal Alchemist (so named for his automail limbs), Ed is a proficient transmutation artist who's capable of transforming articles of his environment into useful tools. Ed's basic combat set consists of unarmed punches and kicks that you can chain into combos by pressing the square button repeatedly. After the initial punch, you can also use the triangle button to form a blade from Ed's metal arm to cut foes with, or you can use the circle button to cause Ed to summon stone spikes from the earth. As you progress, you'll also gain the ability to transmute one of three weapons on the spot: a long lance, a quick sword, or a powerful hammer, which can bash even defending enemies. For defense, the circle button by itself will throw up a stone wall in front of Ed (as you gain in level, you can make multiples of these), or you can hit the R2 shoulder button to block, dodge, or even counterattack if you press it at the right time.
That's a lot of combat options to play around with, and we're not even through. There are also various items in the level environment that Ed can transmute into a myriad of helpful creations. As you approach things you can transmute, a glowing circle will appear around it, as well as an icon letting you know what it changes into. Just some of the things we were able to transmute included bombs Ed could equip and throw, mechanical mice that would run around the level and bomb enemies, trash-can lids that would rain from the air to hit and stun nearby foes, vacuum guns that would suck up nearby enemies into a single spot for easy pummeling, boomerangs, spiked gauntlets, and a number of stationary weapons we could man, like cannons, machine guns, and demolition cranes. That's only a sampling of what you can do, and even Al gets in on the fun, as you can direct him to equip or man a given weapon by standing near it and pressing R1.
Al will generally range behind Ed, attacking enemies as they come his way with his fists or any equipped weapons. You can give limited orders to your steel-bound brother with the R1 button. Pressing it once near a weapon will cause him to pick up that weapon, as mentioned; pressing it otherwise causes Al to begin a charging attack toward whatever's in front of him. If you hold the button down instead, that calls him over to you. And as soon as he reaches Ed, he'll toss him into the air. This is helpful for getting over obstacles, but that's not all... Ed has a rage meter that charges as you fight and defend against enemies. When the bar is full, you can have Al toss you into the air. While in the air you must then press circle, which will cause huge stone fists to erupt from the earth, hitting all enemies under you multiple times. It's a great skill for the challenging bosses you'll come up against in the game.
Fighting enemies will net you experience points that will level up the brothers, and chained combos will get you bonus experience. With each level up, you'll get points to spend on leveling up the Elrics' various attributes, like health and alchemical power. And you'll find a number of items along the way that you can use to either heal yourself or equip to boost your stats even further.
The game has a brand-new, anime-cel look to the characters that is much closer to the animated show than the previous game, and the look, combined with the smooth animation, really makes this game resemble a moving cartoon. There are a variety of enemies to fight, too, from basic thugs, to grotesque chimera, to the shadowy golems that resemble Kingdom Hearts' "heartless." FMA2 also has very capable voice work, as all the characters from the television show reprise their roles for the game, and their collective delivery is very good. And since there are a lot of story sequences to go through, we appreciated that overall aural quality.
Fullmetal Alchemist 2 is shaping up quite nicely for a game based on a beloved anime property, and it looks like fans of the show (and even those not already versed on the subject matter) will have a good time. We'll know for certain when the game is released for the PlayStation 2 later in July. So be sure to keep your eyes on this gamespace for more news.