Anime is not a medium known for stories grounded in reality, and Fullmetal Alchemist stands even among its peers as a particularly bizarre series. For those not familiar with the core storyline, Fullmetal Alchemist revolves around the brothers Edward and Alphonse, who dabbled in some rather dark magic in an attempt to resurrect their dead mother. Instead, Alphonse's body was obliterated and Edward lost one of his legs. Ed then generously sacrificed his arm to bring his brother back, though Al returned not as flesh and blood, but instead as an empty, animated suit of armor. Ed replaced his missing limbs with mechanical versions, and the two set off in search of the Philosopher's Stone, which legend says will restore their bodies to their original states.
Luckily, Edward is an accomplished alchemist, which in the world of Fullmetal Alchemist means he can transmute matter into more useful sorts of objects. That ability comes in handy during the core side-scrolling action gameplay you'll find in the story mode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy on the DS. You'll control Ed while Alphonse sometimes fights alongside you (though you'll be going it solo in some sections), and you've got a basic punch-and-kick combo and a jump kick to fight off a bunch of enemies, Final Fight-style. We haven't noticed any unlockable combat moves or useable weapons so far, but then, we haven't gotten too deep into the story mode yet.
The gameplay gets a little deeper with a number of abilities enabled by the touch screen. As mentioned, Edward's alchemical abilities play a key role at times. When you start out, Ed has the ability to summon a wall and a cannon from thin air. The items last for only a few seconds, but that's usually enough time for you to use them to get around whatever obstacle is blocking your progress. Early on, we had to create a series of walls to use as platforms to jump across a bed of spikes that was rising and lowering out of the floor.
The cannon likewise came in handy when we had to blast a path through a barrier that wouldn't allow us to pass. Then the wall became especially useful when we hit the boss of the first area, who kept summoning rows of machine guns on either side of us that delivered a withering spread of crossfire. The solution here was to create walls on either side of us, which lasted just long enough to protect us from the gunfire.
Once in a while, you'll use the touch screen for other activities during the story mode. We reached an altar we needed to bypass to reach a staircase, for instance, and a spellcasting diagram popped up on the bottom screen that required us to tap a series of points quickly with the stylus, in the order indicated, to complete the spell and push the altar away. In a later level, we came upon and had to free a hostage tied up with a rope. The touch screen cut to a close-up view of the knotted rope, and we had to use the stylus to tug the loose ends through the knot (again with a time limit) to free the hostage.
That style of touch-screen gameplay is also available in a minigame collection accessible from the title screen. The seven games on offer here feature various characters and other elements from the series, and they all feature simplistic gameplay that's easy to get into and play quickly. There's an arm-wrestling game that makes you repeatedly swipe the stylus to pull your opponent's arm downward; trap, which makes you tap shoe icons on opposite sides of the screen as fast as you can to control Ed's running speed as he flees from a rolling boulder; scratch, which makes you literally scratch over an outline of a drawing to fill it in, all while trying to fend off cats running in from the sides of the screen to cover the drawing back up; and Fullmetal vs. Flame, which is a first-person game in which Ed is flinging various objects at you, and you have to tap them in midair to bring them down with fireballs. The problem here is that the objects fly at you in an arc and your fireballs take a second to get where they're going, so you really have to lead your targets intelligently to keep them from hitting you.
The presentation of the game looks quite consistent with the art style seen in the Fullmetal Alchemist series, as you get a lot of nice-looking, full-screen character art during the dialogue scenes, complete with frequent voice acting. It's also nice to see pure 2D games coming out for the DS. All the characters in-game have a cel-animated look to them, and the backgrounds are all hand-rendered in 2D as well. Diehard fans of the series will love the bonus mode that contains viewers for cutscenes, sounds, and character artwork, a character clock, and a weird, Fullmetal Alchemist-themed fortune-telling application.
From what we've seen so far, Dual Sympathy is looking like a fairly entertaining little side-scrolling brawler, which you can never have enough of, and all the minigames and extra bits of fan service available outside the story mode are certainly nice touches for series fans of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime. Dual Sympathy is due to hit the DS around the middle of December, so look for more on the game closer to that time.