The Blue Skies Are Real

User Rating: 8 | The Alliance Alive 3DS

I’ve been so loving this game. It’s kind of been a slow burn, but definitely not a boring one. In spite of some weird (and minor) flaws, the characters, story, and mechanics just come together in such an endearing way.

In terms of prose, The Alliance Alive isn’t Final Fantasy Tactics or anything quite so heavy, but the dialogue is enjoyable and efficient. There’s nothing here, really, RPG gamers haven’t already seen, yet the tale is weaved together in a clever and satisfying way. The characters matter – you’ll care about what happens to them – and rather than cramming awkward filler in at every turn, exchanges here offer everything needed to keep you interested without ever bogging you down in endless text. The Alliance Alive knows exactly where it wants to go from the start, and it neither rushes you nor bores you on its way there.

I only played a short bit of the developer’s previous 3DS game, The Legend of Legacy, losing interest quite early into it, and my experience with the Suikoden series was limited to the Tierkreis game on the original DS last generation. So, I went into The Alliance Alive fairly fresh.

One thing I did immediately notice, however, was that, like The Legend of Legacy, the battle system and other mechanics in The Alliance Alive took a bit of time to wrap my head around. The game felt a tad bewildering at the onset. To be completely honest, I played for about an hour, put it down, and went back to the re-mastered version of Radiant Historia. But as with the original version of that game, I got fatigued about 10-12 hours in. So, I picked Alliance back up and never looked back.

It’s a turn-based battle system, nothing really confusing on the face of it. There’s no job system or set classes, and your characters don’t level up; they simply gain HP and SP (health and mana, respectively). They do, however, gain new weapon abilities randomly through use of other various weapon abilities, and there are talents you can invest in to further improve your characters. There are a lot of moving parts here, the explanations for which you really have to watch out for lest you be left scratching your head wondering what you might have missed.

One of the weirdest additions early on is that of the guild towers. All of a sudden you’ll find yourself receiving aid from guild towers during combat on the field. As you progress deeper into the story, those guild towers increase in level, offering your party members new skills, weapons and abilities. But you’ll first need to build new towers and recruit NPCs to man the towers. Though the game’s world isn’t vast by any means, there are many fun, little things to discover. You’ll likely find yourself quickly getting sidetracked, trying to complete tasks outside the main story that will improve your party in meaningful ways.

There are, however, a handful of issues I had with the game, the main one being the poorly communicated effects stats have on weapon/spell damage. In the game and on the official website, for instance, you’re told the Focus stat affects bow damage. However, through testing by the community at large, it seems other stats, such as Agility and Strength, also affect bow damage, and that might even vary among characters (it hasn’t yet been determined for certain at the writing of this review). And of course, that goes for sigils, spears and just about every other offensive weapon/spell in the game. It makes planning and building your party a bit maddening at times.

Other elements of gameplay are equally unclear, such as what weapon skills are required to be used in order to unlock other skills. Is it a skill tree of sorts, or will any weapon skill do? It’s difficult to know for certain. There’s this underlying feeling throughout much of the game that you’re just kinda winging it.

That being said, once you’ve found a recipe that works, playing through the game and building up your characters becomes an addictive and enjoyable experience. There are dens you’ll find along the way that offer challenging gauntlets with valuable loot, as well as many interesting NPCs and playable characters to recruit and story choices that will affect whether or not those characters are still around to join your alliance. Not only do weapon/spell skills level up the more you use them, you can level up your guilds by adding more recruits to each. Doing so equals better sigils, better stances, better stuff all around.

Guilds end up playing a very significant role in the game, and before you know it, you’ll be off hunting for hours trying to find new recruits to populate guilds. The library guild, for instance, not only houses all of the story information and bestiary, the NPCs in each tower will offer tons of useful info to set you on your way.

There are also interesting ports of interests hidden throughout the game’s five main realms. You’ll come across hot springs, secret caves that can only be accessed through use of the Ornothopter (one of the game’s multiple travel vehicles), and black markets where you can purchase higher-level gear with “chaos gems” found throughout the game.

Changing gears a bit, the game’s soundtrack definitely deserves special attention. It’s simply magical, and not just the compositions themselves, but also the way in which they’re presented.

Rather than jumping in and out of a unique theme with each battle, the overworld music is seamless unless you enter a boss battle or battle powerful enemies. It’s a little thing, but something almost no other RPGs do, and for me, it really helps to keep from breaking the game’s feeling of immersion. And yet when the theme does change at the beginning of a battle, the game is then cuing you that you’re now facing a more formidable enemy or mob.

The musical pieces are also such a wonderful match for the environments they’re linked to, and when the mood of the story changes, the music makes subtle changes that never feel jarring. It’s a masterfully crafted soundtrack.

Unfortunately, there is no voice acting, not even during cutscenes. It’s noticeably awkward at first, but as you delve deeper into the story, you won’t miss the omission much. Again, the dialogue is short, to-the-point, and almost completely free of filler nonsense. Sure, there are tropes galore, but the writing is smart and lean.

The visuals are equally satisfying, with quaint, detailed-town settings. The overworld can seem a bit sparse in comparison, however, and character faces are pretty basic. But the game runs smoothly, and battle animations are enjoyable to watch without ever overstaying their welcome. The ability to speed through battles and cutscenes is an appreciated quality-of-life addition. One feature of particular note is the ability to actually rewind cutscenes – how cool is that!

Without being too philosophical or politically deep, The Alliance Alive manages to tell a satisfying and interesting tale that makes an almost-perfect backdrop to its addictive gameplay. Though individually clichéd, there’s something about this blend of characters that makes them endearing. There are the obvious starring roles, but ultimately it’s an ensemble cast. There are some oversights in the descriptions (or lack thereof) of stats and their effects, but on the whole, the game has all the right parts in all the right places.