The JRPG genre has been kind to me, I have fond memories of playing various series and imaging all the adventures I went on with my friends and creatures – and friendly creatures. So any chance to break out the 3DS and go exploring is a welcome change, and The Alliance Alive is that rare title I’ve been able to give proper time and it absolutely charmed me from beginning to end. It doesn’t break the mold, but it also doesn’t weigh the adventure down with endless leveling and angst-riddled plots.
The story begins thus: 1,000 years ago a dark chaos enveloped the world and nearly wiped out humanity. Referred to as the “Dark Current”, it left behind only isolated civilizations and scattered factions. The Daemons fretted about this new chaos, taking over and sanctioning off each area into its own realm. Humans are still alive, but they’re second-class citizens compared to their Daemon overlords who are the ultimate rulers of this new universe.
The leveling system isn’t like a classic JRPG where getting to a higher level means every ability becomes stronger. Alliance rewards using the same attacks and abilities frequently while also giving you points that can be used to upgrade just about anything your character is able to learn. Experience and usage makes some weapons and abilities stronger the more you use them, too. A sword swipe does 28 damage? Keep using it and soon it’ll increase to 30, 40, etc.
Alliance allows you to control up to nine different characters, each with various abilities that range from the classic sword and shield archetype to healer companion lobbing fireballs at every enemy in sight. You can build them up however you want by making them learn new abilities or keep improving ones they know already. You’re rewarded for playing how you want too, not how the games tell you. Personalities, on the other hand, can feel hit-or-miss. You’ll start playing with a mercenary, though it’s annoying how he goes along with anything his female companion says instead of pointing out the common sense of their situation.
Later on, however, I found myself falling in love with eccentric beastfolk women with a love of books and traveled to another realm to meet a scientist. Literary beastfolk women always make my day!
The battle system might be a deal breaker for some and even I’ll admit it can feel “grindy” after a few hours, but that’s what we’re working with. At least the world allows you some sense of freedom, meaning you don’t necessarily have to focus on a linear storyline. Feel like fighting monsters instead of delivering a package? Step out in the field and run at the weird shadowy creatures running around and build up your strength! You have a chance of earning coins and items alongside gaining extra points, so there’s an incentive to keep battling out in the field.
Exploring the world of Alliance feels mixed since you’re either running around in an open field or finding your path blocked by a large body of water. In later levels you’ll have access to devices that let you further explore the world like being able to glide between mountains or walk in lava with a giant robotic duck.
A neat touch is that during adventuring you’ll also have access to guard towers which can be real lifesavers when activated in battle. Eventually you’re able to build your own at key locations throughout each map you explore, giving you a real edge during some of the more intense fights.
Despite some of the questing and familiar tropes there were plenty of moments in the game that really surprised me. At one point I entered a cave looking for treasure and encountered three monsters, the first being a “child” and the other two called, appropriately, “Mommy” and “Daddy”. There wasn’t any explanation about who they were or what they were doing with a chest, but I had the option of leaving the treasure in the cave. Even though I beat them and retrieved my prize (of course!) the encounter left me with a sense of guilt, as if I had “stolen” from someone.
If you’re hungry for a classic JRPG experience with decent visuals and a story that keeps you interested throughout, The Alliance Alive delivers on all fronts. Yes, the terrain is pretty flat and seeing the same monsters over and over can get repetitive, but overall it’s a good experience. For people who don’t mind spending a few hours leveling characters and building up stats, you’ll find this to be a nice addition to your JRPG collection.