Switch be damned, there is still life in the Nintendo 3DS! The Alliance Alive proves that the 3DS is alive and kicking (see what I did there?). Developed by Cattle Call and published by Atlus, this game adopts and refines many of the gameplay features from Cattle Call’s previous 3DS title, Legend of Legacy, while adding a world map and traditional RPG story.
Being a Japanese RPG, The Alliance Alive features an epic and complex story, but with many notes that you have probably heard before. Long ago there was a deadly war between humankind and daemon kind. Like any deadly war, it didn’t end particularly well, especially for humankind this time around. The beautiful blue skies that we enjoy and take for granted were stripped away and replaced by dark clouded skies. The world’s populations were divided and closed off from one another by a giant barrier and advances made in technology and Signimancy (this game’s version of magic) were crushed underfoot by daemonkind. Fast forward a thousand years and we pick up at the start of The Alliance Alive with young resistance members Azura and Galil. For the population of this Rain Realm, they have all but forgotten the existence of anyone outside of their small island. In order to avoid any spoilers, I will just say that one thing leads to another, an ancient relic is discovered, which leads to other events and then BOOM, you have a party of nine adventurers on a quest to free humankind and solve mysteries.
While there are many familiar and reused RPG tropes on display here in The Alliance Alive, there thankfully remains some interesting and shocking plot twists and events to keep you on your toes. The characters though are the real stars of this game. There is a wonderful mix of colorful characters from the lighthearted daemon Vivian to the loveable scientist Tiggy and her giant mech rubber ducky. The supporting cast is strong as well with a solid hodge-podge of eccentric characters with their own stories. The mix of all these pieces will keep you entertained for your 30+ hour playthrough.
Alliance’s gameplay is a mix of old-school mentalities and mechanics with some interesting tweaks thrown in for good measure to spice things up from the norm. Taking a page from the classic JRPG titles of the 90s, you will be traversing a wide-open world map, littered with caves, towns, and dungeons.
Random encounters do not exist so whether you are in a dungeon or the fields, all encounters will present themselves as a little creature that will be trudging around the environment. Get to close and you will draw their attention and they will chase after you, run into other enemies while you are fleeing and you risk starting a Chain Battle where you have to take out multiple mobs of enemies. While increasing your rewards, you will also have to go through the battles without your health being recovered until all battles are complete. While we are on it, let’s talk about combat because this is where The Alliance Alive strikes its own unique cord.
At first glance, it seems like your standard fair of turn-based goodness. Give your team commands, then the monsters and your heroes smack each other until one side is dead. Simple. Clean. Easy. That is until randomness crashes through the wall like the Kool-Aid man and smacks you. Stat growth and learning skills is random. There are only two stats that actually grow, a character’s health and their SP (this games version of magic points, these are used to use your skills). Occasionally at the end of combat, you will get a notification that character X gained HP or SP.
Learning skills involves a mechanic called “Awakening”. As a character uses a move with a weapon there is a chance that they will “Awaken” a new skill. You won’t see any indication of how close you are to learning a new move or even what move it is. The moves will always be one using the weapon you are currently attacking with. As you go into new areas or equip stronger weapons, you are more likely to learn more powerful skills so you can slightly anticipate that. Your enjoyment of Alliance Alive will depend greatly on whether or not you can get past this sort of random progression. If you can get past the randomness, you still have a good amount of options when it comes to customizing your party and characters with huge talent trees and different formations.
You can find out more about that in the Professor RPG: The Alliance Alive Basic Primer here!
What makes the grind more bearable though is the ability to repeat the actions previously given to your characters and increasing the battle speed to 2x or 4x speed (this will sound familiar to anyone who has played the Bravely series of RPGs also on 3DS). Unfortunately, the repeat function could definitely use some quality of life improvements. The only way to toggle it on is a small button on the bottom touch screen and has to be toggled on each time you enter combat, including each battle in a chain battle too. Even tying auto-battle to a physical button or carrying over the auto-battle setting to subsequent encounters would have made it better.
Should you find yourself in a tough boss fight and your party members are dropping like flies, you will most likely activate the “Ignition Mode” for your remaining characters. These ignition attacks serve as Alliance Alive’s Limit Break/Desperation system. Each party member has a bar that fills when taking damage or a teammate falls in battle, and once it is filled, you enter this state and remain until you use the attack. These attacks are a double-edged sword (pun intended). You will do a gigantic amount of damage with these attacks but in return, the weapon you were using will break, and be unavailable to you until it is repaired.
The “alliance” part of Alliance Alive comes from the use of five various guilds that you will work with during your adventure. These guilds also prove to be one of the games most interesting and enjoyable aspects. You will be tasked with managing and recruiting for the Recon, Blacksmith, Signimancy, Library, and Tactics guilds.
As you recruit and assign NPCs to a respective guild, they will raise in levels, providing you with new resources, items, and buffs to your party. Recon, for instance, will give your team additional talent points after each battle or occasionally stun all enemies during combat.
Alliance Alive adopts the same style that was present in Legend of Legacy with colorful characters with larger heads and small bodies. It is a well-designed art style that has worked time and time again on the Nintendo 3DS, providing clear details and emotions with the characters. Each character looks much different from the others, adding to their individual personalities.
The map and towns are also nicely detailed with their own personality. The dreary drenched Rainy Realm with its rain clouds and grey skies, the Fire Realm with its lakes of glowing magma and streams of lava. My main complaint though with the visuals is that the camera is pulled really far back when you are in the world map, making your character appear incredibly small. I found myself wishing I could control how far out the camera was every time I was exploring.
On the audio side of things, you will get your standard RPG fare of tunes. Your exciting fast paced songs for intense fights, the calm exploration music, spooky dungeon tunes. The music, while not bad, is certainly one of the most generic and un-memorable aspects of the game. I never found myself humming a tune from the game after playing it. There were even times where the combat music wouldn’t trigger when entering a battle and it would just continue to play the music for the area I was in. While the music wasn’t anything to write home about, it never bothered me. What did, however, was the very distinct lack of voice acting. Perhaps I have been spoiled by other RPGs on the aging handheld such as Shin Megami Tensei IV, but there are times in this game, especially in the rendered cutscenes, where the lack of any voice acting is so painfully in your face that I was more focused on that then what was going on in the scene.
The Alliance Alive proves that there is still some strong content coming out for this aging handheld. The combination of strong story, interesting characters, and in-depth systems makes this game one of the stronger RPGs on the system. It may have its shortcomings, but if the randomness aspect of it doesn’t turn you off, The Alliance Alive is a strong addition to RPG fans collection.
The Alliance Alive was provided by the publisher and reviewed on a Standard Nintendo 3DS system.