Thursday, July 12, 2018

Five things that made it really easy for me to put more than 60 hours into The Alliance Alive

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, you may have seen me trumpet the fact that I finished The Alliance Alive a short time ago--after putting more than 60 hours into it.

Actually, you may have seen me celebrate the same accomplishment in one of my most recent posts here, too.

Regardless, you know now. And, really, as thrilled as I am that I reached The Alliance Alive's credit roll and devoted so many hours to it along the way, I'm even more thrilled that I enjoyed pretty much every one of the nearly 4,000 minutes I spent with this portable RPG.

Why? Here are the first five reasons that came to mind:

Awakening "battle arts" is completely addictive--If you're not quite up to speed on The Alliance Alive's inner workings, "battle arts" are special attacks or moves that are tied to specific classes of weapons. If you give one of your characters a spear, for example, one of her battle arts may be "Charge," which causes her to race toward and through an enemy. While using that art, you might "awaken" another one, like "Spear Fishing" or "Triple Strike." The key word here is might. There's seemingly no rhyme or reason for when a character will learn a new battle art. You may go a number of encounters without awakening even one, or you may awaken three or four in a single tussle. I know some players find the randomness annoying, but I love it. You never know when a new--and likely more fabulous--move is going to fall into your lap.

The soundtrack is sublime--And not only that, but it's surprisingly varied. Some tracks, like "Rainy World" and "Sealed Museum," are fairly ambient in nature, while others, like "Clockwork City Gearlock" and "Fiery World," pulsate and soar thanks to plucky piano bits and pleasantly synth-y strings. (My favorite of them all is "Flight," which pops up later in the game but is well worth the wait.) The brilliance of The Alliance Alive soundtrack came as no surprise to me, by the way, as I knew going in that Masashi Hamauzu had composed the bulk of it. Some of his previous credits: Chocobo no Fushigi na Dungeon for the original PlayStation, Final Fantasy X for the PS2, and this title's precursor, The Legend of Legacy. (Psst! You can listen to The Alliance Alive's entire soundtrack here.)

The "water devil dens" provide the game with just the right amount of toughness and creepiness--Truth be told, a lot of The Alliance Alive's content could be called "standard fare." That's not a complaint or a critique; it's a simple statement of fact. What am I talking about here? The locations you explore while wandering the game's expansive map are a good example, as are the beasts you battle along the way. I wouldn't make the same claim about its "water devil dens," though. These optional dungeons dot the landscape and can be accessed via malevolent-looking whirlpools. As you might expect based on their name, they're teeming with some of the nastiest baddies in the whole game. The best thing about these "dens," in my opinion: they give The Alliance Alive a sense of otherworldly tension that helps it break free from the "typical JRPG" mold the game's developers seemingly used to create a good chunk of the rest of this sprawling adventure. (The next best thing about them: the creepy lines enemies spout before battles begin.)

Once it finally clicked, The Alliance Alive's guild system proved to be surprisingly cool (not to mention helpful)--Another aspect of The Alliance Alive that helps it steer clear of "cookie cutter" territory are the guild towers that stick out from the surrounding environment like giant, Victorian weather vanes. Early on, it's hard to make heads or tails of these structures and their inhabitants. The game attempts to explain things, but none of it clicked with me until I was a good 20 or so hours into my playthrough. Which is a shame, because once you "get" The Alliance Alive's guild system, you realize what a cool game changer it is. The gist: if you're within a certain range of a guild tower, it may support you in battle. One type stuns all enemies for a turn. Another wallops them with a massive attack. Yet another weakens their defenses. That's awesome in and of itself, of course, but it becomes even more so after you build a network of towers and you come within range of a number of them at the same time. And that's just scratching the surface of the benefits these spires offer players who devote time and energy to them. (To learn more, check out this article.)

It's got a character who fights enemies while sitting inside a duck-shaped "power suit"--And not only that, but she eventually fits it with a floaty so it can cross pools of lava. This character, named Tiggy, isn't the only appealing one in The Alliance Alive, by the way. A few others include a "daemon" lady with fox-like ears and tail, a "beastfolk" that looks to be a cross between a lizard and an antelope, a loud-mouthed penguin, and a youthful, hard-nosed businessman (businessboy?) who uses a wheelchair and wears a pot with a teddy bear strapped to it on his head. That's a long way of saying this game has a colorful cast of characters. Sadly, you can't add that last one--the one with the bear stuck to his noggin--to your party, but believe me when I say you're sure to like a lot of the beings that populate The Alliance Alive despite that unfortunate oversight.

That's not the extent of what I found appealing about The Alliance Alive during the 60-plus hours I devoted to it, mind you. I also loved how its non-player characters change what they say to you based on who's currently serving as your main party member, for example. And I similarly enjoyed being allowed to speed up battles with the press of a button.

Is there any room for improvement after all of the above has been taken into consideration? Definitely. As colorful as its cast of characters is, there's no question it could be even more diverse. (Every human in The Alliance Alive seems to be white, straight, and cisgender.) And I would've killed to be able to add some of its more interesting NPCs, like the aforementioned boy with the stuffed animal attached to his skull, the Guild Girls (see above), and Princess Yukiha to my party, even if only after the end credits rolled.

Don't let those few shortcomings keep you from starting through The Alliance Alive yourself. I found it to be an almost shockingly special title, all things considered, and as such I can't recommend it strongly enough to anyone who still has a 3DS and who typically enjoys role-playing games.

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