Alliance Alive HD is a remaster of the 2018 3DS title developed by Cattle Call (Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits). The original 3DS title’s development with aid from Grezzo (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D).
Why I got into Alliance Alive HD?
I was looking for a budget (under $30) J-RPG to play on Switch. At the time, Tales of Vesperia, and The Grandia HD Collection were on sale. Both titles are vastly superior to Alliance Alive HD, but alas, I already own them, and have played them to death on their original systems. Consequently, I was forced to look elsewhere.
The Switch E-shop is filled with J-RPGs, and Japanese dating sims. Most of these, I consider shovel ware garbage. NIS, and Kemco might have some hidden gems in there. But Kemco specifically, seems to release a dozen JRPGs a year. All with generic anime artwork, and 16-bit era graphics, which is never a good sign.
Thus, NIS’ Alliance Alive HD caught my eye. Alliance Alive’s artwork, strangely, brought back memories of Bravely Default, and it had some JRPG royalty behind its development.
Yoshitaka Murayama, creator of the Suikoden series, was behind the game’s story, and as I mentioned before, Cattle Call, of Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits fame was behind the game’s development. What could possibly go wrong with my $24.99 investment?
Bad PlayStation 2 Era Graphics
While Alliance Alive HD features a distinct type of (almost Chibi like) character artwork. This style seemed different, at least when stacked against the huge crop of generic looking ‘shovelware’ J-RPGs featured on Nintendo’s e-Shop.
The actual in game execution of the game’s artwork is mixed at best. The game’s 3-D overworld is huge. It is full of optional boss battles, and chaosium gems to find. The over-world itself, is no different from 32-bit era over-worlds. It features miniaturized (in relation to the character avatar) buildings, trees, and other landmarks.
Alliance Alive HD looks PlayStation era through and through. In fact, if not for the “HD” coat of clarity, I could have been told that this was a remaster of a PS1 game, and I would have believed it. This was disappointing to me, as the game is a Nintendo 3DS remaster. The 3DS hardware was more powerful than the PS2, and Alliance Alive is a late generation 3DS title.
The Towns, and dungeons are 3-D with fixed top/panoramic camera angles. The texture work in these areas seem to be hand drawn. Truth be told, most of these areas have an uninspired look to them, except for the late floating islands section. The developers were shooting for the JRPG “Golden Era” look, also known as the 32-bit era look. Still, many games like Xenogears, and Grandia looked a level or two beyond what is shown here, never mind contemporary Nintendo Switch games like Dragon Quest 11.
Sometimes great graphics can make a drab, and ‘by the book’ game like Alliance Alive an enjoyable experience, but sadly, that is not the case here.
J-RPG 101 Gameplay With a Twist
Alliance Alive HD plays like every other generic J-RPG that has ever been made. Trigger plot points in towns (and in this case guild towers), navigate the overworld while encountering enemies to grind (enemies can be seen on screen) on your way to a ‘dungeon’. Once in the dungeon some pedestrian puzzles, and a Boss battle at the end await. Consequently, players will rinse and repeat this cycle all the way to the game’s uninspired conclusion.
Alliance Alive HD makes some efforts to break away at times from this formula. Some backtracking during a long mid game section is needed in order to destroy the “Ether Gears.” Once you get the ‘Brionac’ the game opens its overworld making it possible to venture into different, and more dangerous areas.
In this regard, Alliance Alive does better than most linear J-RPGs of its kind. It is possible to recruit party members outside of those forced upon the player by the game’s storyline. For example, I recruited a Penguin in one of my travels through a Water Devil den.
It is the game’s “open” approach to its world map where I found some of the little joy to be had within Alliance Alive. Different vehicles can be used, including a giant bunny as a mount. These vehicles have different cons and pros. So, at times the game does present a bit of a puzzle in the way that it allows the players to tackle the over world. Once you get the flying ship (flying ability for the Brionac), however, no area is unreachable.
Combat is standard turn-based fare. Alliance Alive does try to get a bit more complex than most in this regard. Five party members can battle at once. Party field positioning and skills matter. A character with a shield, and a high skill level can protect other party members provided that he/she is placed in the right range. You can have two primary weapons equipped to each party member. Each weapon has a set of particular skills that party members learn as they gain the game’s EXP (Talent Points). But, in a twist, battling alone will not help unlock these skills. Rather, it is the use of the weapon (how often, and what techniques are used) that dictates the skill gains.
In this way, the game is a lot like some Western RPGs that encourage the use of a particular weapon, or class in order to experience growth in it. However, given the difficulty of the some of the latter bosses in the game, I found this system to be tedious and at times unpredictable.
The game allowed me to reach its final boss, easily (during the last stretch of battles), but the final boss kicked my arse (in epic fashion). Thus, the game forced into a long stretch of battles in that final area in the hopes to power up my characters (since only HP, SP, techniques, and skills can be leveled up).
Getting my characters to an adequate state was largely a process of faith, and constant battling. HP, and the leveling of skills were gained too randomly for me to feel like I was progressing as I liked after dozens of repetitive battles.
The game adds another layer of complexity by tying a guild, and a talent point system to the proceedings. Guild towers can be erected all throughout the overworld, and different towers grant different buffs and benefits during battles. Said buffs, and benefits (The Blacksmith guild can forge more powerful weapons and armor) will be tied to a particular guild’s level. Guild levels are attained by recruiting and adding NPCs to a particular guild.
Talents are learned and upgraded by gaining and amassing talent points through battling. Talents aid in strengthening the party, but again, the way that party members reach new skills by way of “Awakening” always felt too random for my liking.
Due to its pedestrian story, and uneven boss battles, Alliance Alive HD would have benefitted more from the standard way of leveling characters than its current system of character progression. The game is thin on Storytelling; thus, I spent the greater part of its 37-hour runtime battling, and many times I didn’t feel like my party members were getting stronger given the effort I was putting forth in grinding.
Seeking out the more powerful enemies helps in advancing the rate of progression, but there is still a random component to everything that I quite never felt comfortable with.
One of the Worst Stories Ever Told
Given that the man behind Suikoden is behind Alliance Alive’s script, I entered the game with the highest of expectations. The game’s story, however, is as bland as the game’s visuals. It almost feels like Murayama just ‘phoned in’ the game’s tale. The setting is interesting enough, a world ruled by a Daemon ruling class, in which beast folk are used by the former to enslave and subject humans.
The premise itself had the potential for a nice political drama (see Suikoden III) at best. But these themes are never fully explored. Galil and Azura, are the main characters …or so we are led to believe, but very rarely, aside from the catchy dialog chatter between them at different plot points in the game, are the characters themselves developed. Galil and Azura, are the same unchanged kids in hour 37, as they were in hour 1.
On this regard, Ignace might be the only character that goes through a process of personal growth in the whole thing. Considering that there are nine main cast members, all with their unique (if cliched) J-RPG personalities, this was definitely a bummer.
The entire plot is pointless, the main villain’s intentions are clear, but what is unclear is how his villainous efforts benefit him, when at the end he seems to have lost his actual political power over the world thanks to his actions. Never mind his motivations which were the typical “Humans need to be restrained, and only I can bring true order to the world” ramblings.
The is just a bland, and predictable story, seen through the eyes of one of the most underdeveloped J-RPG characters in history. Honestly, had Alliance Alive been a 20-hour adventure, I wouldn’t have minded the pedestrian story as much. However, after the 25 hour mark, I just wanted the game to end so that I could forever be done with it.
The story itself never receives an emotional boost from its amateurish soundtrack. The lack of voice acting only served to reinforce the unimportance of Alliance Alive’s characters and the game’s low budget feel.
Avoid Alliance Alive HD if you can
Alliance Alive HD feels at times like an indie JRPG. Repetitive enemy design, a bland PS1 looking overworld, and straight forward storytelling screams low budget at every corner. But indie games have come a long way in the last decade, so perhaps, Alliance Alive HD feels truly like a middle of the pack indie-JRPG under the guise of a full blown “AA” title.
The game offers a good amount of freedom and customization in its ‘by the book’ JRPG traditional gameplay. But the PS1 visuals, and the game’s miserable excuse for a plot make it difficult to enjoy, even in its few shining moments.
Interesting character progression system only serves to over complicate a game whose storyline and presentation didn’t merit such efforts. Uneven boss difficulties, and long stretches of battles in which the player cannot replenish the party’s SP can make Alliance Alive a frustrating game.
There is freedom of exploration throughout the adventure, and this is one the game’s few saving graces. However, most of the rewards for going out of your way and exploring off the beaten path are not grand. Getting a good Great Sword required for me to embark on a multiple hour journey (which at times involved battles while in the Water Devil dens) to seek out 90 chaosium gems. The venture was even more tedious than it sounds.
Never has an RPG of moderate length, annoyed as much during in its grinding stretches as Alliance Alive HD has.
If Alliance Alive HD would have been released 20 years ago on the PlayStation 2, it would have been a pedestrian looking game. As a 2018 3DS remaster, Alliance Alive HD is a pedestrian looking game. Simple textures map a basic over world, and mostly uninspired art design permeates throughout the adventure.
Bland, and Forgettable music. No voice acting. Alliance Alive, aurally, manages to somehow outdo in mediocrity its generally forgettable story, and visual presentation.
I have played worst stories before. I am sure of it. I just cannot recall one that was as inconsequential, and as forgettable as Alliance Alive’s.
I wanted the game to end 25 hours into my first playthrough. There is nothing in this JRPG that will keep it booted up in your system after its initial run time.
I cannot recommend Alliance Alive HD to RPG fans. Despite the lineage of its developing team, the game is the shining beacon of shovel ware JRPG garbage. There is nothing functionally wrong with the title, as Cyberpunk 2077 this is not. However, the game’s lack of character development, un-balanced boss difficulty, and tedious systems make it hard sell. Once you have made the mistake of starting a playthrough, a tedious – if boring – adventure awaits.
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