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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (477)

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Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks... 4.5/5
Eiyuden Chronicle: Risi... 3/5
Psychonauts 2 4.5/5
Castle in the Clouds DX 4/5
Ocean's Heart 4/5
Just Die Already 2/5
Sable 2.5/5
Midnight Castle Succubus 4.5/5
Tower and Sword of Succ... 4/5
Thronebreaker: The Witc... 3/5
Battletoads (2020) 1.5/5
Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5
Biomutant 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 2 4.5/5
Journey to the Savage P... 4.5/5
Wasteland 3 4.5/5
Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5

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The Alliance Alive   PC (Steam) 

Why Did I Buy This?!    2/5 stars

Earlier this year, there was a game I wanted in a Fanatical Build-Your-Own-Bundle. In order to get bundle pricing, though, I needed to pick two other games from the selection available. I recognized the title of “The Alliance Alive” (“AA”), but didn’t remember why I was never interested enough in it to pick it up, so I went ahead and threw it in my shopping cart, with the final price for the three bundled games I chose coming out to around $3 a pop. It turns out that there were a NUMBER of reasons I never picked up “AA” previously, and couldn’t remember anything about it: It launched as a 3DS exclusive – one of the two Nintendo handhelds (along with the Virtual Boy) that I have never owned – and it’s published by Nippon Ichi Software, A.K.A., NIS, who only develop and publish games that aggravate me.

But I’ve been in the mood for a new RPG in my genre rotation, and… I really don’t have any new ones, with only a handful of dubious ROM fanslations and RPG Maker projects sitting in my backlog. So, as I sat down to play my first session of “AA,” I was blithely happy to be starting a new RPG that only cost me $3… then I saw the NIS logo before the title screen… then I actually started playing it…

Presentation
“AA” began life as a low-resolution 3DS game, with the ports to other platforms all taking the form of an HD remaster. In this remaster, naturally, the weird aspect ratio of two screens stacked on top of each other had to go, and the textures and polygons had to receive a boost to keep things from looking muddy, jaggy, or both. “AA” just barely manages to do its job as an HD remaster, meeting the “not muddy” and “not jaggy” qualifications, but stopping short of doing anything that would really up the visuals to another level. Environments tend to feel claustrophobic and cramped due to the original resolution. Character designs are highly stylized anime, with tiny, non-existent feet, weird U-shaped eyes, no noses, and the like. Every character is clearly based off the same basic model, however, with only a handful of beastman and monster characters deviating enough from the norm that they don’t look like one person wearing a variety of wigs and costumes. Enemy designs aren’t particularly exciting either, with copious pallet swapping and an overall unmemorable bestiary. Really, the best things about the game’s visuals are the ways it handles the traditional RPG overworld and towns. The overworld is fully geographically rendered in polygonal 3D with plenty of inaccessible nooks and crannies that require special vehicles to reach. Towns, on the other hand, are flat, pseudo-2.5D backdrops that forcibly shift the player’s perspective to give them an interesting, almost pop-up-book-like appearance… which probably looked amazing on the 3DS but is just kind of a nice stylistic choice in the remaster.

Audio is completely bland and lifeless. The game is unvoiced, but the numerous fully-animated 3D cutscenes feel like they’re just begging for some dub work. The soundtrack is… there… but completely forgettable.

Technically, “AA” is merely adequate. It includes Xinput support out of the box… but for some reason didn’t pick up my XBONE Elite controller, forcing me to use SteamInput (which is no big deal, thanks to how easy Valve makes SteamInput). On the other side of the coin, though, “AA” has absolutely NO typewriter or mouse support built-in, which is incredibly lazy for a PC port. Perhaps even more detrimental to the game’s technical presentation, though, is the weird, unorthodox button layout it uses for almost everything… and the ugly on-screen prompts that take up a lot of valuable screen real estate.

Story
“AA” in an incredibly stereotypical game that leans on tired story tropes and beats, as well as overused character archetypes to create a final experience that is simply mind-numbing for how uninteresting it is. Set in a world where an ancient war between humans and animal-eared people called daemons ended with humanity compartmentalized away in small ‘worlds’ separate from each other, different groups of human characters grow tired of the status quo and begin pushing back in any ways they can. Our main protagonists are Galil and Azura, a boy and girl duo who live in the perpetually-sodden Rain Realm. Coincidentally, Azura’s father is the leader of an underground human rebellion that’s looking to build up enough organized resistance to take back control of their lands from the abusive beastmen who were appointed by the daemons as intermediary rulers oh-so long ago. Our secondary deuterogamists are a flaky fox-daemon (with big boobs) whose interest in humans brings her into contact with a loli scientist from the Burning Realm. After some slap-stick absurdity and plenty of jokes at the expense of Boob Fox’s uptight daemon manservant, this duo meets up with Galil’s group just in time to pull-off a jailbreak for Azura’s father, who was arrested and taken to the Caged Realm.

Things happen – stereotypical things that you can probably predict – and our two groups join forces with a third group lead by a brown-nosing human bureaucrat who wants to improve the situations for humans in all the realms by working within the daemon’s framework instead of rebelling against it… but he’s outvoted and TA-DA! We have our titular realm/world-spanning Alliance that is coming to life.

With the entire cast of playable characters assembled, the player is sent off on some menial quests in each of the three starter realms to recruit as many rando NPCs as possible, and to break daemonic Ether Gears, which were put in place by the daemons at the end of the Human-Daemon War in order to suppress the threat of unregulated, unrestrained use of a human-developed scientific magic called Signimancy. With the starting realms freed of their Ether Gears and daemonic governance, the team and their growing Alliance are free to explore other, unknown continents and realms… but this is where I just got fed up with the whole thing and stopped playing.

“AA” doesn’t have an original or interesting story to tell. It doesn’t have any original, well-written, deep, or even likeable characters. Even the prospect of expanding the Alliance by recruiting everyone and everything with (or without) a pulse has been done MUCH better by the ‘Suikoden’ series. As I finished chapter 20 (out of 40), with almost 20 hours logged in the game, I just could NOT force myself to go back to it. It’s so boring, trite, and formulaic that I don’t care ‘what happens next,’ because I already have a pretty good idea what will. To make matters worse, the pacing is absolutely atrocious, making me feel like the first half of the game is a big, fat nothingburger in which less interesting things happen than in the average episode of “Seinfeld.”

Gameplay
“AA” is one of those would-be bog-standard RPGs that deviates from tradition in an attempt to make itself stand out, but really just makes all of the underlying mechanics more tiresome to deal with. The game revolves almost entirely around turn-based battles with parties of up to 5 (out of a total of 9) characters duking it out against groups of foes. Each side of the battlefield features a grid of three rows, and FAR too late in the game it becomes possible to design Formations that take advantage of various stat boosts and behaviors that can be assigned to a given grid slot on a given row. However, worrying about Formations, buffs, or anything else of the sort only comes into play during boss fights, as the game’s plethora of visible-on-the-map random battles are mind-numbingly simplistic and repetitive.

The player will typically battle the same small groups of the same enemies over and over, with no real threat or interest. Indeed, the game goes so far as to have an auto-battle mode that will simply spam the last skills used by each character, and a fast-forward mode that allows battle animations to run at 2x or 4x speed. Needless to say, outside of boss battles, 4x auto-battle is the way to go… unfortunately, this prevents the game from having anything resembling a difficulty curve, and never really teaches the player how to engage with most of the mechanics until they hit a boss wall and get party-wiped in handful of turns. Many of the things a long-time RPG player might expect to understand already just don’t apply here: Healing is incredibly stingy and ineffective, so it’s best to have a dedicated aggro-drawing character with a high evasion to prevent needing to heal in the first place… but then the bosses start with the AoEs…

In general, “AA” does actually have a few nice QoL features. The entire party gains Tech Points (for unlocking passive skills) whether they’re in the active group or not, and everyone recovers their health after every battle. “Dead” characters can be brought back into the fight simply by healing them, without a specific revival item, burdening them with a minor penalty to their maximum health until the party takes a rest at an inn. However, these small mercies don’t really do much to balance the game’s other problems.

To make matters even worse, “AA” is built on a ‘level-less’ RPG system. That’s right, there’s no XP grinding or leveling up or gaining stats. Instead, characters gain more maximum health or skill points (the points used to cast skills and magic in battle) at random upon completing a fight. Even more exciting, every character can choose to specialize in a butt-load of different weapon categories, with each different weapon or spell (Signimancy for humans, Sorcery for daemons… though daemons can use Signimancy too, while humans can’t learn Sorcery) type possessing a huge number of associated skills. While magic skills are purchased on a per-character basis at shops throughout the world or researched by the Alliance (and then sold on a per-character basis in guild shops), weapon skills are learned randomly by using a given weapon type in battle… over and over and over… with no indication of when a new skill is just around the corner.

In order to increase stats besides health and skill points, it’s necessary to equip better gear. Offensive and Defensive stats are entirely tied to equipment, which means finding or buying an upgrade is a Big Deal and represents a serious jump in power… but gets expensive quickly, especially with the game’s relatively stingy money-drop rate for random trash battles.

The Alliance itself, being a titular character of sorts, is… really kind of boring and basic. There are 5 guilds in the world: The Library Guild, the Recon Guild, the Strategy Guild, the Blacksmith Guild, and the Signimancy Guild, each of which sets up their bases of operations in guild towers scattered around the world, and the player’s team is expected to setup more guild towers and populate them wherever they come across a particularly juicy-looking tract of land. However, in practice, the Alliance is just a list of passive buffs for the player’s party that are unlocked through ‘leveling up’ each guild by assigning them specific thresholds of new recruits. And let me tell you, the desperation in recruiting borders on the absurd… you can recruit ancient golems that were guarding a defunct museum, an illithid-looking mofo AND his wife and kid, an ancient undead king and his undead retainers… and a whole bunch of boring nobodies who will occasionally require the player to select the right party member to convince them to join up. It just feels like the entire Alliance really has no heart to it, and the individual members are no more memorable or interesting than the 10 billion Pidgeys I ran through the candy grinder in “Pokemon GO.”

Overall
Oh, the joke’s on me! I didn’t pay attention to what I was buying and ended up with a NIS-published turd AND a 3DS port that I never should have – or would have – bought under normal circumstances. “The Alliance Alive HD” is not particularly lively, interesting, engaging, novel, or fun. It’s a bland, lifeless, cardboard cutout of an RPG that messes with just enough of the basic mechanics of the genre in the name of… innovation, I guess, to render itself insufferable. I can’t recommend this game to RPG fans, anime fans, or really anyone, not even for $3.

Presentation: 2.5/5
Story: 1.5/5
Gameplay: 2.5/5
Overall (not an average): 2/5

 

 


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