The Alliance Alive: HD Remastered Review (Switch)
FuRyu is a relative outlier in the Japanese Role-Playing scene, with their previous works- The Caligula Effect: Overdose, Unchained Blades Exiv, and The Legend of Legacy- failing to make much of a splash. This is a shame, considering all three of these, as well as a few of their other licensed and more obscure titles, are all backed by teams comprised of industry veterans, boasting plenty of ambition and genre-savvy in their own rights. The Legend of Legacy was a fine proof-of-concept: a return to the SaGa style of character progression that encouraged continual risk in battle with the reward of stat bonuses and new techniques, but its elemental system could break the game at multiple moments. Fortunately, much of FuRyu’s team for The Legend of Legacy had already committed themselves to another project, which would take the feedback garnered from said proof-of-concept and rework it into something greater: a modern RPG with sensibilities that cater towards the legacy fans of the genre and the newcomers fresh with life.
That game released on 3DS, a veritable RPG powerhouse, at the end of the handheld’s lifespan, and was promptly forgotten. This is a shame, because as I’ve stated previously, The Alliance Alive is very much a modern classic. With the release of the HD remaster on Nintendo Switch, it’s time to see what all the fuss is about, and hopefully expose this impressive title to a larger audience.
As with its predecessor, The Alliance Alive adopts a less-transparent method of showing character progression, where HP and SP boosts won’t display until the end of a battle, skills awaken mid-combat when the situation looks dire, and the usage of stances- attack for middling speed and damage boosting, defense for slow speed but party-spanning fortification, and support for fast-speed, higher magic capabilities- will not only impact the effectiveness of skills, but also grow based on their usage and utility in combat. In addition, a playable party of five characters can be placed on any single cell on a 5×5 tactics grid, with frontline characters dealing stronger melee damage and having a higher enemy draw rate, while rear-guard members can more safely cast spells and ranged attacks. The five-row system means that certain characters can hang in the middle rows to dish out consistent damage, while the front row can operate as a space exclusively for your tankier characters, who can block incoming and even reflect incoming attacks.
All of this is further complicated by the stance-switch system, which allows players to custom-build a set of stances for the party and switch them at the beginning of their turn in order to change their approach. Additionally, the Ignition mode acts as a sort of Limit Break lookalike, where characters initiate a stance that strengthens their likelihood of awakening skills and can perform a devastating Final Strike based upon their equipped weapon. This high-risk, high-reward mechanic is not one to be relied upon- it requires a certain amount of tanked damage to kick in, and Final Strikes, though impressive, will shatter the party member’s equipped weapon, rendering it useless until repaired. The Alliance Alive is a game of investment, where the time spent crafting effective strategies before combat will drastically increase chances of success when in the fray.
This is a double-edged sword, however, seeing as the opening moments of the game have players switching between multiple smaller parties of two or three characters before uniting (allying?) these disparate pieces for a main narrative thrust. The game will offer a number of moments where players will need to split their party up into smaller pieces in order to fortify certain areas of a map, which means you’ll need to be careful in how you spread combat experience across your playable party. Those who do not participate in combat will not reap its benefits, but this doesn’t mean characters will end up woefully underpowered. There are plenty of opportunities where a character with the right equipment can rival one whose skills and stances are suitably buffed, but the most optimized form of this certainly comes from a well-balanced party.
Starting with combat mechanics might make it seem that this game is all about fighting enemies, and while the combat system does have loads of depth, it is bolstered by impressive field exploration and guild systems. Across all of The Alliance Alive’s world maps, you’ll have the opportunity to explore utilizing a number of different traversal methods, from giant, lava-diving mecha ducks, tricky ornithopter glides, and even snow rabbit-kangaroo hybrids. This not only enhances the uniqueness of each biome, but it also gives reason to return to previous areas once new methods of traversal are discovered and exploited. One reason in particular is to uncover new Places of Power, where the guild system can be thoroughly explored. The guild system is used to construct towers throughout the world maps that serve highly specialized purposes- while blacksmith guilds provide plenty of opportunities for players to purchase additional equipment and fix shattered originals, sigimancy guilds will offer new research into spells and magic equipment for the human characters, who learn a unique set of magic attacks from the Daemon and Beastfolk characters in the game. Likewise, recon guilds can boost the experience gains garnered from enemy encounters, but all of these abilities stack upon one another depending on how many guilds and recruits you invest in on the map. Since guild towers can only be built at certain points on the map, you will have to choose carefully which benefits you’d like to have as you progress through the game, but don’t worry too much. Guild abilities might seem enticing, but they aren’t required to beat the game, simply expediting certain processes and unlocking specific ability sets for your party.
You might have noticed that I mentioned experience gains, which, given The Alliance Alive’s SaGa pedigree, might seem a bit contradictory. The way the game attempts to keep all party members on the same playing field is via its talent point system, where party members accrue a number of talent points as they defeat enemies that can be applied to a number of areas. Though there are “general” applications, such as abilities that will auto-regain SP when beneath a certain threshold, players can use talent points to grant weapon mastery to specific party members, granting them access to these weapon types and the potential to awaken more. Higher talent point investments can reduce SP cost of skills in battle, as well as push party members into higher Ignition modes, but a mid-game mechanic twist also allows players the chance to “seal” certain skills that no longer benefit them in order to increase the power of their most utilized abilities, meaning that talent point investment can have benefits in multiple areas.
The character customization on display is awesome.
Narrative and Aesthetics
Having started its existence on the Nintendo 3DS, one might not expect The Alliance Alive to be much of a graphical powerhouse, and even with an HD remaster, there isn’t much of an argument that things have changed, either. The character models have been given a nice degree of polish and a bit of a shading tune-up, but they are still very much evocative of the game’s chibi art style. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, as all of the character designs are still very unique, and more importantly, match their in-game character portraits extremely well. Likewise, the game’s color palette and environmental design was made to pop on the 3DS screen, and it looks just as nice on the Switch. The particular benefit of its town design is that, if players stand idle for a moment, the camera will swoop back for a Bravely Default-style full view of the location, which looks painterly and delightful whether in handheld or docked mode. The game’s text scale is also perfect for either mode, an oft-overlooked element in text-heavy RPGs.
Though the game’s visuals are cleaner than ever, there’s only been a bit of what could be considered texture cleanup, and the environments boast a simplistic, retro-inspired aesthetic that possesses a fair degree of clarity due to the level geometry, which often promotes the traversal of high points in order to scan large swaths of terrain. Even so, there are some areas where blurry textures clash somewhat with the now-sharper character models. One element that cannot be considered retro, however, is RPG veteran Masashi Hamauzu’s soundtrack, which mixes ambient sounds, stark electronic effects, and classical instrumentation to create a vibe much unlike any other title on the market. The closest comparison would be to the game’s predecessor, The Legend of Legacy, but the overall impression is a fantasy world unlike many others, stuck in an odd transitory position between classic RPG weaponry and aesthetics and a more refined, modern perspective. Given the way the game plays with magic and magitechnology, this description feels very apt.
And speaking of lore, The Alliance Alive is a game with an endearing, simplistic sensibilities given yet another contemporary twist with its parallel narratives. The game starts off with a quick summary: the Daemons from the heavens used some sort of device to corrupt the world below, further dividing its four main realms further with massive shadow barriers that allowed its denizens to be more easily taken advantage of. The world is now overseen by the Beastfolk, odd anthropomorphic hybrids that err towards the oafish, though the current scenario is a bit strained, with many humans beginning to organize resistance movements against the Daemons in an attempt to reclaim the land and break through the shadow barriers. One of The Alliance Alive’s best traits is its overlapping narrative first act, where the first nine playable characters pursue their own unique agendas and somehow end up smashing into one another, realizing that all of them have their own reasons for lashing out against the Daemons. This isn’t to say that it’s all “hoo-hah humanity,” either- you’ll recruit a delightfully ditzy aristocratic Daemon and her butler, a gentle-hearted Beastfolk, a shrimpy, yet feisty inventor, and even a weirdly adorable penguin to your mighty alliance throughout the game.
While many start with inherent weapon masteries that inform their initial growth, you’ll be able to customize each with their own impressive set of abilities. The game’s script is straightforward and idealistic, with the power of friendship (and some strategic know-how) often saving the day, as well as faith in others. The only strike I would give against the narrative is that, with a total of twelve playable characters, dialogue sequences can often get a little over-saturated with chimes from each character, to the point where some of them start to lose their initial charm. That being said, the playable cast are all unique for their own specific reasons, and there’s likely someone to love no matter your preference.
Impressions and Conclusion
The Alliance Alive features a pressing and daring narrative, but it doesn’t shepherd you from one set piece to the next- not without fair warning, that is. There are points of no return, but you’ll rarely be locked out of exploration. There are plenty of Water Devil dens- deathly challenging pits of miniboss battles- to explore, and a number of NPCs to recruit to your cause in order to bolster the ranks of your guilds. Coupled with a New Game+ that allows the player to carry over character builds, this roughly forty-hour RPG has a definite amount of heft.
The game mitigates the tedium of grinding by speeding up combat animations up to either two or four times, and the proper guild investments can result in large amounts of talent point acquisition for some truly impressive builds. In terms of remastered editions, the game now features a minimap function on its screen, which usually centers action on the player avatar and never overlaps with this feature, and a number of quick-select options are displayed on the lower left of the screen for easy access. Additionally, the in-game guide is a much more transparent article that can be accessed at multiple points, with the game actively encouraging this. Because of its dissimilarity with a number of other RPGs, taking a quick browse through these helpful options can be beneficial to newcomers. Though there’s no fresh new content that remixes that of the original 3DS release, the game doesn’t really need it all that much, offering more than enough for its price of entry.
At this point in time, The Alliance Alive HD Remastered isn’t just releasing on a system rife with RPG options, it’s also hitting the eShop in between titanic bookends like Dragon Quest XI S and Pokemon Sword and Shield. What this game does have going for it, however, is the genuine feeling of polish and charm, managing to pull off the old Tokyo RPG Factory mission of feeling like a title based upon classics with enough new to justify its existence. It is different enough from almost anything else you’ll see on the system (save for the SaGa remasters and eventual localizations), and boasts a slightly reduced price point in comparison with its contemporaries. Still, this game very much feels like a straight port of a 3DS title, with little truly new to offer, meaning those who played the original should only double-dip if it ended up being a favorite. That’s not hard to imagine, however, as The Alliance Alive certainly deserves to release in a year of RPG powerhouses, offering a delightfully deep and immensely enjoyable experience.