Second Time Ain’t The Charm
HIGH Robbins’ dialogue.
LOW The Crystal Realm, awkwardly structured and burdened with a bad dungeon.
WTF More than once, a character meets new people and immediately commits treason on their behalf.
The desire to milk additional dollars out of existing back catalogs has produced a wide array of “HD Remasters” in recent years, and this hasn’t entirely been a negative. Old classics have gained new audiences and hidden gems have gotten a second chance. Far be it from me to say that any game doesn’t deserve this kind of rebirth, but I can’t figure out why the effort was spared to produce The Alliance Alive HD Remastered.
Alliance Alive has a plot, but it’s not worth discussing in any detail. Its world is built on racial and class stratification but the story doesn’t bother to interrogate these things. The villain, not even identified until the game is halfway over, carries out a plot that’s almost entirely inscrutable for reasons that are never described, in order to achieve a pointless goal. At one point the party confronts a person that murdered one of their parents, but the ensuing fight is against a few random monsters. The whole experience feels so half-baked that I got the feeling the team was too bored by what they were writing to bother selling any of it.
The plot, such as it is, merely serves as a reason to fight through an enormous number of round-based RPG battles. By default, Alliance Alive sets up a party of nine, although easily-obtained optional characters round out the squad to an even dozen. Using up to five characters at a time, the player dials in attacks and skills and then sits back to watch each round play out. As is usual for such systems, there’s a bit too much downtime involved, though Alliance Alive allows the action to be sped up and also has an auto-battle feature. Though welcome, such affordances don’t address the fundamental problem that most fights are perfunctory, with low stakes and little to interest the player tactically.
Two characters have a preset weapon loadout, while the rest can use essentially any weapon in the game (and can carry two to use at any time). In principle this could offer a lot of flexibility. However, the cost of developing weapon specialization to a point where it’s useful is so steep that each character can only really afford to build up two or three options. Moreover, with a dozen characters in the party, flexibility could have been designed into a fixed weapon set quite easily.
Of course, in order to make full use of team flexibility it would have been necessary to swap characters during battle. Incredibly, despite the enormous size of the party, this is not possible and the reserve characters can’t even be brought into battle if the front line falls. Also, Alliance Alive doesn’t have an EXP system — instead new skills and other upgrades are obtained randomly in battle. This makes the common problem of managing reserve characters’ development even more acute than usual for the genre.
Aside from the dozen combatants, scores of additional characters can be recruited to join or build “guild towers”, granting combat buffs and expanding the party’s powers. Alas, the enormous cast means most of the characters are poorly served. Few of them have any discernible personality beyond the tropes they’re meant to represent, and except for the over-exuberant Tiggy and Robbins, they aren’t even particularly entertaining instances of those tropes.
A further issue is that Alliance Alive’s equipment progression is lopsided. New armor drops at a steady clip throughout the campaign, but new weapons are rare finds. Early on, this means that characters must regularly develop new weapon specializations because, for instance, the only weapon that does decent damage is a greatsword, wasting precious upgrade opportunities. Later, the game is plagued with lengthy encounters between enemies that can’t inflict real damage on the heroes but take forever to kill because of the party’s anemic offense. Characters do become more powerful as they gain new skills, but raw offensive power seems to cap out well below the endurance of the bosses and monsters.
The skills themselves are troublesome since there’s no way to manage or arrange them. As they’re learned at random during combat, even characters who wield the same weapons will have their abilities listed in a completely different order. Particularly towards the endgame, much time during battle is devoted to scouring long lists of skills to find the one appropriate for the situation.
As for its status as a remaster, Alliance Alive first appeared on the 3DS, and while the new version on Switch may well be an upgrade, it’s not in any discernible way what I would call “HD”. Textures are blurry and the lighting is generally dingy. Many objects and landscape elements are noticeably short on polygons. Character models, at least, are reasonably detailed given the art style, though their cutesy appearance nullifies many attempts to convey angst or tragedy.
At every juncture, The Alliance Alive seems designed in the most boring way possible. The vast party is thinly characterized, and one can’t even bring the whole gang to a fight. The modestly interesting world-building is squandered by a perfunctory plot. The combat, structurally prone to monotony, is pushed further in that direction by poor balancing, ill-fitting design choices, and interface friction.
While there’s nothing terribly wrong with The Alliance Alive, there’s nothing particularly right with it either. Those who want some JRPG gristle to chew on will find it adequate, but anyone who missed it last time can skip it without regret this time, too.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Cattle Call and published by NIS America through an agreement with FuRyu. It is currently available on Switch, PS4, and PC (Steam marketplace).This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 40 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood, and Use of Alcohol. The game looks too cutesy for the violence in it to shock or offend, even though there are scenes of torture
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes are available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is in the form of text and there are no essential sound cues. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. In the overworld, movement is controlled by the left stick, while the right stick and bumpers control the camera, while the face buttons access menus or allow actions. In combat, actions are selected from a menu using the directional buttons or left stick, triggers control combat speed, bumpers are used to examine combatants, and face buttons select various actions.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.