Three years after The Legend of Legacy released to lukewarm reception, developer Cattle Call is back with spiritual follow-up The Alliance Alive, boasting similar design, presentation, and an equally generic title. The result is a slightly more complete package than The Legend of Legacy that still falls considerably short of amazing. The Alliance Alive is a competent game with some definite highlights, but in the end is only slightly above average.
The Alliance Alive does not spend much time acclimating the player to the game’s systems. While initially confusing, the battle system quickly becomes simple to grasp, revealing itself as the most notable deviation in form from the rest of the role-playing genre. Instead of leveling up characters, the player levels up attacks and weapons with frequent use. The game is not very difficult, so there is room to experiment and develop each character’s proficiency with a variety of weapons. Another unusual but refreshing method of spicing up the battle system comes with the two different health bars for each character. When a character’s standard HP runs out, they are knocked out as they would be in nearly any other turn-based RPG. However, enemies can continue to attack the fallen character, and these attacks will lower the fallen fighter’s maximum HP. While standard HP is restored after each battle, maximum HP can not be replenished the party visits an inn. This, along with weapons that are prone to breaking, adds a layer of strategy to the game that helps alleviate how easy the game is, and serves to set The Alliance Alive apart from standard RPGs. Other battle features include guilds which sporadically (and almost never conveniently) provide assistance in battle and improve skills for party members.
Battles can get tedious considering the amount of preparation necessary; if you intend to use a healing item during battle, it has to be equipped to a character before battle commences. If you wish to have your characters line up in a specific formation, that formation must be planned out before the fact. It is hard to know exactly how a battle is going, given that enemy HP is not displayed. This can result in battles getting old very quickly, especially during easier stretches of the game.
Presentation is by far the game’s weakest aspect. From a visual standpoint, the 3DS system’s seven year-old hardware does not do The Alliance Alive any favors; it looks exceptionally muddy, and environments are boring to behold at their best and offensively dry at their worst. The game’s run-of-the-mill artstyle does not help in this respect.
Outside of murky visuals, there are several areas of presentation that feel exceptionally lazy. Dialogue bubbles are plain white with text in what appears to be Times New Roman font. Combined with a lack of voice acting, character interactions do not seem to be the product of intense love and care during development. The dialogue itself can be painfully bland or cringe-inducing. One early interaction stuck with me as such; two of the characters, a boy and a girl, meet up with an informant, who continuously and awkwardly jokes that the two are in love. The informant’s constant “Hahahahaha!” after every sentence and the sheepish responses from the protagonists got old well before the exchange was over. Names for realms and characters are essentially generic labels; a main character who is infatuated with the concept of a blue sky is named Azura, and the antagonist is a race of demons called…Daemons. The game begins in a place called the Rain Realm. I won’t go into detail about what characterizes that area of the game.
Characters and story end up being the strong point of the game. I will not go into spoiler-level detail, but while the initial outlook suggested that the story would end up a Final Fantasy IV-style afterthought, it ended up being the game’s strong suit as a band of adventurers sought to destroy an ancient enemy and repair a world fragmented by a 1000 year-old war.
Ultimately, The Alliance Alive is marred by several instances of weak presentation, a battle system that is occasionally a drag, and mind-numbing ease, with an end result being a game that only marginally improves on its underwhelming predecessor. The game is still a quality one overall with its multiple instances of satisfying battles and fun character moments. The issue is that for every great battle, there were several that were too bland, too confusing, or too frustrating. For every endearing moment between characters, there were more than a few moments of way-too-awkward or overly descriptive dialogue lacking in any sort of personality. The Alliance Alive feels like a well-done beta, but a lot has to be overlooked to enjoy the full game. Several kinks were never ironed out, and numerous aspects of the game appear to be just plain lazy more than anything else.
Still, RPG superfans who are craving something different, who absolutely need a 3DS game, and who have not played February’s much better 3DS RPG, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, will find a thing or two to like about The Alliance Alive. Cattle Call moved a bit closer to greatness with The Alliance Alive, but they are still not quite there as one of the 3DS’s last RPGs falls short.