The Alliance Alive appears to have a lot going for it at a glance. It combines tried-and-true JRPG mechanics with chibified characters to call forth the classics of yesteryear. It's got a catchy name. It seems to have all its ducks in a row. Unfortunately, developer Cattle Call simply doesn't seem to have tweaked the formula it tested out with previous release The Legend of Legacy enough just yet. The resulting The Alliance Alive is a serviceable adventure that ends up just a bit lacking, in both narrative and gameplay departments. This is an RPG that wouldn't have felt out of place back in the '90s as a PlayStation release, but unfortunately that won't elevate it to cult status here in 2018. Gather your alliance together and see if you should journey into the Rain Realm and read on!
Mending a Fractured World
The Alliance Alive places you in a world that's been split up into various different realms following a harrowing Human vs. Daemon war. The Rain Realm, for instance, has never seen a blue sky, as protagonist Azura has wished to see for her entire life. Childhood friend Galil joins her on a quest to see the blue sky, and the game kicks off by essentially letting you wander the map as you switch off between groups. Characters that vary from Daemons to signimancers (this world's version of a mage, essentially) eventually join up to figure out what's going on in the divided world (the Dark Current, natch) and reunite the various worlds.
It's your job to navigate The Alliance Alive after it opens up and gives you more of an opportunity to explore the world. Once you're freed up from the more linear opening moments and asked to travel around the traditional RPG overworld to find your next destination, things get a little muddy. It can be difficult to figure out where you're supposed to go, which normally would simply encourage exploration, but in this case it just becomes frustrating, especially when you start running into incredibly difficult enemies that mean you're probably in the wrong place.
Making Enemies and Heading to Battle
That's where things start to fall apart. Traveling across the overworld is fun if you have an idea of where you need to go next, but otherwise it devolves into the nightmare of hoping you saved before a chain of enemies attacks you because you couldn't run fast enough. When your party has all fallen, you'll have to start from your last complete save or at the main menu, which can be ridiculously frustrating.
Combat is the most action you'll see in the game, so that can be a problem. You don't earn levels or gain experience points, and instead your characters level up your attacks, equipping two weapons at a time or forgoing them entirely. You have to partake in the random battles you might normally be tempted to skip for this, because if you don't you'll be woefully underequipped for the next set of encounters. The turn-based combat of The Alliance Alive is a lot different than what you might be used to, though it doesn't exactly shine for its different mechanical decisions.
As your attacks become stronger and level up throughout the course of the game, you'll find that you'll perform Final Strikes, or attacks that do a devastating amount of damage while breaking your weapon, more often than not. This necessitates the equipping of two weapons if you want to be ready for your next fight, especially since you can't just give your character a new one in the middle of combat. This forces you to think with an even more strategic slant than usual when it comes to turn-based games, and it can be frustrating to deal with despite its interesting nature.
Keeping the Alliance Alive
Healing and utilizing the points you receive from being victorious is also a strange setup, as you don't need specialized items to revive allies if their HP reaches zero like a Revive or a Phoenix Down. Enemies can even attack your fallen allies to reduce their maximum HP before you leave battle. Your max health will remain that way until you sleep at an inn or similar spot where you can bring everyone back to their max HP count. That's why it can be a real killer if you find yourself in a tight spot. While I appreciate this intriguing change to typical RPG battle mechanics, I also find it tedious and frustrating when trying to make real progress.
There's a real balance problem when it comes to battles as well, as you might find that you're in the middle of a difficult chain in an area where you're just starting out, with river monsters popping out to grab you and then breezing through in later areas where you'd expect toughness. This makes playing through The Alliance Alive more of a slog than anything else, especially when the narrative just isn't strong enough to propel you through the fifth time of restarting the game because you got caught in a battle chain without any recourse since your weapons broke or you didn't have enough luck to pull you through. Because of that, the game feels more like a bunch of random battles strewn together loosely connected by the occasional travels to town and bits of dialogue, and that alone does not an RPG make.
An Alliance of Frustration
The Alliance Alive is a great-looking game with an interesting premise and intriguing battle mechanics, but in the end it falters from its combat decisions. There's a lot of content to wade through here, but many players, including those who typically yearn for a throwback, will find that the game is frustrating and difficult to get through thanks to its numerous battles and requirements to get through them. It's got potential, and it's a decent narrative to wade through on your way to work or for an hour or so at a time, but it seems as though it still needed some more time in the oven.
This review is based on a Nintendo 3DS download code provided by the publisher. The Alliance Alive is available for purchase on Nintendo 3DS with both digital and physical editions on March 27, 2018.