I know we live in a post-3DS, Nintendo Switch world, where every game announcement that doesn't have a Switch release date attached to it is met with a sigh or a groan-- but hear me out on this one. Maybe there's a game out there that screams at you to not pack your 3DS away into storage (or sell it off to GameStop if you are one of those people). Maybe that game is Atlus' The Alliance Alive.
If you like JRPGs I'm going to not beat around the bush here and say you're going to have a cool, fun time with The Alliance Alive. Its gameplay rides the line between recognizable and different turn-based JRPG battles, its story, while not incredibly complex, throws enough interesting ideas and world-building concepts at the wall to where it definitely feels different than most JRPG adventures you may have taken in the past. If you enjoyed Square-Enix's Bravely Default games or this game's spiritual predecessor Legend of Legacy than you should start getting excited for The Alliance Alive right now.
This game does share a lot of pedigree and concepts with the aforementioned Legend of Legacy but manages to surpass it in almost every way imaginable. Where Legacy felt shallow in plot (heck, it was almost non-existent) Alliance builds an interesting, sectioned world with 3 races in conflict. While its nothing that will blow you away (I'd say it's on the level of something like a Final Fantasy V) it balances well with its gameplay and its unique cast of characters -- and they are a unique bunch!
Your group will fill with varied individuals that go from generic anime swordsman to blinded spellcaster to a cute girl inventor who has a monocle and stomps into every battle in huge power armor that looks like a bright yellow rubber ducky. Oh, and a married penguin father of three. The battle system allows you to use 5 characters at a time as well (instead of the traditional 4) which helps set things apart.
Speaking of the battle system, this game was designed by Kyoji Koizumi who worked in the SaGa franchise, and like those games, Alliance isn't afraid to throw in new systems and buck traditions to change things up. All your party members start every battle at full HP and death in battle leads to their max HP being dropped until they can rest up at an inn. New moves and attacks (each corresponding to one of the game's several weapon types) are learned at random just by using said weapon, and the probability that those random new moves will be learned can be tweaked thanks to the Talents system which lets you unlock perks for each character with Talents points you acquire by winning battles. Experience points are not a thing in the world of The Alliance Alive either, instead the game will randomly reward your characters with boosts to their maximum HP and SP when you win battles. You also arrange your five battling characters on a 3-by-5 grid, where different battle formations have different effects on the party members. It's just the right amount of complexity to keep things feeling fresh and interesting mixed with enough familiarity to push the right nostalgic buttons JRPG games like this love to hit. Any issues you might have with the story's depth or writing (which really isn't bad but isn't breaking any new ground, either) is more than made up for with the game's many well designed and interlocking systems -- and we haven't even gotten into Guilds yet!
You see, the "alliance" part of The Alliance Alive is where the Guild Tower system comes in. Throughout the game, you can get various guild towers (stuff like Recon, Tactics, or Blacksmith guilds) to join your cause-- giving you all sorts of perks and benefits during battle. Later in the game, you'll be finding characters to recruit to different guilds to raise that guild's level and even building guild towers of your choice at specific points on the game's world map. It's all very cool and you'll end up building a huge network of allied Guild Towers.
Speaking of the game's map, it actually does a couple pretty cool things you don't normally see in JRPGs, the most notable of all being vehicles! Early on in the game you are given an ornithopter (one of these) that allows you to glide around the map from one high point to another, letting you reach other parts of the world you couldn't get to by walking-- it's sort of like Zelda: Breath of the Wild's glider on a 3DS JRPG world map scale. You'll also get stuff like a cool boat, or use that aforementioned duck themed power armor to float on lava. The game's map has a rarely seen level of depth with these features (and the Guild Towers) rarely seen in games like this (it's definitely a lot more interesting than some chibi-fied character sprites sliding over pictures of trees or mountains like you usually get).
I guess this leaves us off at stuff like graphics and music, huh? Well, I'm happy to report those too are pretty great even for the late in its life 3DS. The backgrounds have this great 3D yet hand-drawn look not unlike Bravely Default and the character models and monsters strike a great balance between cute and cool. With artists whose past credits include both Final Fantasy and SaGa games you know you are in good hands. Great character designs like Tiggy (the scientist with the aforementioned power armor) and smart but absentminded daemon Viviana endear you to them almost instantly. Music-wise, the score is by Masayo Asano, whose past work is all over Square-Enix's back catalog and it shows. It's all good stuff.
If you are ready to tackle some new and different RPG systems, then The Alliance Alive is definitely worth a shot. The only downside is it can take a bit to wrap your head around the game's defiantly tradition-bucking systems, and sometimes the game can be a little obtuse about where you need to go next on your quest. It took me much too long to realize that the game wanted me exploring blindly into the unknown to find a new location, rather than trigger some event within the realms I had already discovered --especially when I had to dodge several extremely powerful water demons to get there.
If you are looking for a new JRPG experience that isn't afraid to try new things and break the rules, The Alliance Alive is something you should absolutely check out. If you are worn out by the re-used conventions most JRPGs religiously cling to, Alliance might be a breath of fresh air. After mainlining the first five classic Final Fantasy games and obsessively plowing through the first Wild Arms, it definitely was for me.
The Alliance Alive (3DS) was reviewed using a digital download code provided by Atlus.