There’s something warm and familiar about Cattle Call’s new RPG, The Alliance Alive that really pulled me in from the beginning. While not flawless, the game has the look and feel of one of those multi-disc original PlayStation JRPGs and while not quite an “epic” experience, it’s solid enough and certainly packs in enough characters in its massive maps while hitting pretty much all the bullet points it needs to that make it an overall decently nostalgic 3DS game. I’m a big fan of much of Cattle Call’s work since the quirky PS2 sleeper Tsugunai: Atonement, so seeing the familiar color palette and simple but intriguing battle system also had me smiling throughout.
Still, it’s also a case where you sort of wish the game was on a system that was a bit to a good deal more powerful. It’s not at all hard to imagine the developer making a Switch (or heck, PS4 or even a Vita) game with higher resolution art and even more detailed characters and environments. On the 2DS or 3DS, the game’s animations and numerous cut scenes are excellently handled. However, the large overworld maps tend to be a bit bland, there’s a bit of background pop-in and if you have a poor sense of direction, it’s a bit too easy to get lost unless you choose the option to be guided to and from certain story-related areas.
The plot involves a mixed team of nine human and non-human characters who team up to help return their world to human control after centuries of Daemon rule. There’s a good deal more under the hood, but it’s best to play this and see what’s what for yourself. The game doles out its cast slowly, introducing characters in pairs and trios until everyone eventually meets up. Not all the characters see eye to eye and at least one or two has self-serving motivations that make them potential enemies for a time. But it’s pretty clear after a bit that the game wants you to root for your crew as their members grow (and grow in strength).
While there are a few fun characters and funky plot twists, the game’s main draw might be its level-less leveling system. Characters don’t gain levels at all, but their weapon and.or magic skills/Talents do provided you use the ones you want to grow. You also gain random hit points and spell points (SP) which all means the game may seem a bit too weird for those expecting all the usual touches common to this style of game. Also, it takes time to earn money and unless you’re getting lucky through enemy drops, some of the better gear will be expensive to buy or replace.
Fortunately, that’s where guilds come in. Initially, they’re just handy places to rest and gather assorted information. But once you reach a certain chapter, you can start having a few weapons custom made by a blacksmith guild that can occasionally be powerful replacements for your old stuff. Each character can hold two weapons and you can occasionally deal out some powerful damage at the cost of breaking an equipped weapon. That means if you really like some of the nicer gear here, you’ll need to keep a backup in your inventory or risk fighting with useless busted weapons. Oh, by the way, when you get the opportunity to return to the museum with Galil and Azura after the main title credits (about 45 minutes or so in depending on how you play), go all the way back to the room the first boss fight is in for a nice surprise.
Guilds also offer up shopping and assorted random combat boosts/enemy damage, but you’ll want tr rely mostly on talents, spells and skills first and foremost. As noted above, all the characters here are pretty cool although not everyone gets as much screen time as they should. I personally liked Tiggy and her mech suit shaped like a giant duck the best, the two Daemons Vivian and Ignace (Tiggy’s banter with them and subsequently, the other characters adds a nice comic tone), followed by Rachael, Gene, Barbarosa, Galil, Azura, and Renzo. The game has no voice acting and some of the music from Masashi Hamauzu is a bit low-key, but it’s in the movies that carry the important plot points where the game shines.
The game also deals with health in a tricky way where you can’t heal out of combat and can only carry one or two healing items (unless you’re equipped with a certain item that allows you to choose from healing goods in your inventory). Also, your maximum HP can be whittled down until you find an inn (free or paid), so there’s almost always an added element of danger when you enter a new map and just need to get from Point A to Point B. Kind of like real life, I guess. Well, life if you lived in a world where it’s constantly raining and no one has seen a blue sky in too many years.
As for difficulty, it varies based on you paying attention to the enemies in each area. If your party is getting constantly ambushed, it means you forgot to purchase those appropriate skills when you should have and/or you’re wandering too much around the overworld or in spots the different vehicles can transport you. Battle Chains (getting into a series of battles after running into multiple enemies in dungeons or the overworld) tough Water Devils, giant bosses and other meanies await the unprepared, and enemies will definitely let you know fast if you’re outclassed.
Anyway, there’s a hefty chunk of game here and you’ll probably get a solid 30+ hours when all is said and done unless you get really grind happy and want to unlock too many skills and talents. You won’t need every skill, but feel free to train most, if not all of your crew in unarmed skills in case your weapons break and you need backup that may keep your party breathing until you reach a safer area. Yeah, that’s kind of like real life as well, isn’t it?
Score: B (80%)
Review code provided by the publisher.