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January 18, 2005
Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir

 Written by Chris Reiter  on February 22, 2005

Review: If I had alchemy powers of my own, I'd transmute Fullmetal Alchemist into Final Fantasy X!

Since when have animes translated over into the video game medium being completely adored by the general public, and labeled as some of the greatest gaming experiences of all-time? Well, Dragon Ball Z and Pok?mon don't count, because fans of those series would go as far to say a plain white shirt with nothing but Trunks's leg or Pikachu's eyebrow printed on it is beyond awesomeness. But outside the walls of these particular fan favorites, anime games have never really hit it big with video game masses. Look at titles like Orphen: Scion of Sorcery, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Robotech: Battlecry. All based on anime franchises, and all received fair or average scores for their showmanship. These are the types of games that fade into obscurity a lot quicker than some standardized mediocre titles will, because anime and games just aren't that big of a subject as they could be. This might be the case because as the track record shows, when a game developer tries to convert an anime into a game, the results don't tend to do so well most of the time. Thus, there isn't a major market for it, especially here in America. That's not stopping some companies from trying to win over our hearts, though. Square Enix, with their years of experience in making some of the most influential (if not the most) RPG games in history, is backing up the rights to the first Fullmetal Alchemist game to see the light of day outside its recently inaugurated Cartoon Network slot. Say hello to Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel.

You know all those times when your mother's warned you not to play with matches in the house? You might retort, "But, Timmy down the street does it, and his hair is growing back real quick-like!" Then your mommy might shout out, "I don't care how fast that Timmy's hair returns, I'm not going to let you burn our house down!" Mom can be right on some occasions. There are certain things you just shouldn't mess with no matter what the cause. Just like our unnamed fictitious match-playing subject would irresponsibly do, brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric have experimented with the supernatural magic of alchemy. Alchemy is an all-powerful source of magic only certain people in this world have come to master, some being better than others. With their mother dead and having been taught the power to manipulate inanimate objects, Ed and Al do what they think is right -- which is to turn their mother into a living Frankenstein. Unfortunately, during their first forbidden test drive, something goes horribly wrong. Edward loses an arm and a leg and Alphonse, well...let's just say the only part that can't escape your body is a soul. Having his human form taken from him, Alphonse inhabits a suit of armor at the last minute. Edward repairs his losses by combining his body with metal limbs. Three years have passed since the accident, and both Edward and Alphonse have not only suffered the loss of their mother now, but also their original body pieces. To return to normal, they've been on the hunt for a legendary treasure called the Philosopher's Stone. For us, this is where their story truly sets off.

Fullmetal Alchemist has been one of the more intriguing titles Square Enix had lined up for America since around last year's E3 event. The lowdown was about two brothers, two very different brothers. One was humanoid and the other was an a way. After the accident that cursed their days forth from a young age, the two of them became sort of an odd couple -- one short kid (who hates being called short, shorty, short-stuff, and any other "short" puns you can come up with) and one heaping pile of armored suit that's sprung to life with the soul of his brother trapped inside. Together, the two cruise on an RPG course, battling together, working as one to beat up whatever scum heads their way. In a way, Fullmetal's concept is a unique idea. However, the sad part is it's one of those things that doesn't work out like you'd expect it to. No matter how unique and interesting the idea of the game may be, nothing can dismiss a developer's overall shoddy game layout.

Bruising, blasting, and busting up: that's the way in which Fullmetal Alchemist's foes fall down. Between Edward and Alphonse, hack-n-slash style mechanics are used to fell enemies. You might be thinking something along the lines that you're in charge of Edward Elric only -- where the computer operates Alphonse. If that's your final answer, you win the million. While as Edward you're able to run around, sweep enemies off their feet, and pick up goodies along the way in a linear level fashion (with each area you'll visit branching off into mapped paths that connects to a finishing point), Alphonse will be right there next to you giving enemies the throw down as well. That right there is the extent of the computer's intelligence, though. It's able to automatically engage in a fight when close enough to an unsavory character. Where the real meat of this tag team lies is in your ability to input commands for Alphonse to respond to. Possibly the most appealing quality of Fullmetal Alchemist is that many of the objects that line the levels of the game are actually able to be manipulated for transmutation. This means when standing next to a light pole, a potted plant, a wagon, a pillar, and the like, it's possible to transform that object from ordinary level decoration into a manageable weapon of some kind. Every time a fixed object is selected for transmutation, two types of paired icon choices pop up in the air, letting you select from different kinds of stationary and moveable items. Amongst these options can include weapons or tools that Edward can grasp onto by himself, although there are certain things for Al to interact with as well. Edward can manifest all sorts of different weapons for either him or Alphonse, from a boomerang, a hammer, swords and spears, to bomb devices (big black bombs you can roll right into enemy groups, and mines you can carry and detonate too). There are even some helpful odds and end distractions (Edward can clone himself so enemies will lock onto the double rather than himself, for example), as well as fixed weapons that can be sat on and shot upon in a gunner mode (ranging from a machinegun, to a crossbow and a cannon weapon). What all these manners of tools give to Ed and Al is quite a large collection of extra methods for defeating bad guys, keeping the gameplay interesting and original to some extent.

You're going to need these transmuting aids too, because not only do the extra weapons help keep Ed and Al alive when often the road ahead gets to be a bit sticky where a dozen or more formidable attackers can appear out of nowhere, but the battle system without them just isn't very entertaining by itself. Fullmetal's general offensive position minus the effort of changing every single thing you can is laid out in a hack-n-slash network. Enter into most any dividend of a level, and you'll soon be faced with various chimera beasties and/or alchemy wielding thug types from winged, lizard and Minotaur-like, cheetah and crab chimera denizens to differentiating blade, gun, and magic acting humanoids. Technically, playing as Edward allows you to branch your combat techniques down a few paths. Sadly, even though there are these separate pieces that are existent to the battle engine, they're not actually vital for it to work. For example, when Edward holds down on the circle button to initiate his alchemist menu, the word "special" will appear and give Ed and Al the chance to combine their powers for a super charged beating. But it's not like you really need to pay attention to that stat, since the default combo/attack system is already effective enough for defeating enemies. You don't really need to focus all your energies on one single blow that will give enemies a chance to harass you through its proceedings anyway (since gathering enemies cancel whatever you're preparing to do whenever you're hit). Though, that's not to say the combo system is great. It does let Edward string commands that are revealed in the beginning of the game's tutorial phase. These combinations are soon forgotten however, as they're not put into a retrospect analysis anytime afterward. The patterns are also too lengthy to begin with. Recalling a code like square, square, square, circle, square, square every time you want to activate a certain attack isn't exactly simple. Besides, pressing the default attack button (square) three times in a sequential order defeats most enemies much easier than studying complicated combo lines any day.

Outside of regular standoffs with the enemy, there's a boss fight at the end of every chapter, and certain search and find type of objectives to meet. One example of this has Edward and Alphonse chasing after a trio of bully alchemists. They've hidden themselves in different locations around the level. Finding them isn't a problem since there are actually markers indicated on the map that reveals their location. Figuring out how to cream certain bosses poses as the tougher elements of the game. In one battle scene you'll have to use cannons or arrows to take down a giant eagle creature in moments when it stops flying around. In another, the three alchemists use their skills to create an indestructible robot that can only be beaten by eliminating each of the three alchemists. Timing and utilizing the environmental objects around you is key to winning most fights. Still, beating up bosses isn't terribly too difficult to handle as your knowledge of alchemy grows fairly quickly through the redundancy of the game's plodding combat mechanics. Fullmetal Alchemist really is far from being the toughest game in the world. Though, that's not to say it's without its share of challenges. Let's just say for an RPG game, Fullmetal is pretty simplistic. Edward and Alphonse are usually more powerful than most opponents. Every time they kick the crap out of one enemy, experience is gained. More experience means more bonus points. Bonus points are an additive ingredient that is gained frequently when Edward and Al level up. Opening the start menu allows for bonus point distribution in raising Ed or Al's vitality, attack or defense power, and even Ed's alchemist properties. Pausing the game is also the place to equip items for both characters. It's just kind stupid though how there are only three slots for managing equipped items, when by default one of those slots cannot be altered (which is the weapon's slot), and there are tons of extra junk gathered throughout the game and only two available spaces for Ed and Al to use the entire time. But again, it's not like it matters much anyway, because a lot of the enemies are weaklings compared to your double duo. Where they can't regenerate life, you can with the multiple elixirs left behind by fallen dumbbells. Plenty of other useful items are picked up this way too, from poison cures to refills for reloading ammunition in the multiple selections of transmuted projectile weapons. Luckily, there's no need to replenish the flow of alchemy...since it doesn't stand on that kind of number system. Although that just may be another contribution as to why Fullmetal Alchemist is an easier RPG than most.

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