Set in a world where Daemons invaded a thousand years ago, the landscape of The Alliance Alive’s world has been divided and altered, the climate upended, and humans placed in a subservient role. With Daemons and beastkin on one side and humans on the other, The Alliance Alive is an archetypal story of good versus bad.
The Alliance Alive starts as Galil and Azura are sent on a mission to deliver a message to a group of anti-Daemon resistance fighters. This would surely have gone to plan, were it not for one of the dumbest digressions I’ve seen in gaming for a long while. As they travel, Azura convinces Galil to investigate a set of ruins, eventually leading to her being blinded. What a dumbass.
From there, you can throw in a smattering of characters with varying allegiances and motivations, from the Daemons Vivian and Ignace to the cooky scientist Tiggy, alongside some allegories to racism with the treatment of humans by the beastkin and Daemons, and you have yourself a lightly baked JRPG.
That continues as you tuck into the game’s structure, with turn-based battles and somewhat linear progression the order of the day. Exploration involves running around towns, talking to everyone and stealing everything they own. Then once you’re done being a public menace, running around dungeons and the world map, getting into scrapes and solving puzzles.
In combat, the main strategy is found in Arts, the skills each character possesses. Rather than being connected to character or class, these are tied to the weapon in hand at the time. More Arts unlock as you use a weapon, as the characters “Awaken”, but each weapons has its strengths and weaknesses that you’ll want to try and cover off in your party.
These Arts are nothing without the ability to use them though, and this is where SP comes in. Although these can all have their SP cost reduced using the in-game Talent system, it’s safe to assume that, as the more powerful Arts have a higher cost, you’ll be saving your SP for when you have tougher enemy mobs or bosses to dispatch them with greater ease. They hit pretty hard.
Speaking of high cost, you have one last trick up your sleeve if you do get in trouble: Ignition. This state triggers in response to an emotion stirring in a character, usually caused by taking damage or an ally falling in battle. While ignited, characters stats are boosted and they can perform a Final Strike, a powerful attack that breaks the held weapon. They can be repaired though, so you won’t lose all the effort you put into building its power.
You can change the formation of your party at will, moving the characters between three rows of five. It’s more than just letting you shove your casters to the better-protected back rows to fling their spells with relative impunity, as each formation grants offensive or defensive abilities. The game handily labels all of your Arts too, so you can tell whether the particular Art you’re considering will be effective, judging by the number of rows between you and your target.
Helping you in your battles are the Guilds, little bastions out in the wilderness run by factions of the resistance. They come in five different types, yet they largely function the same. You can save, rest, buy an assortment of spells and gear, and research new ones in each. The difference lies in when you’re wandering around, as each Guild will give you differing support in battle.
Like all of the giants of the genre, and in fact maybe a little more than most of those, this title has menus for days. There’s a menu for just about every little thing in the game, from story refreshers that are just vague enough to be utterly unhelpful to the CMD menu that will give you a detailed breakdown of any given Art. Needless to say, number chasers will find a lot to love.
It’s not all business as usual though, as The Alliance Alive has several quality of life improvements on the tried and tested JRPG formula. Your party’s HP is restored after any battle, which is an absolute godsend when in dungeons, and your HP and SP incrementally increase after battles instead of a traditional levelling up system for your party of oddball misfits. Not only that, but you can save wherever and whenever you like, and skip the backtracking after completing objectives by simply warping back once you’re done.
Really, the main gripe I have with the gameplay is that it’s just a little dull. It all works fine enough, but as it’s not doing anything drastically new or different with the classic turn-based formula, it just ends up feeling stale and repetitive. Especially the case when compared to its contemporaries, which is the case both now and when the game originally launched on 3DS.
The Alliance Alive is heavily reminiscent of the no-frills-no-feet school of design seen in Bravely Default and Fire Emblem: Awakening. The characters are all adorable blocky, big-eyed little things, especially Ignace, but the enemies feel quite restricted by the design choice, looking bland in comparison. This blandness, sadly, also extends to the environments, which can often just be very uninteresting. The idle camera pans out in towns giving you these stunning vistas, but as you go into a house or dungeon, they’re practically indistinguishable from the last house or dungeon.
One thing that isn’t uninteresting, however, is the music. The Alliance Alive has a fantastic score, with possibly one of my favourite battle themes in recent JRPG history and the rest of it being brooding but hopeful, perfectly reflecting the mood of the game. The only downside is that the phenomenal battle theme isn’t used in all standard battles, which is honestly a travesty.