The faithful JRPG has not been as in-your-face prevalent on home consoles the last two generations. While the Switch has been a haven for older JPRG masterpieces like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, the real prize is getting gems that never made it to home consoles. The Alliance Alive HD Remastered has everything that I want out of a 3DS port — improved graphics and the ability to play on my TV screen. The Alliance Alive brings the faithful tropes and mechanics and some needed updates, but also some disappointing shortcomings.
A slave to tropes
Following a globetrotting plot and a motley crew of characters, the story echoes many classic JRPG plots, notably some of the earlier Final Fantasy games. Unfortunately, many of the problems stem from the writing. Party members are flat and tropey, villains are uninspired carbon copies of classics, and even characters I thought I liked started to grind on me. The dialogue definitely doesn’t help, as it reads a bit too modern natural for an epic fantasy adventure and is laced with humor that never really hits. Of course, your mileage may vary.
The main character of The Alliance Alive HD Remastered, Galil, is a stock protagonist with little personality to spare, and he ended up being my favorite. Serious characters speak exclusively in platitudes, while humorous characters never stop talking. All characters feel like they are there to meet a quota, but at the very least there is a good variety. If you like dog-boys or fox-girls, young prodigies or grizzled samurai, there’s probably one character you can get behind.
Competent where it matters most
The pacing, however, had me feeling completely at home. No subplot drags and most new adventures have you doing something, well, new. The game knows exactly how much time is too much, and when it needs to, it slows things down accordingly. The next sequence might be a dungeon or a boss rush, or you might find yourself cruising the vast world map looking for points of interest. It was very easy to get sidelined as each mini-adventure offered something unique and worthwhile. Plenty of optional dungeons and bosses await for explorers.
Helping things to stay fresh, The Alliance Alive HD Remastered gives a crazy amount of combat options, focusing heavily on learning new weapon abilities. In a strange twist, the weapon fighters are the ones with the most variety instead of spellcasters. Frequently using a weapon type unlocks new skills, and I was still unlocking them even during the final boss fight. Spellcasters, on the other hand, have to buy their abilities, and it feels like you’re incentivized against full spellcasting builds.
Strange design decisions
Character progression eschews the standard leveling system in favor of seemingly random upgrades. For the most part, character stats are static aside from equipment bonuses, with the main battle rewards being talent points, weapon arts, and sometimes an increase in max HP or SP (the MP equivalent). Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell how or when any of these things will increase as there is no bar dictating them. Even the guidebook function, relegated at all times to a button, uses vague terms like “sometimes” and “occasionally.” After 30 or so hours of experience, I’m still scratching my head with only vague hunches to go off of.
Unfortunately, the obtuseness of character progression is further muddled by its general slowness. It takes a lot of time to see improvements in characters, and you won’t even know when they’re coming. You can purchase talents that mostly supplement your abilities, but for the most part, they don’t actually make you stronger. Talent points are also strangely stingy, and by the end of the game I had nowhere near as many talents unlocked as I would have liked.
The best way to improve the characters is by exploring rather than fighting. Not only does gear play a major part, but recruiting for your guilds makes a huge difference. Introduced after about 10 hours or so, you get the ability to recruit NPCs and level up five different guilds. The guilds unlock new gear, spells, and passive abilities that substantially improve your party. By the end of the game I was scouring over every NPC in the game for possible recruits, but once again, I had nowhere near as many as I would have liked. Still, the guilds are an ideal gimmick, both easy to grasp and thoroughly rewarding.
RPG comfort food
Despite the flaws in story and system, overall The Alliance Alive HD Remastered was compelling from start to finish, and I have a feeling I’m not done with it yet. Two separate new game plus modes let you keep trucking, but there’s plenty of content I had left untouched. While you can blast through the main story in under 30 hours, this is the kind of game where fanatics might double their playtime. Players looking for something classic, yet new, will love this game, but it won’t satisfy everyone. The Alliance Alive HD Remastered is just a few tweaks away from being amazing, but it’s the perfect example of a rainy day JRPG.
A review code was provided by the publisher.