It wasn’t long ago that we last saw The Alliance Alive. Developed by Yoshitaka Muriyama, creator of the Suikoden series, and released early last year, it was one of the last 3DS RPGs to be put out, and to all accounts it was a fantastic game to help close out one of Nintendo’s best handheld systems to date. The Alliance Alive is making a comeback in HD form, upping the graphical quality and presentation for the Switch in a cute little port that should satisfy anyone craving for a really good JRPG experience on the go.
The game’s premise is anime as all heck, but it works well as a backdrop for the group of heroes that slowly grows as you play through the story. The Alliance Alive takes place in a world that was split into many different realms when it was taken over by a race known as the Daemon. Humans were left to be subjugated by the minions of the Daemons, the Beastfolk, and outside scattered resistance groups, they have lived under their boot for centuries, so long that they have even forgotten what a blue sky looked like, since there’s a perpetual gloom and rain day and night.
Starting out with only a couple of characters to control, Galil and Azura, two kids who don’t aren’t bonded by blood but see themselves as siblings, you start picking up quite a party along the way, after they run into a mysterious artifact when they manage to get into a sealed off temple near their village. There’s quite a bit of variety when it comes to characters coming into your group, and while I wouldn’t want to spoil their origins in any way, it’s safe to say that you’ll be surprised to see who some of them turn out to be story-wise.
You can have up to five party members in battle at once, and depending on their strengths and weaknesses, you can position them as you see fit in formations, so physically weaker ones can be covered and take less damage from direct attacks, or simply use that to your advantage when one particular character is about to lose all of their HP. One of the aspects of battle that I liked the most, though, is the fact that each party member can equip two weapons at once, allowing them to sort of have more than a “job” at once, in the Final Fantasy parlance, allowing for some flexibility when it comes to combat, not forcing you to switch back and forth from equipment setups.
That also throws another facet of the game that’s really cool in The Alliance Alive, the learning of new moves the more you use specific weapon types, which the game calls “awakening”. After that happens, you can use them at any time, as long as you have enough skill points (SP). And the more you use an equipped weapon, the more talent points (TP) you earn, which in turn let you make your characters more proficient with these weapons. This is in no way something completely new, but it’s implemented well enough in this game to be worth mentioning, especially because it makes composing your party much less of a hassle, since all characters can potentially become anything that you want outside of their initial archetypes.
Another somewhat unique facet of The Alliance Alive’s character progression is that your party doesn’t level up per se. Instead, after each successful encounter, each member earns a random HP or SP bonus, along with the aforementioned TP for you to further specialize your party. It’s a neat twist that keeps things fresh and much less grindy, although you’ll still want to engage in fights in order to power up your skills and not be caught unprepared when facing strong enemies, but as a whole, it makes the game flow much more naturally and be less of a an older school JRPG slog, which I’m thankful for, having played many of those over the years
The Alliance Alive’s world seems rather small and confined at first, but it’s actually quite large and diverse. The painterly visuals that initially make the initial areas feel two-dimensional and somewhat sparse when interposed by the chibi/super deformed polygonal characters quickly evolves after the game’s opening sections, and once you make your way into the more lush and colorful environments outside of that portion of The Alliance Alive, you’ll find a pretty lively world to explore and check every corner of. It’s important that you do so, because many of your support abilities come from the guilds that you find and help along the way, and they give you quite a hand during battle, such as showing monster’s vital information, and even bombard them with nerfing effects at command.
You can power them up by recruiting NPCs in the many towns and locales you get to throughout your adventure and assigning them to the many guild towers you find along the way. The more powerful these guilds get, the more benefits they provide, and just like your party formation, you can put more focus into specific ones if you find them more useful to you, or not, it’s totally up to choice, since they’re not at all vital to gameplay — they certainly improve your odds, but aren’t mandatory. It’s a good thing that The Alliance Alive does not push you towards any specific direction when it comes to deciding the way you want to play it, and for that I’m glad that there are Japanese developers that are looking into making their games more user friendly not just in the difficulty side of things, but in how they can branch out in terms of gameplay possibilities.
The 3DS version of The Alliance Alive had a lot in common with Square Enix’s Bravely Default games, sharing a similar art style that looked like it belonged on that small screen, which the now classic chibi designs that everyone either loves or hates, along with simple backgrounds and little to no voice acting to, well, speak of. The Switch port of The Alliance Alive sharpens things up quite a bit, making things look quite good during both portable and TV modes. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said during cutscenes, as those preserve the resolution of the DS and look quite blurry, but they are so far and few that they don’t overstay their welcome. Usually, I’d say that I would’ve preferred to have seen some voice acting added in to a new and improved port, but since overall the dialogue in the game never gets too wordy, the trade-off of not having voice acting and in its stead, a much quicker paced beat to beat progression, is A-OK by me.
If you have missed The Alliance Alive during its first outing — and I wouldn’t blame you if you did, since the 3DS had way too many great RPGs in its catalog and it came out way too late in that system’s lifespan — its HD Remastered version is totally worth picking up and adding to your Switch RPG library, thanks to the brilliant way it’s put together and how differently it can potentially play depending on how you take things. NIS America has done a fantastic favor to Switch players by picking up the publishing rights from Atlus and bringing The Alliance Alive out to a larger audience. It certainly deserves much praise and attention.