Daemons have sealed off continents from each other, forced humans to toil under Beastfolk masters, and covered up the sun for over a thousand years. Azura dreams of seeing a painting of a blue sky. It seems like a silly thing to obsess over, but anything that can bring even a twinge of happiness is something worth risking life and limb for.
This story is only the beginning, however, as you are funneled through a series of three intersecting perspectives: Azura and Galil, the Daemoness Vivian and her desire to observe humanity directly, and a human servant to Daemonic overlords named Gene. At about ten hours in, the three parties’ stories converge in a spectacular battle against a powerful foe, and the game transforms from a linear RPG into a more open-ended adventure to free humanity from its oppression and discover the truths of the world they live in.
Alliance Alive’s world captures your interest from the get-go and is uplifted by strong visual design that creates a series of distinct, detailed environments. The story moves along at a brisk pace, never lingering for too long on a singular location or plot point. Dialogue is also succinct and punchy, though some of the character development suffers a bit as a result--Daemon noble Vivian’s motives are flimsy compared to the machinations of the mysterious Gene and eccentric inventor Tiggy, while Azura and Galil’s rebel companions barely get any characterization at all. Overall, though, The Alliance Alive never feels likes it’s dragging its feet.
The game's turn-based combat deviates from established RPG norms in a lot of interesting ways. First, characters do not level up; instead, they randomly gain stat boosts after battle. Secondly, most characters can equip any weapons and armor they want, but they need to use said weapons in combat in order to gain proficiency and skills (which, much like stat gains, are learned at seemingly random moments). Thirdly, combat formations are hugely important here: depending on their position and the role (offense, defense, or support) a character is assigned, the effectiveness of attacks and skills is altered--and skills have individual levels tied to the specific position a character is in.
These oddball elements, though perhaps strange at first, help make combat more engaging than just mashing through menus. However, the game does a poor job of explaining most of these systems, expecting you to either be familiar with the series that inspired them (Square-Enix’s SaGa games) or having played developer Cattle Call’s previous RPG with similar combat mechanics, The Legend of Legacy. There are a few NPCs in the starting village that will drop hints, but they’re easily missed and don’t go into a lot of detail. An easy-to-access guide from the camp menu would have been a huge help, but unfortunately, you’re just going to have to learn a lot of Alliance Alive’s quirks through experience.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of everything, you’ll eventually reach a point where the game’s progression shifts towards a more open-ended structure. Despite this change, however, the speedy pacing and the solid combat don’t suffer much--though you may encounter more instances where you need to run from a high-level enemy that’s kicking your tail. One of the most fun elements also opens up around this time: the ability to find helpful NPCs who can be recruited to the various guilds that dot the land.
Groups like the Signimancy Guild, the Library Guild, and the Blacksmith Guild have set up towers across the world, and being in the towers’ sphere of influence yields benefits like enhanced combat stats and random start-of-round attacks and status ailments on enemies. They also aid the party by developing specialty weapons, armor, and spells. As you recruit more NPCs to these guilds, their capabilities also increase. You can engage with this element as little or as much as you want, but it can be one of the most enjoyable parts of The Alliance Alive. The feeling of building up support for your ragtag rebel crew is immensely satisfying--it’s just a shame it takes about a third of a game before it even opens up.
There’s a lot to love about The Alliance Alive: a well-paced story in an interesting world, a meaty mashup of unique combat elements, and a fantastic soundtrack that keeps you pumped and eager to explore. If you can put up with a bit of a learning curve, you’ll find a great portable adventure well worth dusting off your 3DS for.