Reviewed: January 20, 2005
Released: January 18, 2005
Why Square, why? Why have you forsaken me? Before this whole merger deal you could pretty much pick up a Square title with 90% certainty of getting a great product. If it wasnít downright groundbreaking you at least got a good story, enjoyable game play and great graphics. That is not so any more as their latest title, Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel clearly shows.
Fullmetal Alchemist, for those of you unfamiliar with the story, involves two brothers who try to bring their dead mother back through the use of alchemy (think magic with rules, not potions and formulas). A long story short it doesnít work, and one brother ends up trapped in a suit of armor (Alphonse) while the other loses an arm and a leg (Edward). Iím not really familiar with the story after that, but I think the plot of the game happens after the series ends, just donít quote me on that. All I know is that Ed and Al start off on a train and end up investigating a town overrun by monsters.
While the series has lots to draw you in, good characters, great animation, and an interesting plot, the game comes out much flatter. I wonít say itís completely uninteresting, because it is fun enough, and it looks ok, but this is not the kind of product you would expect from Square.
Fullmetal Alchemist uses something that looks like a slightly modified version of the game engine used for Kingdom Hearts. So you run and jump around while fighting enemies as Ed, and tell Al to take certain actions. In addition to jumping, dodging, and swinging your weapon, you can also use alchemy. This will let you create blocks that can be used for cover or as stepping stones, or produce an earth spike that causes damage to nearby opponents. However, the real difference alchemy makes in a fight is when you use it near certain objects in the field. Using alchemy you can transmute oil drums into cannons, telephone poles into crossbow turrets, and street lamps into lances for Al or swords for yourself.
This sounds fun and exciting, but in execution all you end up with is a clunky action-RPG. I say clunky because the timing for combos is a little slow, the camera is very sluggish and the x-axis is reversed, so you keep rotating it the wrong way, and some of the enemies must be defeated either by special weaponry (made through alchemy) or just slowly beaten to death a point at a time.
Some faults in game play are acceptable, but when you combine them with load screens that occur every time you move from one zone to another, and the zones arenít that big, then you have a problem. That may have worked for the Resident Evil series, but the difference here is that this game should be full of pulse pounding action and ridiculously big overkill. Instead you get a break between repetitive beatings.
Again we have Squareís name being tarnished. In their defense there are long clips of animation in lieu of computer generated cinematics, but the animations are the only part of the game that actually looks good. Actual gameplay graphics are decent, again looking like they yanked the skeleton out of Kingdom Hearts and put new flesh on itís bones. However they are dated, and while Kingdom Hearts was quality, these are just blocky, and not backed up by the gorgeous square cinematics, nor even by good story telling.
The worst is that everything is jaggy. There is hardly a smooth line in the game. Textures are nothing really interesting, and the color palate conflicts with itself (some enemies are very dark, in color and in character, but Edís cloak is this insanely bright red that just seems out of place).
The only really good things going for the game are the character designs, if not the actual models, because you face a whole host of mishmashed monsters, from giant crabs and street thugs to giant satyrs, cyborg cheetah, and other assorted chimera. Itís a good bestiary in theory and Iíll bet the concept art is beautiful; itís too bad they had to be rendered with this engine.
Effects arenít bad either, but they do get old through repetition and donít really add much to the game experience. Sure the combo attacks you can do are pretty cool, but after the first one you wish theyíd do something else occasionally.
Ultimately this game looks nearly like a PS2 launch title rather than a game that has just been released.
This is just inexcusable. The sound in this game is inconsistent and terrible. Itís inconsistent because you have spoken dialogue in the animated cut scenes, but then only text in any other cut scenes, so most of the story ends up being silent. While the spoken tracks are voiced by the American cast so the voice acting is at least consistent with the series and not terrible, as is usual for American voice acting itís not stellar either.
What is completely unacceptable however is the quality of the sound throughout the rest of the game. Effects and music both sound like they were recorded in someoneís garage, by which I mean they are tinny and hollow. That is of course when there is any music to speak of, which isnít often. The little random phrases Ed and Al spout during combat are not only limited to one or two lines, which means you want to throttle them about two stages in, but also sound like they are stored on a keyboard somewhere and some engineering gnome is hitting the key to make them speak. I realize that thatís probably how itís always done, but it doesnít always sound like it.
This isnít a bad game, not irredeemably at least. Itís essentially a cheesy tie-in title. Iím taking it to task because Square used to be known for doing better than that, and now as Square Enix they are just not keeping those high standards.
Thereís roughly 30 hours of game in here and nothing Iíve run into has been too terribly difficult so youíre looking at a bit of flat, sometimes annoying playtime. Is it worth the asking price? If youíre a big fan of the show you will probably say yes, if only for curiosity value. Otherwise Iíd say wait till this one hits the bargain bins.
As a tie-in game this is about par for the course, what frustrates me is that tie in games can get away with it. Just throw in the expected characters and some sort of resemblance to the original and youíre fine. Would that it were not so and you could actually get a quality tie in title (and if anyone could have done it it would have been Square), but some things are not meant to be.
This game does a good job at one thing though, it makes me want to go watch the real series, so Iíd say save your money and go by those on DVD rather than this, but there are worse ways to waste money.