Review: Full Metal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir (PS2)

Review: Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir (PS2)
Developer: Racjin
Distributor: Square Enix
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 7/12/05

Hey, it’s my 10th official review for Inside Pulse! A minor milestone to be sure, but since they haven’t fired me yet, I must be doing okay.

And this weeks review? Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir. That’s a mouthful. Let’s just call it FA2 from here on out, shall we?

Anyway, if you are at all familiar with the FA anime series then you’ll probably have a general idea of what to expect here, at least in terms of storyline and plot. And if you’ve played the first game, then you’ll also have a good idea of what to expect out of the gameplay. Fortunately, the developers seemed to have listened to a lot of the criticisms thrown at the first game and have made some vast improvements for its sequel.

Of course, considering the poor quality of the first game, that might not be saying much. So how does it really stack up? Well, on the whole, it’s pretty average. But let’s take a look at why…


1. STORY

Just like the series, FA2 continues the adventures of the Elric brothers, Edward (Ed) and Alphonse (Al). Three years ago, the brothers attempted to resurrect their dead mother through the use of alchemy. However, since the rules of alchemy state that you must sacrifice an amount equal to that which you are creating, you can make a guess at how well that little experiment turned out.

They failed at their attempt, and in the process Al lost his entire body and Ed lost his left leg. However, before Al could be lost for good, Ed sacrificed his right arm to attach Al’s soul to a suit of armor, effectively saving his life, or what was left of it. As for Ed’s leg and arm, they were replaced with pieces of auto-mail, fully functioning mechanical limbs.

From that point on the two brothers have been searching for a way to restore Al back to his body, and hopefully repair Ed’s leg and arm as well. Rumor has it that there is only one object powerful enough to enhance Ed’s alchemy to the point where he can do this, and that is the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. Sorry Harry Potter fans, it’s not quite the same thing.

When the game begins, the brothers find themselves in the town of Lior, where the resident religious nut, Cornello, is using Alchemy to win over the town’s populace. To make matters worse, he also seems to be in possession of the Philosopher’s Stone. However, upon defeating Cornello the brother’s find out that the stone is a fake. On top of that, Cornello is sucked into the ground by some mysterious force while a strange woman with rather reptilian features watches on, then disappears herself.

After a bit more investigation and a trip to see Colonel Mustang, resident Flame Alchemist and, for all intents and purposes, your boss, you find out that there are several of these fake Philosopher’s Stones hitting the streets and causing all kinds of mayhem. It seems that while they do enhance the user’s power in Alchemy, they also have a very high chance to backfire. And to top things off, monsters have been reported roaming the country side and entire village populations have disappeared overnight.

The storyline is actually incredibly entertaining, even if it does contain many of the staples of the anime genre. However, there is enough here to set the game apart from its peers, and on the whole it acts like an extended side episode to the main series.

Story Rating: 7/10


2. GRAPHICS

Not only does FA2’s story feel like an episode of the series, but it looks like one too.

The games graphics are done entirely with cel shading, giving it an appearance almost identical to the anime. However, this also means the complexity of the textures is minimal, but since the developers were staying true to the anime as opposed to trying to be realistic, they work perfectly. Backgrounds, enemies, items, and friendly characters all look great, and the overall effect really makes it feel like you are inside the world of FA2.

Polygon counts are high, especially for the character models, allowing them to have a smooth curvature that again helps to make it feel like you are playing an actual episode of the anime. Background items such as buildings, walls, and forests are a little more jagged, but since most of your attention will be focused on the immediate action surrounding your characters, this is a minor complaint.

Movement and attack animations are fluid and show very little signs of choppiness, while various graphical effects are both complex and free of pixilation. The various spells, abilities, and environmental effects all look crisp and clean. To top it all off, colors are bright and vibrant, and really add to the style of the game.

Adding to this is the addition of several full cut scenes created specifically for the game. These are exactly like the anime and are really a joy to watch. The best part is after seeing them once you can go back and watch them anytime you want to from the main menu. And after seeing the ending of the game, you might want to.

There are really very few complaints that I have with the games graphics, and almost all of those relate to occasional clipping issues and being able to pass right through other characters at times. But on the whole, everything looks fantastic.

Graphics Rating: 9/10


3. SOUND

The games designers also did a wonderful job with the sound, although to a somewhat lesser degree than the graphics.

To start with, every piece of dialog in the game is voice acted, and it’s acted well. There were very few times when I found myself wanting to skip through the dialog and just read instead. The interactions between the characters at times are priceless, and there are plenty of lines that will make you laugh. Having only watched a few episodes of the main anime series, I’m not sure if the same voice actors who do the English dubs for the series also voiced the game, but I believe that they did.

However, while the voice acting is top notch, the music leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, there are very few individual pieces of music in the game. I’d guess maybe 15 tops, so you’ll be hearing a lot of the pieces repeated throughout each chapter. The music is pretty subdued in most areas though, and it’s certainly nothing offensive. But there is nothing overly catchy here either, unless you are a fan of J-Rock, in which case you’ll probably enjoy the opening theme.

Sound effects for the various attacks, weapons, and other items are all okay, but lack any real punch. And since you’ll be spending most of your time fighting they tend to get a bit repetitive. Again, there is nothing offensive here, but nothing impressive either.

Ambient sound effects are a bit better, and really add a lot to whatever area you are in. Waterfalls in caves, dripping pipes in sewers, howls in the middle of the woods, and a steady rainfall during a boss fight all sound excellent and really help to enhance the overall experience.

On the whole, FA2’s sound is a bit above average, featuring some fantastic voice work but mediocre sound and music. Although good voice work seems to be a rarity these days, so it’s certainly nice to have some enjoyable dialog to listen to.

Sound Rating: 6/10


4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

And here is where the game starts to fall short after a few good scores in the presentation areas. To put it mildly, the general control and gameplay are poor and repetitive.

Let’s take a look at the controls first. For the most part, the controls are fairly simple. You move around with the left analog stick, use the various buttons for attacking or alchemy powers, and the right analog stick for moving the camera. Pressing the shoulder buttons will either allow you to block, counter attack, give orders to Al, or bring up a quick menu with various weapons you can create out of the ground.

For the most part, the control scheme itself is good. Buttons are responsive, and it’s easy to string together a nice long combo. Since you play through the game entirely as Ed, Al is always under the computer’s AI control. However, if you are near an object and hit the order button, he’ll automatically head for it and use it. You can also get him to throw you into the air to access ledges that you otherwise couldn’t reach.

The real problems start to kick in with the camera control, which is easily one of the biggest issues with the game. Moving the camera is completely counter intuitive to what it should be. If you push the stick right, it moves left. If you push the stick left, it moves right. This makes no sense to me whatsoever for this particular game, as you almost never need to look up or down, and hence a cockpit control scheme for the camera is a poor choice. One that can’t be changed in the options, I might add. For the most part, the camera tends to stay behind Ed’s head, allowing you to see what he sees. However, if you ever need to make a quick turn, the camera seems like it takes forever to catch up. And if you don’t keep moving, it never will. It’s way too easy to get turned around during a big fight so that the character is now facing into the camera and you can’t see what the hell is going on around you. Fortunately you can use the L1 button to automatically center the camera back behind Ed’s head, but it’s still a real annoyance when you are constantly moving around. I should not have to keep hitting buttons to be able to see what I am fighting.

Speaking of fighting, FA2 places a lot like Kingdom Hearts. For the most part you wander around exploring various areas and get into big melees with several enemies at once. Stringing together combos is simple, but after a while it gets incredibly repetitive. Even boss fights are just one constant stream of square, square, square or square, triangle, triangle, triangle. There is almost no strategy at all.

This mediocrity is broken up somewhat through the use of your alchemy powers, which allow you to transmute various objects laying around on the ground. A guardrail might become a giant steel bowling ball, while seemingly normal pot might turn into a giant vacuum cleaner. Other objects turn into throwing stars, branding irons, machine gun turrets, cannons, arrow launchers, decoy robots, or the incredibly deadly Artistic Cow of Doom!

Yes, you read that right. Occasionally you run into an item that will transmute into a dwarf sized cow wielding a paint brush and wearing a beret. Seriously, I’m not making this shit up.

Anyway, the item transmutes can be fun to play with, and often times very effective in combat. But even with this fun little addition there isn’t enough here to keep the general gameplay from being incredibly repetitive and more than a little boring after a while.

As you fight through the game, both Ed and Al will gain levels. Gaining levels increases your various stats which boil down to vitality, attack, defense, and (for Ed anyway) alchemy. As these skills improve, your abilities and powers will also improve to the point where Ed will be able to transmute more impressive and deadly items. Additionally, chests are scattered around each area and contain various items that you can equip or use, such as rings, bracelets, shirts, healing potions, and stat boosters. You only have two equipment slots per character though, so you’ll need to decide what the most important things to wear are.

Level designs, while aesthetically pleasing, aren’t very complex or difficult to navigate at all. The game is broken up into 7 chapters, and within each chapter are various areas that you will need to pass through. Between each area is a loading time which lasts roughly 5-10 seconds depending on the size of the next section. It’s not a large loading time, but considering the size of the areas themselves I’m surprised it’s as long as it is. Additionally, because each area is relatively small, there is very little room for exploration. This causes the game to be incredibly linear as in most cases there will only ever be one entrance and one exit from any given area.

And that’s pretty much all I can say about the game play. It’s so repetitive that there is literally nothing else you will do during the game. No interesting puzzles, no quirky side quests, no unique boss fights… just hack, slash, punch, kick, rinse and repeat in a linear fashion. Add that to the terrible camera control, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of how this game plays.

Control and Gameplay Score: 4/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

Assuming that you would want to play through the game more than once, there is very little reason to come back. Sure, the game is worth a play through to see the main storyline resolved, but otherwise the developers gave you barely any incentive to want more.

The only reason to play through the game more than once is to find various crystals that only appear on the second play through. These crystals unlock bonus artwork that can be accessed from the main menu. There are 64 total to find, which equates to roughly one per section in each chapter. By the end of your second run through the game you’ll have done everything there is to do.

So yeah… replayability? Close to nil.

Replayability Score: 2/10


6. BALANCE

Balance is another area where FA2 is seriously lacking.

Allow me to give you a sample rundown of one of the levels. Kill a bunch of guys with ease. Move to next area. Kill a bunch of guys with ease. Move to next area. Save game. Fight boss and avoid ripping hair out in the process.

And that pretty much says it all. The enemies throughout each area are mindless and simple for the most part, and nowhere near difficult even in the last levels. However, the bosses tend to get more and more annoying as the game goes on. The worst part is that they don’t get any smarter. They just get faster and stronger and happen to have longer life bars. Not to mention almost every boss fight involves your opponent summoning up tons of cannon fodder for you to hack through in the process. There’s no strategy to them either… it’s just one giant clusterf*ck with you trying to get off a few hits before they bolt away and you spend five minutes getting your camera aligned properly so you can see where they are to hit them.

As if that wasn’t enough to unbalance the game, did you know that Al is invulnerable? Well, mostly, anyway. You’ll find out real fast that you never have to heal Al. Sure, he’ll take damage, and even die. But when he does, you can just run up to him and hit a single button to bring him back to life with full health without using an item or sacrificing anything from Ed. It’s not like you’ll be short on potions either, but why use them if you don’t have to?

So to say that the game is unbalanced is putting it lightly. I guess you could say it’s like bringing a shotgun to a knife fight, until the boss shows up with a Panzer.

Balance Score: 1/10


7. ORIGINALITY

FA2 has a decently original premise and storyline going for it, even if it is the second game in the series (I believe there are actually five in Japan) and based off of a popular anime. However, it’s hurt a lot by the repetitive gameplay that has been seen dozens of times in various other games.

The only really original aspect to the game is the ability to transmute various objects in each area and use them to your advantage. On the other hand, plenty of games allow you to use interactive pieces of the environment to your advantage, so the only real difference here is that you have to transmute the object first. Although the range of objects that you can create is pretty impressive and more than a little amusing.

The ability to upgrade your characters with various items is certainly nothing new either. For that matter, is there an RPG made by Square that doesn’t have a system similar to this?

In the end, FA2 has an enjoyable storyline but is seriously lacking in original gameplay.

Originality Score: 4/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

In the short term, FA2 is a pretty addictive romp. It’s fun to see what the next object will transmute into, or what the next twist in the story will be. Heck, even the combat is somewhat entertaining, camera issues aside.

However, after your first few hours with the game you probably won’t have any real desire to come back to it, except to finish it once to see the ending, as the repetitive gameplay and annoying boss fights will eventually take their toll.

But for what it is, the game is fun. And it’s short enough that you can beat it in about 8 hours, even with listening to all of the dialog and watching all of the cut scenes, which easily take up about a third of that time.

Addictiveness: 5/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

Fullmetal Alchemist has certainly become popular here in the states. Not only is this the second game to come out, but the full series has been running on Cartoon Network for quite some time. So anyone who has enjoyed the series or played the first game will probably be interested in giving this one a try.

As for the RPG fans? Well, there is enough here to take up a weekend, but those folks who are used to a longer storyline, deeper combat system, and more freedom will be sorely disappointed. On the other hand, this is an adequate introduction to RPG’s for those who might never have played them before.

Overall, FA2 should appeal to a decent amount of gamers, although I would certainly recommend a rental before a purchase. Serious fans of the series will probably get more out of it, but unless you are a completionist, I’d still suggest a rental first.

Appeal Factor Score: 5/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

With the exception of being able to watch the cut scenes any time you want, and the 64 pieces of artwork to unlock, FA2 doesn’t really have much in the way of extras going for it.

On the bright side, this is easily one of the closest translations from an anime to a video game that I have ever seen in terms of mimicking the look of the series. Cel shading has come a long way in the past few years, and I don’t think you can ask for better on this generation of consoles.

In the end, it’s an enjoyable enough game with a wonderful presentation that really falls short in the critical areas of gameplay and replayability. If the developers had taken the time to clean up the camera controls a bit more, expand the world, and put in some more extra content for when you beat the game, it could have really been a good game. As it is, though, it doesn’t quite fall into the average category.

Miscellaneous Score: 3/10


THE SCORES

Story: 7
Graphics: 9
Sound: 6
Gameplay/Control: 4
Replayability: 2
Balance: 1
Originality: 4
Addictiveness: 5
Appeal Factor: 5
Miscellaneous: 3
Overall: 46
Final Score: 4.5 (Poor)