Review: Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel (PS2)

Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel
Platform: Playstation 2
Genre: 3rd Person Action RPG
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Racjin
Rating: Teen
Release Date: 1/18/05

Ah, there’s nothing I love more than a spinoff game. Cartoons, animes, and movies make the best games, don’t they? What? They don’t? They tend to be mediocre at best? They’re by and large just thinly-veiled attempts to wrangle cash out of fanboys and fangirls who’ll buy any manner of spinoff with no regard to quality? Tsk, so cynical.

It’s made by Square Enix, though! It has to be good! Wait, the score’s not an automatic 9/10? Oh no, IP has another FFVII-hater!


Story:

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the anime, here’s Fullmetal Alchemist in a nutshell. Alchemy is real, and can be used basically like magic to transmute pretty much anything, changing its shape or nature. Edward and Alphonse Elric are child prodigy alchemists, but hardly normal kids; Ed has a metal arm and leg, and Al is a soul bound to a suit of armor. They lost the body parts in question in a botched attempt to use alchemy to bring their mother back to life (one of the most severely outlawed uses of alchemy). Their goal is to find the Philosopher’s Stone, which they can use to return to their original bodies. And then Voldemort will totally kick their asses.

Broken Angel is a side story that isn’t covered in the anime, so the game doesn’t spoil the anime’s story, and vice versa. A few characters from the show make appearances, but the majority of the characters are new. The story is decent. Personally, I felt it was a little cliche and relied too heavily on anime conventions, but it still managed to garner some emotional investment in the last hour or two. Unfortunately, some of the key character development is covered in a montage rather than fully fleshed out, making it fall a bit flat and adding to the general “not quite finished” feeling of the game. The rest of the characters feel pretty well written, especially considering how short the game is. Most of the story is told through text boxes with illustrations of the characters, rather than voice-overs. The anime clips are really effective at telling the story, and not overused to the point where it feels like it takes away from the experience of the game.

Story Rating: 7/10


Graphics:

The in-game graphics are pretty unimpressive. The character models for Ed and Al are good, but not outstanding. The rest of the characters are decent at best, with little in the way of details. The overwhelming majority of the enemies are simply recolors of enemies in previous levels. This might’ve been a fair corner to cut in 1992, but it just looks sloppy now. The levels aren’t much better, as their sparse, bland design is serviceable but wholly unremarkable.

There are some highlights among the mediocrity, however. The animation, particularly Ed’s attacks, translates the anime’s sense of speed and style effectively. The FMV anime clips are high-quality and well-made, thanks to the fact that they are specially-made for the game and not shoddy rehashes of the series.

Graphics Rating: 6/10


Sound:

The sound effects and music, like most of the graphics, are serviceable but utterly generic. The sad thing is that this is the best the sound gets in FMA. The dubbing in the voiceovers is just plain bad from any point of view. Square Enix’s first mistake was using soundalikes that don’t particularly sound like their authentic counterparts, which is hardly noticeable to anyone unfamiliar with the series, but will immediately irate and infuriate any series loyalists. The actual dubbing is sloppy, with many lines painfully rushed to try to fit in all the translated dialog without having to reanimate. It would’ve made everyone’s life so much more pleasant if they left the Japanese dialog and just subtitled, but this isn’t an available option.

The most irritating part of the sound issue, however, is without question Ed and Al’s in-game dialog. Where some games of this persuasion would slip in a number of one-liners that would be entertaining for the first 15 minutes of play and then irritating for the rest of the game, FMA just has crap. Ed and Al have an incredibly tiny library of phrases. If I hear one more plucky hero exclaim “How’s THIS?” or “Here’s another!” one more time, innocent people are going to be maimed. Particularly aneurism-inducing is Ed’s lone line for item pickup, which he feels the need to shout EVERY. BLEEDING. TIME. you pick something up. His smarmy “Thank YOU!” haunts my nightmares. Al has the same acknowledgement sounds for every order you issue him. My personal favorite has to be the wonderfully nonsensical “Listen to me!” that he always yells as he tackles enemies. It’s incredibly random, and the one voice-over that was the slightest bit amusing. The absolutely horrendous sound quality of these clips makes them even more irritating. It makes sense for Al’s voice to be muffled and tinny, as that’s the way his voice is presented on the show (and he’s a voice coming from inside a suit of armor, for god’s sake.), but Ed’s clips are of the same sound quality. All of these clips sound about like recordings made underwater, then left to rot in a closet for about 20 years.

Sound Rating: 2/10


Gameplay and Control:

Developers? How hard is it to make a platformer/third person RPG title wherein the character actually JUMPS when you press the jump button? I had much more trouble with trying to make Ed jump correctly than I did with the actual enemies. When I press the jump button, I expect my character to take to the air, no start some overly-elaborate jumping animation which delays my jump for a second. There are few things that can kill a game faster than unresponsive controls.

Al’s AI is just plain bad; he’ll attack enemies if they walk very close to him, but he’s not nearly as aggressive as he should be. This makes it handy that he’s a freaking SUIT OF ARMOR and has unreasonably high HP throughout the entire game, because he’ll often stand there and take a lot of hits instead of busting heads. There’s no handy Kingdom Hearts-style screen where you can adjust Al’s behavior to be more offensive or defensive, you simply have to take him as he is. This lack of control over your sidekick’s strategy is even more glaringly debilitating when you take into account the fact that your command interface for him is the suck. A single button controls everything you can order Al to do. Tap it when you’re far away, and he’ll come to you. Tap it near a weapon of his, and he’ll use it. Tap it when he’s close, and he’ll Tackle off in some arbitrary direction that’s infuriatingly difficult to specify, while he demands the enemies consider his viewpoint. I didn’t really mind Al’s slow, bumbling uselessness until the “stealth” level, when it became immediately obvious that going undetected was completely impossible, thanks to the lack of a “Stay” command, the invincibility of the guard towers, and the way he ambles around waiting to be spotted and shot. I don’t expect bleeding Metal Gear Solid here, but if you give me a stealthy area, dammit, I want to be able to do it stealthily!

The uselessness of your sidekick basically evens the odds for the inept forces of evil, and it would be a pretty fair game if it was all hack-and-slash. Luckily, the developers got something right, and it’s in your standard battles. Mindlessly comboing enemies to death is great fun. With Ed’s powers of alchemy, you can transform everyday objects scattered throughout the world into weapons. This is a great concept, and the interface for it is remarkably simple and intuitive (though the icons that represent the different weapons you can make from a given object are often cryptic). It’s just FUN to turn a flowerpot into a dagger and slice some evildoers up. There are a number of problems with the alchemy, however.

The first problem with Ed’s alchemy powers can only create a small selection of weapons, with little variety. This is made worse by the fact that all your weapons in the game, aside from Ed’s default blade, are temporary pickups you create. You’ll pick your favorite weapon in the first couple levels and stick with it through the final battle, as your weapon selection barely grows over the course of the game. There is very little variance between the different melee weapons at your disposal. Some are fast, some are slow, some have long range or short range, but they all do the job pretty equally. This is highly disappointing to RPGers who love to get the hard-to-find uber-weapons. Sorry, Billy, you’re not getting any new toys for Christmas. Weapons don’t really level up, and aside from an occasional oddball like the boomerang/chakram, they can’t be realchemized into something better. There are items you can use to temporarily imbue some weapons with extra elemental damage, but it’s a lot of trouble for a minimal payout. You can also create some ridiculously powerful non-melee weapons that are just plain mean to the enemies. The experience system is similarly shallow and unsatisfying; when you gain a level, you get bonus points that can be applied to Ed or Al (no matter who earned them), in order to raise Attack, Defense, HP, or, for Ed, Alchemy. The distribution of points doesn’t seem to have much noticeable effect in the long run, however.

Ed can also use alchemy without an item to transmute, which can either make a stone block for blocking and climbing on, or cause a handful of stone spikes to blast out of the ground. The spikes are useful for continuing combos and facilitating juggles, but the blocks are useless. You’ll constantly find yourself making them accidentally and struggling to get around them, and the number of times they’re necessary to progress through the game or get to an out-of-reach item can pretty much be counted on one hand. A wider selection of moves, and more applications for them, would’ve been much appreciated.

The level design is pretty disappointing. The most glaring problem is the overabundance of invisible walls, which limit how much you can explore by a huge extent. It give the game a very unfinished feel, as though the developers knew they had to do SOMETHING to give the levels more character, but didn’t want to concern themselves with making everything player-friendly and keeping you from getting yourself stuck in an odd corner somewhere. An even bigger problem with the level design is the fact that it’s unapologetically linear; there are rarely any times when you have real options as to where to go. It’s not possible to backtrack to previous levels if it’s not in the storyline. Since there are no new powerups to find and a pitifully meager selection of accessories to equip, it doesn’t particularly hurt the game, but it’s still frustrating and keeps the experience from being truly immersive. The levels go by so fast, however, you’ll hardly have time to notice; this is a 20-hour game at the absolute maximum.

Gameplay and Control Rating: 5.5/10


Balance:

Either the AI in this game is set to be ridiculously unaggressive or they’re just pacifists, but no matter what the reason, the prerequisite hordes of enemies aren’t a major threat. Enemies give you FAR too much time and space to get to the plentiful and overpowered weaponry, and inexplicably don’t become more aggressive when you’re in possession of an insanely powerful weapon. They also drop an incredible amount of items to heal away the damage you’re not taking.

Also throwing off the game’s balance is the incredible overpoweredness of the weapons you can create. Cannons, Gatling guns, huge crossbows with homing arrows, huge crossbows which fire a wide 5-arrow volley, and cannons are all incredibly effective weapons, and there’s a great joy in simply annihilating the enemies with them. The problem is that they’re far too powerful, especially considering the relatively low number of enemies, and the fact that they’re all pansies. To make matters worse, they can usually be found within a few feet of one another, so there’s not only always one handy, but often 3 or 4 in case you run out of ammo and there’s still something left alive. The only time these weapons aren’t simply UNFAIR is during the boss battles, when they’re essential. Using any manner of skill or finesse on the bosses is pretty much pointless after a few levels, when the only real way to beat them is to camp a cannon or Gatling gun and simply use reload items over and over until the boss goes down.

Balance Score: 3/10


Replayability:

There is an available New Game Plus mode, where loading the data from a finished game will restart the game, with Ed and Al retaining their items from your old game. The difficulty is ramped up a bit, but it’s still nothing like, say, Ninja Gaiden. If you beat one of the optional bosses (no spoilers here, kids), you can get one of two items that are so ridiculously overpowered that the game is really just sad. The real point behind a second play-through is that concept art and the game’s anime FMVs can be found in treasure chests that don’t require much skill to find. You have to be a pretty big fan to go through the whole game just to further humiliate the enemies and collect the extras, but with such a short game, it’s plausible for diehard fans of the anime.

Replayability Score: 7/10


Originality:

At the end of the day, there’s not too much here we haven’t seen before. Basically everything in this game has been done already, and done much better. The only spot of real innovation is the alchemy, which is admittedly lots of fun and very satisfying despite its shortcomings. The big weapons make it far too easy to plow through the game, but it’s just so entertaining to crossbow the hell out of everything that moves. Hopefully the sequels (another is already done and looks to have only slight improvements, but there’s hope that there might be a well-done third) can take fix Racjin’s missteps and pull out a great game.

Originality Score: 4/10


Appeal:

As with most licensed titles, FMA has a pretty clearly defined audience already, and relies more on their faith in the franchise than their discerning gaming tastes. Fans of the anime and otakus in general will go for this like madmen, but the game itself isn’t well-made or distinctive enough to make it truly mainstream. For those willing to give it a try, however, it’s got a decent story, and all things considered, it’s still a rental’s worth of mindless play that occasionally surpasses its shortcomings and becomes fun.

Appeal Score: 4/10


Addictiveness:

If you can ignore all the places where it falters, it’s pretty entertaining. The story moves at a good pace, keeping the player interested; the last hour or two in particular really pull the player in, keeping the action fast-paced and introducing a real sense of urgency to the plot without adding some arbitrary menace like a timer; if you honestly stop to think about it, it’s obvious that you can play the last levels at whatever pace you choose, but you honestly want to push harder and make it to the final confrontation. The best parts of the game are easily the combat and the alchemic weapons, so it’s pretty easy to get into a slightly-unhealthy rampage. Good for the soul and the release of stress.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10


Miscellaneous:

There’s not really much else to say. Erm, the manual is rather impressive, and seems like a fair amount of time and a bit of art direction went into it, and it’s printed on higher-quality paper than most. Oh, and there aren’t nearly enough games that involve hopping into a steamroller and killing everybody in your path, but this game happily fills that void. Oh, and kudos to Square-Enix for actually giving the game a meaningful name. After I finished it, I seriously had a moment of “WTF does it mean, ‘Broken An…’ OHHHHH.”

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10


Final Scores:

Story: 7/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 2/10
Gameplay and Control: 6/10
Balance: 3/10
Replayability: 7/10
Originality: 4/10
Appeal: 4/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Misc: 8/10

Overall Score: 54/100
Final Score: 5.5/10 (AVERAGE)