Review by German Dragon

Reviewed: 10/05/05

SquareEnix Transmutates Another Good Game

"Humankind cannot gain anything, without first giving up something in return. To obtain something, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world's one and only truth." All Fullmetal Alchemist fans have heard that quote before -- Most can probably even hear Alphonse's voice as they read it. It basically sums up how Alchemy works in the Fullmetal Alchemist manga and anime works. People who have studied it, can perform Alchemy; Changing things on the molecular level, into other objects. It would not at all be strange to see people transform a sword into gun, and then further, into a metal chair. Then, there are other types of alchemy, such as people who can control elements, or people who specialize in biological transmutations. That is how Alchemy works.

In this game, you'll take control of Edward Elric, a fifteen year old boy, already working for the military as a State Alchemist. His mission is not his top priority, though. Ed and his brother, Al, have a twisted past. Their mother died when they were both young, and in an attempt to bring her back, they "brought back something that wasn't even human anymore," to use Ed's terms. In the same incident, Ed's leg was torn off, and Al's whole body was annihilated. Ed was able to transmute his brother's soul into a suit of armor, but it was at the cost of his right arm. He had his severed limbs replaced with auto-mail metal ones. Although given up hope for saving his mother, he still faces the day looking for a way to restore the bodies of him and his brother. Of course, this leads to many side arcs; including the one taking place in this game.

The action of the game is mixed with realtime cutscenes, and scenes from the anime. The overall effect is a bit odd but it gets the job done in conveying the story. In between these cutscenes, which take up a large part of the game -- ala Metal Gear Solid 2 -- you'll be placed in a beat-em-up setting. Here, you'll have all of the basic functions. You have your punches and your kicks which you can chain together in combos. Then, you have your basic alchemy skills which create rock slabs, and spikes from the ground, to either attack enemies or use as stepping stones to jump to higher areas. Al will be controlled via AI during these battles, though you can give him basic commands with the R1 button. For example, you can have him tackle, or guard you. You can also do specials with Al to really clear the area.

Fullmetal brings some new concepts to the table so as not to bore you, as well though. You'll find many objects in the areas: rocks, water fountains, light posts, trains... You name it, and you'll probably find it. You can use Ed's alchemy to transform these into weapons or items. Most weapons have two separate transformations that you can activate, depending on how long you hold circle before releasing (A bar on screen, with the pictures of the weapons that will be transmuted, will show when you can let go.) There are many types of weapons. There are the red type for Ed; these are generally daggers, or lances. There are the blue type for Al; Huge jousting lances, great swords. Then you have the green type, which suits both of them. These are made up by flamethrowers, katanas, and other medium-size weapons. Finally, you have the stationary weapons. Huge mounted chain guns, crossbows, cannons and other devastating machinery.

Often, you can take things further though. As you fight, and claim your enemy's belongings, you'll come across elemental items. You can transmute the elemental powers into many of your weapons. Doing this, the power increases greatly. Besides, it's hard to argue that a regular greatsword looks better than a flaming one anyway. You can also get special effects out of these though. The electrical one can stun enemies for a few moments. Be careful though, as they only last so long. After you use up the element's powers, you'll have to drop the item, and re-transmute it. All the possible weapons for use in battle assure that gameplay doesn't get stale prematurely. The odd thing that is worth noting, is that there is no regard to the law of equivalent exchange. You can make wooden crossbows out of light posts. This adds to the fun, but shows a lack of detail on the designers parts. They could have tossed in a picnic table if they wanted an excuse for a wooden bow.

Following the pattern of areas being full of potential weapons, boss battles are a flip of the coin. Some boss battles are just horribly unbalanced, and can be over in seconds if you exploit a particular weapon that is available. Others, such as the battle with the Chimera in the church, are great shows of creativity. If you try and go head first at these ones, you'll get your butt kicked. In those particular ones, you'll have no choice but to use a particular weapon to win efficiently, and it's fun to figure out what works best, since nothing is overly powerful. That's how it should be for all of them. Sadly, it is not though.

The graphics are above-average in most aspects. The polygon count is not particularly high, but the design completely hit the target. The colors are often saturated and colorful, and many of the areas are fun to look at. The character designs are very nice as well; Of course, that is more due to the way the manga and anime presented them, than to the effort of SquareEnix. The sound on the other hand, is mediocre. There's not a single song in the game that will get your attention. They don't distract from the gameplay, but they don't make it more enjoyable either.

Overall, the game probably appeals more to Fullmetal Alchemist fans, than gamers in general. And to be completely honest, I'm biased, as I fall into that category myself. There is definitely a solid gameplay system below the license though; Mixed with the fighting, is a level up system as well, so that you can get stronger. There's also a bonus point system, so that you can apply points to make particular stats higher. It's a fairly long game for what it is, and it's price tag isn't high at all. You won't miss much if you let it slide under the radar, but if it sounds interesting to you at all, look into it.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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