In 2015, Atlus published The Legend of Legacy, a 3DS JRPG produced by a dream team of veteran developers with credits on classics like SaGa, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger. The game was met with mostly positive reviews, but at the time, another game was in development from the same team. This game came to be The Alliance Alive, which is something of a spiritual successor to The Legend of Legacy. Boasting of a new setting, an improved battle system, and a deep cast of characters, The Alliance Alive has proven itself to be a more than worthy follow up, building on its predecessor in notable ways.

It’s clear that the developers wanted to respond to the complaints about the lacking story of Legend of Legecy, and the narrative that’s been crafted here is far stronger. The story — penned by Yoshitaka Murayama, the creator of the beloved Suikoden series — begins one thousand years prior to the events of the game, when the human world was taken over by the Daemon race and divided up into regions by what came to be known as The Great Barrier. The sky was blackened and Daemonkind established an oppressive government over the people, enforcing their rule through another race called Beastfolk. It’s an interesting premise to be sure, and the nuance and detail of the world is brilliantly realised as you constantly delve deeper into new regions.

You first take control of Galil and Azura — two freedom fighters living in the Rain Realm — and set out in search of a fabled ship that can supposedly cross between the realms, but there really isn’t a main protagonist in The Alliance Alive; this is very much an ensemble affair. Whether it be a feisty engineer and professor named Tiggy, or an air-headed daughter of Daemon royalty named Vivian, each character in the main cast of nine has a pleasing amount of charm and depth. There’s a great mixture of humour and seriousness, and the 40(ish) hour storyline is filled with plenty of surprises and plot twists that’ll keep you pushing onward. If we were to name one flaw, however, it’d be that there are points early on where it can become rather easy to lose one’s way.

Though the game limits your freedom in the opening hours to a relatively linear path, The Alliance Alive has a surprisingly deep and expansive open world that frequently rewards the player who travels off the beaten path. Every region is filled to the brim with things to do, from towns to trade goods and rest in to secret caves that house powerful, optional boss fights in their depths to side dungeons that can give you new building locations for guild towers. There’s always something more you can be doing, always another place to explore or conquer, and we occasionally were surprised by the depth of the world.

In battle, you can have up to five party members on the field at once, and a series of preset “Formations” will dictate where they stand and what role they have. There are three roles available: Attack, Guard, and Support, each of which offers distinct stat buffs for certain commands. On top of this, there are three rows on each side of the battle field, and where you place your characters will dictate the effectiveness of certain attacks, and the likelihood of being targeted by enemies.

The best part about this battle set up is the endless amounts of depth and flexibility that it offers in how to best maximize your party’s effectiveness. One enemy encounter may be quickly wiped out by putting everyone on the front line in Attack roles, while another may require you to do something more advanced, like putting a shield up front to tank attacks while attackers poke from behind as they’re being buffed by a mage in the back. Though there’s a series of preset roles to begin with, you can tweak these to your liking and even create entirely new ones that suit your needs. All of this comes together to make for a battle system that favours fluidity and foresight; plotting out effective formations and swapping them on the fly is as satisfying as it is engaging.

The progression system of The Alliance Alive was designed by Kyoji Koizumi — of SaGa fame — and it borrows heavily from that series of games, focusing on unconventional yet refreshing means of building your characters. There’s 11 classes of weapons and just about every character can wield just about every kind of weapon. Just handing a character an axe doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to fully use it right away, however, as everyone starts with just a handful of basic "Arts" for a weapon type.

By frequently using a weapon in battle, characters will occasionally trigger an “Awakening” that unlocks a new Art for them to use. Seeing as how Awakenings are triggered at a random (yet reliable) rate, it’s always surprising and exciting when a new Art is unlocked. New Arts aren’t just more powerful versions of previous ones, either; they often come with bonuses, like a wider area of attack or additional damage against certain enemy types.

It doesn’t stop there, though, because Arts themselves can be individually leveled up to get even more combat potential. Each Art has three level bars corresponding to each of the three roles, and using an Art frequently will increase its effectiveness in the role you use it in. For example, an attack art that’s repeatedly used in the Attack role will begin doing more damage there than if it’s used in the Guard role. Considering the massive amount of Arts that become available to any given character, this gives you plenty of control over how specialised your characters can be.

Amazingly enough, it still doesn’t stop there, as you can also “Seal” Arts later on in the game. This is done from the main menu, and it allows you to block off the ability to use certain Arts in battle in exchange for the remaining Arts receiving a boost in power. This proves to be a very welcome inclusion, as you have quite a long list of Arts to pick from once you unlock this ability, and many of them can sit there unused. The inclusion of Sealing arts just goes to show how well thought out the combat system is; it’s clear that the developers thought through the natural pitfalls of the battle system and added in features like this to compensate.

Kicking the standard of JRPGs, characters don’t gain levels or experience; once battle is finished, party members will sometimes receive either HP or SP boosts at what seems to be a random rate. Even so, the character growth seldom feels like it’s too far behind (or ahead) of the difficulty at any given point in the story, and more challenging enemy encounters seem to trigger increases at a higher rate. The nice part about this opaque system is how it keeps things interesting when it comes to grinding and growing characters; it’s not a matter of defeating X number of enemies before your stats see a marginal jump, but rather, an ongoing question of whether your characters will improve after the current enemy encounter.

Though character growth is primarily handled through that randomised system, The Alliance Alive has introduced the concept of “Talents” for those who still want the feeling of obtaining XP. Each enemy encounter will give you a certain amount of talents, which can then be invested in skills for each character. Just about every character has access to the same skills, which essentially act as buffs to make it easier to define roles and play to each character’s strengths. You can invest points in things like making Arts with certain weapon types cost less SP, or increasing the rate at which your character gets an HP bump, and this gives you quite a lot of agency in how to skew your characters’ growth. Buying any skill costs a lot of Talents, which means that you need to be thoughtful in how you invest points and focus on building characters for specialised purposes.

Another, more passive form of growth can be found in the Guild System, which centres around supporting your party in their adventuring efforts. After a certain point in the game, you can build new locations to house one of five support organisations with a plethora of services ranging from weapon development to enemy research. New guild members can be recruited in towns and assigned to different guilds, which will level up and expand their usefulness as more members are added. Building new towers and networking them has the effect of giving you greater support in battle, as each guild will have a chance of helping you out with things like a blanket shield for the team or support fire from a nearby cannon. The guild system adds an extra layer of strategy and depth to your performance both in and out of battle, and it’s nice how the guilds aren’t forced on you. If you don’t want to waste time hunting down recruits and scouting out new tower locations, you can almost completely ignore this subsystem. It’s encouraged that you don’t, however, as the guilds greatly added to our enjoyment of the game and helped give a more tangible manifestation of the titular alliance that the game is centred around.

From a presentation perspective, The Alliance Alive doesn’t amaze, but it certainly gets the job done. The graphical style takes after the pseudo-chibi look of Bravely Default, and presents a colourful, storybook-like world with plenty of diversity, from the rain-soaked forests and fields of the Rain Realm to the fog-covered, creepy locales of the Caged Realm. Though The Alliance Alive gets points for these thematic differences, it by no means is the kind of game that pushes the 3DS to its limits; there’s little here in the way of “Wow” moments of fantastic visual flair, and it mostly omits usage of the stereoscopic 3D feature. Still, the graphics are by no means poorly done, and the watercolour-like art style is rather charming in many places.

The soundtrack was composed by Masashi Hamauzu of Final Fantasy fame, and the quality of his musical direction is evident in the brilliant soundtrack. Music ranges from goofy to melancholy, ominous to adrenaline-pumping and it masterfully captures emotion through a mixture of genres and styles that suit the situation. The somewhat jazzy guitar track of the Burning Realm sounds quite different from the synthesizers and tambourines of the Rain Realm, but it all fits together somehow and creates a musical experience that’s just as in-depth as the gameplay.

Conclusion

Cattle Call has done a fantastic job with The Alliance Alive, addressing the complaints of its predecessor while building on its strengths to make something that’s truly special. Whether it be the engaging story, expansive overworld, deep combat, or unique progression options, this is a game that oozes quality in just about every aspect. The Alliance Alive is a must-play for fans of JRPGs, and we would give it a strong recommendation to anyone looking for another great game to add to their 3DS collection.