The Alliance Alive HD Remastered Review – Looks aren’t everything

Platforms:

PS4, Nintendo Switch

Released:

October 11, 2019

Publisher:

NIS America

Developer:

Cattle Call


Posted October 28, 2019

It’s clear from looking at The Alliance Alive HD Remastered that it used to be a 3DS game. The chibi character design makes everyone look like toddlers with swords. There is no voice acting, even in pre-rendered subtitled scenes. Every menu and interface is too big. An effort was made to update the textures, but it’s still obvious that this is an HD game that was not made for HD.

Really, my biggest gripe with the game is that I played it on PS4. The graphics do not hold up to the scrutiny of a TV. But when I used Remote Play to stream it onto my phone, the art style finally popped to life. If you have the choice, I would recommending playing this on a smaller screen. The remaster is also available on Switch; I would imagine this is a title for Handheld Mode.

The reason I state this up top is that The Alliance Alive HD Remastered is a lot of fun. Its innovative leveling system alone is a shot in the arm that more JRPGs need on PS4. It’s well worth a play if you’re looking for a fresh take on tried and tested gameplay loops. You just need to get through the fact that, at least on a TV, this game is ugly to look at. The Alliance Alive HD Remastered is a great game, but I can’t say it’s a great remaster.


The story is set in a fantasy world in which powerful daemons (big horns) rule over and subjugate humans (no horns). The story begins with Azura and Galil, childhood best friends who want to fight back against their daemon oppressors. Like most JRPGs, it’s classic, predictable storytelling. However, like the best JRPGs, what starts predictable eventually becomes much more complex. 

Different protagonists are steadily introduced, their stories criss-crossing into each other, until they all finally unite. They discover that their world is actually one region of an even larger world. It has been separated into disparate chunks by a force known as the Great Barrier. Our alliance (get it?) of heroes embark on a quest to unite the world, so they can stay alive (get it?) against the daemon threat.

A screenshot of a town in The Alliance Alive HD Remastered.

Even when Alliance Alive’s story beats get dry and political, each character’s unique personality keeps the scenes interesting. My personal favourite character is Tiggy, a genre-savvy preteen who strides into battle inside a mech suit that looks like a rubber duck. 

The turn-based battle system is simple enough, reminiscent of Bravely Default or the first three Final Fantasy games. Each round begins with you selecting commands for each party member, then characters and enemies take turns depending on their speed. HP is replenished after each battle, but Maximum HP is reduced if a character gets knocked out. Resting at an inn restores everything back to full. This and the extremely handy Quicksave feature means you’re not scrounging for healing after every fight.

What makes battles truly exciting, however, is the leveling system. It’s slowly doled out to players in the first few hours, but quickly grows to a satisfying level of depth. Players are given a lot of freedom on how to develop each character. 

Any character can equip any weapon, and can switch between two weapons during battle. The more a character uses a particular weapon, the better their proficiency with it grows. Weapon abilities get stronger the more you use them, encouraging you to keep using them. Additionally, using abilities triggers the chance of an Awakening, in which you learn a new ability. This ability can, in turn, trigger the Awakening of yet another ability. You are encouraged to keep using your stronger abilities to unlock new ones, but you’re also encouraged to stick to your weaker abilities to make them stronger. The game operates on the principle of “You do you, boo.”

Screenshot of a battle in The Alliance Alive Remastered

However you choose to develop a character, you are rewarded for doing it. You want to make Galil a greatsword expert? Great! Change your mind and switch him to daggers? No problem! He can switch between two weapons in battle, so he’s not penalised for trying something new. It reminded me of a more granular version of Skyrim’s levelling system. Your characters become stronger by how much you do the things you want to do.

To add to that, there’s Signimancy (magic which can be used if you have a weapon capable of casting it) and Sorcery (innate magic that only a few can use) and Talents (unlockable passive abilities that boost your weapon proficiency or give you advantages outside battle) and there’s a lot to play with. The game is very good at making you feel like you’re in control of how your party evolves.

The downside to this freedom is that actual ability and stat boosts can seem random. Awakenings are nice and fancy, but unpredictable. You might use an ability dozens of times to no avail, then suddenly hit three Awakenings in a row. Similarly, your HP and SP (which you spend to use abilities) increases incrementally at the end of battle. It’s reliable enough to get you through the game without grinding too much. But for such a basic element of the battle system, the game never explains how it works.

Outside of battle, you are able to expand various Guilds around the world. Each Guild provides a particular benefit in battle (scanning enemy weaknesses, increasing the party’s defense, etc). You are eventually able to recruit townsfolk and assign them to the Guilds of your choice, increasing how much that Guild can help you. This entire game is full of simple, addictive systems that can keep you hooked even if the story and visuals don’t. If you’re a fan of RPGs, you’ll probably like at least one thing The Alliance Alive HD Remastered has to offer.

And while the graphics aren’t quite up to snuff, the music definitely is. Masashi Hamauzu (who was responsible for the stellar soundtrack to Final Fantasy XIII) composed tracks that are unexpectedly understated, only choosing to go bombastic when battles and the story heat up. But it all lends to the game’s sense of calmness; that you can do whatever you want to do, at your own pace.

For:
  • The leveling system is top-notch
  • Great soundtrack
  • There's so much to do!
Against:
  • Remaster can't hide graphical shortcomings
  • Ability and stat boosts seem random
  • No voice acting
Let the Alliance live if...
You like JRPGs and you enjoy player freedom in customising characters.
Let the Daemons win if...
You don't like JRPGs, or turn-based battle systems, or non-traditional ways to level your characters' stats.
Awaken new ways to hit monsters.
A combination of sub-par graphics and a slow start may prevent some people from digging in, but there's so much to enjoy once its many systems open up.

Hopefully developer Cattle Call can use this remaster as a springboard to create something tailor-made for consoles. Despite its flaws, everything that The Alliance Alive HD Remastered does well is done astoundingly. It breaks out of the JRPG mold in many small ways, and it deserves to be praised for that.



Pedro Cooray

About the Author

Pedro Cooray

Pedro is a grown adult who has cried at the ending to every JRPG he has ever played.