Two years ago, the release of the first Atelier Iris release was a breath of fresh air, introducing players to an airy RPG romp and an unfamiliar game style. A year after that, we got Atelier Iris 2, and a year after that, we get Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm. The returns are diminishing. While Atelier Iris 3 has some interesting gameplay systems, they're hardly worth putting up with the rest of the game for.
Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm is the tale of Edge and Iris, a team of Raiders in the city of Zey Meruze. As Raiders, Edge and Iris complete quests in dimensions known as "alterworlds" to earn a living, but suddenly find themselves caught up in events that threaten to destroy everything. It turns out that Iris has inherited the powerful magical tome Libram Escalario and must collect eight gems to unlock its power before the bad guys do. It takes effort to come up with story and characters this banal and overused, and while the previous games had some clever characters and dialog to make their generic stories easier to swallow, little of that charm is present here.
And so begins the pageant of mediocrity that is the latest Atelier game. You'll run around the alterworlds completing missions for money and prizes, you'll create a variety of items with alchemy, and you'll fight countless monsters in turn-based RPG battles. With the exception of the increased focus on repetition, it's largely the same as the last two Atelier Iris games, except not as good.
Quests you get from the Guild will often require you to revisit an alterworld you've previously fully explored. For the truly masochistic, you can revisit alterworlds endlessly on your own, accruing points by completing goals to earn special treasures. By completing missions you'll increase your guild rank, allowing you to take on yet more fetch quests in the same alterworlds. It's even less fun than it sounds.
Like previous games, countless game systems try to keep it interesting. By rescuing Mana - elemental spirits - you can change the forms of two of your adventurers and unlock new abilities for them, not unlike a limited form of the Final Fantasy job system. Alchemy, of course, lets you make items and customize your various equipment. Battles, too, are fast-paced and fun, and encounters aren't random, either, which is a great combination. These systems could be fantastic in a game with better content, but they're mostly wasted here.
Graphically, the game is a step back from previous iterations, too. The game's few environments are all built from the same building blocks, quickly giving the game a stale look. There are unique, stand-out pieces of art, but they're few and far between. The monsters are mostly taken from the previous two games, too, and it doesn't help that the game's art style is showing its age, either. The peppy music is still solid, but the voices are as dull as the story they're voicing, using the same three voice actors you hear in every low budget game and anime these days. Fortunately Japanese voices are an option, which are a bit better.
Atelier Iris 3's gameplay systems will tickle RPGers' OCD mental G-spot for a bit, but not often or long enough to put up with the game's lack of any other redeeming values. Fans of the series may enjoy it as a way to tide them over until next year's probable release of Atelier Iris 4, but others should only consider it if they've already beaten every other RPG out there and even replayed a few - despite a few original wrinkles, just about everything in this less-than-Grand Phantasm is done better in other game.