If you find yourself feeling curmudgeonly about today’s JRPGs, didn’t hate Final Fantasy II, and somehow never had a Nintendo 3DS, then boy howdy do I have the game for you. Originally published to little fanfare by Atlus USA, this joint development effort between Cattle Call, Grezzo, and FuRyu has come to the PS4 by way of HD remaster. Helmed by industry veterans with GOAT-status games under their belts, The Alliance Alive HD takes a cool idea (extremely old-school JRPG aimed at older players), fiddles with it a bit (makes it more accessible than the game before it), and makes it pretty (not on 3DS).
That Feel When You’re Even Too Nerdy for Nerds
That previous game was The Legend of Legacy, another game from the same crew and fueled by the same goal. Director Masataka Matsuura and his homies wanted to make a game inspired by SaGa, so it’s a miracle The Legend of Legacy was ever localized. Granted, this generation also saw actual SaGa localizations too, with more on the way. Miracles do happen sometimes. Anyway, The Legend of Legacy had all the SaGa hallmarks: use-based stat boosts instead of EXP and levels, character choices governing the story, and also the team just straight up hired the guy who designed the combat systems in multiple SaGa games. So despite SaGa’s daddy Akitoshi Kawazu (who also directed Final Fantasy II, to clarify that earlier connection) nowhere to be seen, The Legend of Legacy may as well have been directly related.
It went about as well as you’d expect, with modest success in Japan and middling review scores over here in the west (I would have given it a higher score if I had reviewed it, for what that’s worth). This sequel of sorts, the actual subject of this review, comes from similar motivations but is also a reaction to feedback. Thus, we have The Alliance Alive. It looks and kinda smells like The Legend of Legacy, but it eschews a lot of the more intense SaGa-ness in favor of more relative simplicity. It still doesn’t go for basic exp grinding, but it doesn’t have all the stat-wrangling. In fact, it stops just short of doing away with stats entirely.
Throwing the Kids a Bone or Two
The Alliance Alive does retain elements from the team’s original inspiration. After combat, characters do randomly get HP or SP increases. There’re no exp or levels, as The Alliance Alive is mostly concerned about gear and abilities. Abilities are tied to weapon types, and you get more by using the ones you have. Using abilities can also make them get stronger. So, it’s sort of like SaGa, but a little lighter and friendlier. There’s also another layer of progression called Talent, which one can grind like exp.
Talents are passive bonuses, which do things like make SP costs lower, for example. Put enough time in, and you can even use some abilities for free! The costs are high though, so it’s a sort of “get what you give” situation. It almost feels optional, which is a bit weird. Overall, The Alliance Alive isn’t nearly as difficult as SaGa games can be, which is definitely the goal here.
Not only is The Alliance Alive easier than its predecessor (and inspiration), it’s also much more story-driven. SaGa games are usually fueled by their systems, and colored with themes and concepts more than plot. This game goes in the other direction, and is much more story and character-driven. Characters are introduced through story beats, although there is also a Suikoden-like element of optional (and sometimes hidden) character recruitment. Much of the cast is strange or charming in a quirky way, such as a girl who uses her scientific genius to make… a giant, shape-shifting duck mech. And yes, she fights in the duck.
Old School is Still Cool (for JRPGs anyway)
So The Alliance Alive is a breezy, accessible tribute to SaGa, that’s a spiritual follow-up to a more traditional and ornery tribute to Saga. Both games are worthwhile for their dedication to a unique niche, but if you never had a 3DS (this is PlayStation Lifestyle after all), this is a new chance to check this style out. As far as HD remasters go, this one is pretty simple. It’s the same game, with a higher resolution and a few visual changes to accommodate the drastic change. 3DS games are pretty ugly after all, so blowing it up to such a higher resolution would have exposed some… kinks. The character models are just sharper, but things like trees and bushes are totally different.
Personally, I prefer playing The Alliance Alive on a handheld. It isn’t the most visually complex game, so I feel like it thrives more on a smaller screen on a compact device. When I played The Alliance Alive HD on my TV, sure it looked a lot better, but it also felt off in a more experiential kind of way. The world map felt emptier, the animations jankier, the colors more muted. I hopped back over to the 3DS version for review purposes, and it felt much more appropriate. Plus, the UI living on the lower screen made for a much more elegant experience.
Obviously, I think The Alliance Alive is a great game regardless of what platform you play it on (that counts the Switch version as well). It has this weird “SaGa, but reined in some” vibe to it that could be a decent entry point into some weird JRPG shit. I would personally rather play it on a handheld platform, but The Alliance Alive HD does exactly what it’s here for on the PlayStation 4, and if that’s your console, this is a fine option.
It’s also totally great on a mobile PS4 remote play rig, which I messed around with as well. Regardless of how you play it, The Alliance Alive is a fulfilling JRPG that isn’t afraid to do things a little differently, while still showing its love for that classic 90s style. The Alliance Alive HD puts the game on modern platforms, and it’s absolutely a title deserving of a second chance.
The Alliance Alive HD review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a Standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.