The Alliance Alive will be released on March 27 by Atlus USA. In preparation for the US release, Atlus dropped a demo last week into the Nintendo eShop. I spent the morning playing though it.
The demo includes about 2 hours of playtime, if you are like me and spend some time poking around and exploring. I would imagine that most players are quicker than I am and will probably get through the entire thing in about an hour. Included are a small hub town, the nearby countryside to explore, and a medium size dungeon with a few fun and clever little puzzles to solve.
While this game has "Playstation 1 RPG" stamped all over it, there are a few new dynamics at play that will be fun to explore once the full game releases. For example, instead of leveling up through standard EXP gains, each character earns points that they can invest in various weapon skills, which in turn reduce the cost of using special attacks with that particular weapon. Characters also gain HP and Mana (called SP in Alliance Alive) at regular intervals, but I was unable to figure out what the triggers were that caused these numbers to rise. Basically, just fight some dudes, and your guys will get stronger. Characters also unlock additional skills with weapons simply by fighting with them, experiencing an occasional "awakening", which adds new fighting techniques to the menu based battle system.
Another interesting mechanic that I noticed revolved around retreating from battle. This is not a game that gates off difficult combat, and it is very easy to wander immediately into baddies that will one-hit you towards the beginning of the game. You have the option to retreat, but doing so temporarily reduces your maximum hit points. At first, I thought that the HP loss was permanent, but after resting at an in, my max HP were restored. Nonetheless, retreating basically means that you will want to beat feet back to an inn, or you will be fighting at a disadvantage.
The character design is simple, but charming, and the writing is a step about standard boilerplate RPG fare. The game uses the 3D effect on the 3DS so sparingly that it is surprising when something suddenly shows up in 3D.
When the demo ended, I wanted to keep going, which is always a good sign. Judging by the demo, this game really captures that 16-32 bit era of RPGs, and it ought to be a treat for JRPG fans when it releases.