by Rob Chase,

Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir

PS2 / Square Enix

FMA2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir (PS2)
Full Metal Alchemist: Curse of the Crimson Elixir follows the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric as they search for clues as to the whereabouts of the philosophers' stone. When their search in Loir turns up nothing, and the high priest is literally sucked into the ground by some mysterious creature, Ed and Al find themselves in the middle of the ancient mystery of the lost city of Siam-Sid, and the powerful golems that destroyed it.
The first attempt by Square Enix to adapt the hit series Full Metal Alchemist for PS2 was greeted with lukewarm reviews at best. It suffered from frustratingly constrained gameplay options and slow battle sequences and bore almost no relation to the original plot. And, at the time, cel-shaded graphics were only just starting to become popular for anime-based games, so they were left out. Even if Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel was a disappointment for many RP gamers and fans of the anime, negative reviews for the first endeavor didn't seem to phase Square Enix. At the time of the release, the second game was already on the way, with a planned release set for nine months after the first. Luckily, that time was used wisely; many of the problems with Broken Angel have been fixed, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Its close to what we want, but falls along the same line as human transmutation. It works, but isn't quite right.

For the majority of the gaming world, a game is best remembered for its gameplay and story, especially in the RPG genre. Sure, graphics and sound can leave a sweet taste on the palette if they're flashy enough, but they can usually be excused if the game has a solid backstory, or a fantastic gameplay system. Graphics and sound are flashy additions that tend to leave a sweet taste on the palette, but can be excused if the game has a solid backbone of a story and a dynamite gameplay system. It's too bad then, that the guys at Square Enix didn't take a page from the Fullmetal Alchemist anime.

As an anime, the property has the perfect mix of drama, humor, and action to satisfy what is now a cult-status fan base, as well as some of the most beautiful animation on the market. However, Square Enix decided to make it harder for themselves by drifting away from the original plot, and having a second go at creating a new story that doesn't quite do justice to the original. The opening sequence of events is pretty faithful to the anime, beginning in Loir where the false prophet of Leto is swindling the city into blindly following him on a holy crusade. Edward and Alphonse Elric happen to chance upon the scene, searching for the Philosopher's appear on the scene to set things straight on their search for the Philosopher's Stone that will allow them to regain their bodies. Familiar? It should be if you've seen even five episodes of the anime. If you haven't, you probably don't care about this game anyway. While there are a few minor differences, the ending animated cut scene at the end of the fifth chapter is taken almost directly from the anime.

That's where the game stops in precision. The next six chapters are much more anime "influenced" than anime "based." You'll meet characters from the anime, but in totally unfamiliar ways. Fan-favorite Hughes, for example, really has no purpose in the game other than to warn Ed and Al about Scar, who is at the time on an alchemist-killing rampage near East Headquarters. On the same note, Scar himself only appears for an extremely brief period of time to kick your ass and send you on your way, never to be seen of heard from again.

It's almost as if Square Enix attempted to get the best of both worlds, by trying to involve the original story and an honorable attempt at a Fullmetal Alchemist fanfiction. The result is a painfully spotty story that has little to no continuous flow until the final three chapters, which are entirely original. Of course, if you really want to understand all the sometimes subtle references to the series, you'll need to have a rather thorough knowledge of the anime.

Story aside, general gameplay has been greatly improved upon since Broken Angel. Ed can still transmute weapons out of objects lying around the map and eventually upgrade them into a more powerful arsenal. Enjoying your ridiculously oversized cannon? Reload it and blow up more bad guys as much as you want. Reloading items are almost as common as healing elixirs, so you'll rarely have to worry about running out of ammunition. However, new to Crimson Elixir is the ability to transmute weapons out of the ground on cue. By simply selecting triangle, square, or in conjunction with the L2 button, either a sword, spear or overly large hammer can be transmuted for use in combat. Each weapon includes its own set of combo attacks to deal more damage by either transmuting that weapon again into another form, or combining it with stone spike alchemy. Without these weapons, Ed's automail arm can also be transmuted into something sharp and shiny during combo attacks. With these additions, combat gameplay feels a lot more like it should, mimicking commonly used moves seen in the anime.

Of course, Fullmetal Alchemist wouldn't be the same without that strong brotherly bond between the brothers. In this case, Al is extremely useful as your right hand man. By simply pressing R2, he enthusiastically comes to your aid to decide the best course of action, whether it's in combat, or just helping you get over some tall obstacles (given your short stature as Ed). Reviving Al has also been simplified greatly. One quick click of the alchemy button over his lifeless, armor-plated body and he's back to normal. If you're feeling too lazy to even do that, he'll rejoin you over a short period of time.

One of the biggest differences players will see between the two games is the graphics. Namely, this one uses cel-shaded graphics. Most anime based games are turning to this style, and each time it's used, it always seems to bring the game closer to its anime counterpart. Graphics may have been overlooked in Broken Angel, but they definitely got their fair share of attention this time around.

One particularly irksome aspect about the game, though, was the dialogue. Either you were stuck reading through miles upon miles of grunts, or you were frantically clicking through the seemingly endless stream of still-frame chit chat . About seventy percent of the first half of the game is filled with dialogue attempting to weave a horribly inconsistent story. If anything, at least the cinematic sequences are entertaining. All of the voice acting is done by the original English voice actors, so if you happened to enjoy the anime dub, you'll get more than your fill of Ed and Al.

Another aggravating aspect is general exploring of an area, or rather, lack of exploring. Maps are mostly restricted to traveling from point A to point B and nothing in between. While this simplifies the flow of the game, it doesn't leave room for interaction with non-player characters or side quests. On the flip side, it doesn't leave any room for getting lost either. You'll run into plenty of “air walls” that restrict you from traveling down a clearly open alley that could very easily have been made an extension of the map. What this results in is a very short game, only about 12-15 hours needed to complete the game from start to finish.

The most enjoyable parts of the game for me were the cut scenes. All in all, they featured about half an hour of all new animation sequences integrated into gameplay. These few, short video clips are what really save the story, since it's in those scenes that the story really establishes itself as part of the Full Metal Alchemist saga. The game could probably have done without most of the dubbed still-frame sections, and instead replaced those with more original animated cut-scenes to give the game a more Full Metal Alchemist feel.

For the most part, this is a game that should probably be rented instead of purchased, especially given its high price tag and short game play. If you're an FMA fan, it's the best of the two out there, but there are plenty of things to be improved upon in the coming years that will replace this game. The anime may carry a heavy recommendation, but as far as the game goes, it isn't really worth too much of your time.
Production Info:
Overall : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Music : B

+ Better than the first in graphics and gameplay
Suffers from an inconsistent storyline

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