By now, we all know that licensed properties rarely make good games, particularly movies. However, given that videogames and anime seem to have so much in common in terms of their fanbase and aesthetic presentation, one might assume that a game based on a cartoon would be exempt from the licensed product curse…and they'd be wrong. Despite the similarities between games and anime, most games based on an animated series are just as bad as their cinematic counterparts. For proof of this theory in action, one need look no further than Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel (FMA) , a title based on a popular anime series and a pretty mediocre gaming experience all rolled into one.
Edward and Alphonse Elric are young alchemists who get into trouble when they try to resurrect their dead mother. The experiment is a failure and leaves the two lads forever changed: Ed now has a metal arm and leg, and Al has lost his physical form completely and is bound to a suit of armor. Together, our two heroes set out to claim the Philosopher's Stone, an alchemical artifact that can restore them to their normal human forms. Of course, along the way they'll meet a cast of characters both good and bad, take some sidetrips, uncover an insidious plot that only they can thwart, and set themselves up for the inevitable sequel.
I've never seen the anime that inspired the game, but maybe it answers the ever-nagging question that plagued me during the 11 hours I spent playing FMA: Why is Edward called the "Fullmetal Alchemist"? Shouldn't he be the "Halfmetal Alchemist" or something? He's got a metal arm and a metal leg—which leaves two appendages completely normal—hardly the "fullmetal" of his name. If anyone is the "Fullmetal Alchemist," shouldn't it be Al, who's actually confined inside a metal suit of armor? Why did they call it "Fullmetal" to begin with? Were they fans of Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (which seems unlikely since that was a war film and had no alchemy in it that I can recall), or maybe the developers really dug Takashi Miike's Full Metal Yakuza? At any rate, none of these questions are answered anywhere in the game, which bugged me to no end.
What's most tragic about the experience of Fullmetal Alchemist is that the characters of Ed and Al are really good. I liked them so much I'd almost watch the anime that inspired the game (which is no small feat;I hate anime). It's a shame that such interesting and potentially likeable characters are trapped in such a boring game.And believe me, Fullmetal Alchemist is the very definition of boring. It starts out interestingly enough with a two-man battle system (players control Ed and can give Al some basic commands to assist in battle), some decent hacking and slashing, and the nifty ability of being able to use alchemy to turn everyday objects into weapons and items. However, by the end of the first area, players have seen everything FMA has to offer. They'll spend the next ten hours doing these same things over and over (and over).
If that weren't bad enough, the game is slow. Ed runs in slow motion and Al is a slug struggling to keep up. Add in some truly floaty jump physics and weapons that are really hard to aim and the whole game becomes more than a bit frustrating. This is particularly true in boss battles, where standard attacks are generally not an option (or do one point of damage per hit). Some of the boss battles in FMA took upwards of ten minutes to win, not because they were hard, but because there was no quick way to kill the enemy, so players are forced to chip away at it instead. Alchemy-created cannons are nice, but if the player runs out of reloaders (which is certainly easy to do in the late stages of the game, particularly since FMA features no shops; everything is found in chests or grabbed from defeated enemies) then a boss fight can stretch on for eternity.
The other problem centers around the fact that most of the game's skills and abilities are useless. Ed has two alchemy attacks—a defensive one that allows him to erect stone walls and an offensive one that makes stone spikes that damage enemies. Neither is particularly useful since players can just hack-and-slash their way through any of the game's situations. Al is equally ineffective. He's so slow that by the time gamers call him and he arrives, they'll have moved to somewhere else entirely. His tackle attack is mostly a waste and even his frenzy mode combos with Ed are underwhelming. Worse still is that his pathfinding artificial intelligence is terrible, a fact that becomes readily apparent any time Ed runs up a set of stairs.
Fortunately enough, since the enemy artificial intelligence is no better, the problems the player faces with Ed and Al aren't totally handicapping. Enemies are passive—they just stand around waiting for Ed and Al to run up to them and hack away. They rarely ever charge the heroes or utilize any kind of strategy at all. They're just there for the player to slaughter and gain some experience.
The game's one saving grace is the anime cut-scenes. Created specifically for the game, they look quite nice and do a fantastic job of bringing Al and Ed to life. My only complaint here is that there are so few of them in the game (FMA prefers to rely on static character portraits with text to tell most of the story, and voice work is rare here) that it's easy to miss out on just how interesting the two lead characters are. Racjin really missed an opportunity here since more exposure to the main characters would have certainly made up for some of the lackluster gameplay elements.
And here we are, a thousand words later, and I've really only scratched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems with this game. I could go on, regaling you with tales of the boring world map that ferries players automatically from one location to another, or tell gamers how they'll be backtracking through the same convoluted environments on multiple occasions, or how the game cheaply re-uses the same few bosses over and over instead of creating anything new…but you get the picture already. Despite my complaints, I genuinely believe that Fullmetal Alchemist could turn into a good franchise. The characters are there—now someone just needs to figure out how to create some gameplay that makes the experience fun and not a chore. Perhaps the sequel, which is already in the works, will remedy most of the problems in this game.