Square's Least Metal Moment.
Back in the 14th century when the periodic table of elements consisted of earth, fire, air, and water, an alchemist named Geber decided that if he could change the elemental balance of a substance, he could transmute it into virtually anything. All he would need was a philosopher's stone and he'd be able to turn lead into gold, water into wine, or my girlfriend into a hot chick. Thank god she never learned how to read.
Today, wily marketing specialists have discovered a veritable philosopher's stone in merchandising. Using their dark magic, they can turn the grossest of lunchboxes and underwear into pure profit. The most recent example of this is Square-Enix's new Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel. It's an awful game, repetitive, ugly and shallow. But thanks to its association with a popular television show, rabid fans will certainly pay top-dollar for what amounts to a beverage coaster incognito.
Fans of the show will be disappointed to find that a large chunk of the game's story explains stuff they're already familiar with, like who the brothers are and why one of them is made out of metal. The brothers, of course, are Edward and Alphonse Elric, and they're kind of like magical super-agents. Edward is strong in the ways of transmutation, while Alphonse is literally a giant suit of armor. Together they search for the philosopher's stone, which they hope will give Alphonse his body back and undo the damage done when they tried to resurrect their deceased mother. But you probably knew all that.
The plot that unfolds during the game involves the experiments of a mad alchemist who is making monsters for some lunatic's war-machine. You have to kill all the monsters and stop the bad guy while saving the deranged alchemist from himself.
As interesting as that may sound, you'll have to play for about nine hours before the central story even begins to unfold. Prior to that, all you do is chase people. A girl falls on Edward's head and it pisses him off, so you have to chase her through a long, linear mine filled with monsters. Don't get the impression that there's any sense of urgency, though; you aren't timed and you never actually see her except in cut-scenes. The chase is just a pretext for dragging you through a mine.
So then you get to a city, and some bum steals a crank shaft you need to get wherever it is you're going. Now you have to chase him through the entire, linear city. Mission accomplished. Some scientist sends you on an errand to get some flowers, and you have to chase the thugs through the exact same sequence of screens a second time because you think they might have some. They don't, but they think some grows at the beginning of the mine through which you first chased the girl, so now you have to play all the way through that sequence again.
Two levels, each played twice. That's a rough way to start an adventure.
Even rougher is the sporadic dialogue between Ed and Al. On one or two occasions it's laugh-out-loud funny, but ninety percent of the time it's just Al lecturing Ed about thinking things through and not being so impulsive. That's in line with the TV show, except the show only lasts a half-hour.
Since this game is clearly designed for younger fans, the gameplay is very simple. You control Ed, who can jump, attack, use alchemy in various ways and use gun-turrets. You can also call Al and tell him to charge any nearby enemies, though he'll inevitably miss and fling himself out of the battle. Even so, Al's mere presence makes what would have been a very easy game even easier since most enemies will just as soon attack him as you, leaving you free to pick them off. There are many ways to do this and most of them involve alchemy.
By pressing Circle, you'll generate a small rock wall in front of Ed that can soak up a bit of damage before crumbling; holding the button down lights up objects in the environment that can be transmuted. Ed can transmute things into various weapons and several random things like pogo sticks and bubble-blowing cows riding on fire-engines. Yeah, you heard me.
It might sound like Fullmetal Alchemist's environments are interactive, but the transmutable objects are really just fancy crates. You don't actually interact with anything, and most of the crates contain either a cannon or gattling gun. After creating one you can hop on and shoot all your enemies to death in a matter of moments.
Since the enemies are so stupid, weak, and defenseless, the only difference between shooting and fighting them is time; the outcome is always the same. If you decide to fight, you can either lay into enemies with your hand-blade or transmute something into a weapon like a sword or spear. It takes longer to clear a room with a hand-blade, but it's just as easy.
Considering the publisher, I suppose it's fitting that Fullmetal Alchemist's combat system is comprised entirely of the Square button, although if you have a transmuted weapon you can do throw in a tap of the Circle button for a retarded combo (i.e. Square, Square, Circle, Square, Square). No matter the monster, no matter the level, no matter the circumstance, your world is Square, all the way.
Every once in a while, though, you'll find a boss or challenge requiring less conventional gameplay, and these are some of the worst sequences in the game. In one instance, you have to ask your useless brother to tackle a pig. You can't really position your brother other than to call him near you and tell him to tackle. The pig, meanwhile, is running in a circle. So you sit there with your retarded brother trying to convince him to sack the pig, but he keeps on missing. Wow.
But wait, isn't this sort of a role-playing game, too? Well, you do gain levels and attribute points, but the game itself never changes. Regardless of your level or attack quotient, you'll still be running around mashing Square until you reach the end of the area, and the game is so patently easy that you'll hardly care about upgrading. Whether you're level 1 or 25, the game will feel precisely the same.
And it'll look the same, too. Most of the areas in the game are very small and there's no streaming, so you can expect frequent loading screens. The textures and environments repeat constantly. Even the creature design sucks, which is a bummer because you'll be dealing with a lot of them. It isn't a broken engine, but it's hardly a respectable one.
Some of the music seems ripped out of Yoko Kanno's Tank! from the Cowboy Bebop intro, and the rest is annoying, high-pitched aural barf. The sound-effects are terrible; every time you pick up a treasure bag Ed will say "Thank ya!" in the exact same way. Mercifully, there's no voiceover work.
And despite the fact that you've got this useless appendage of a brother who follows you around, you'll have to suffer through this one on your own since there is no multiplayer.
Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel is a just a bad video game. Very young, very stupid fans of the series will likely enjoy running around in circles whacking at things, but we at GR do not. If by some mischance you picked this one up, we recommend taking it back to the store and combining it with your receipt to transmute it into a refund.