Alter A.I.L.A. Genesis

A grungy soft sci-fi post-apocalyptic RPG! That’s… really the best description I can give of this, as the particulars of the plot and setting aren’t anything particularly noteworthy. The story is a bit cliched and has a lot of weird animesque characters and twists, but I overall found it to be really enjoyable even if it wasn’t anything spectacular. The most notable thing about this game is that it bucks a lot of RPG Maker trends in terms of presentation and gameplay. Exploration is done in sidescrolling platformer-like maps, and cutscenes are shown through comic-like panels. I found both of these things to be really original and well-done — exploration was sleek and straightforward without being simplistic, and there are in fact many fun puzzles to be had. The cutscene style was also really well-executed and made scenes feel much more vivid and dynamic than I’m used to in RPG Maker games. The gameplay, too, is honestly one of the best and most elegant RPG battle systems I’ve ever seen. It has a lot of rough patches (an engine goof apparently led to enemy defense being completely useless, completely wrecking the balance of weak speedsters vs. big hitters) but also provides a lot of fresh new ideas and produced some really snappy, enjoyable battles.

It’s also a great example of how to make a self-contained story while also providing an enticing sequel hook. As so often happens the promised sequel went up in smoke, but unlike SOME GAMES I don’t mind, because the main conflict and mysteries are adequately resolved and I don’t feel like I need to know the answers to the remaining threads for emotional satisfaction.

In general, I recommend this to aspiring game devs in particular — while it’s not the greatest at everything, it forwards a lot of clever and original ideas I’d love to see gain wider use.

(This is also a remake of an earlier game, just titled “Alter A.I.L.A.”, that contains the same characters and similar plot elements but is ultimately very different. If you liked Genesis and have time to spare I’d say it’s worth checking out for its alternate take on several characters, though I would say it’s a less enjoyable experience overall.)

2 Comments

  1. Hi. Let me preface this by saying that I played the original Alter A.I.L.A. first, and it remains my favorite RPG of all time. So I may be biased. But I’d like to give it a proper review, and provide some context for how it differs from Alter A.I.L.A. Genesis, which I’ve mostly given up on.

    What you should expect from the original Alter A.I.L.A. (which is subtitled “The Beginning on Terranos”, so I’ll use that to distinguish it):
    *Gameplay and story integration. The veterans are both the protagonists and McGuffins of this plot, because they’re strong enough fighters to be strategic assets, and their ability to fight through small armies is totally canon. So is their power growth, although the game never directly references levelling.
    *Convenient mechanics. Enemies show up on the map, allowing you to sneak past or engage them as you see fit. Battles have an ‘auto-fight’ option, which if you’re just going to spam the ‘attack’ option can save a lot of effort. Turn-taking is determined by ‘action gauges’ – each character has a gauge which fills at a rate determined by their speed stat, and once it’s full they can take their turn (emptying it in the process) at any time, so you have fairly good control of turn-order. The only convenience feature I think it lacks is a “what was I doing next” prompt, but the game is linear enough that I never really needed one. (One time on my first playthrough I did miss seeing a ladder and have to consult a walkthrough about where to go next, but knowing what came next plotwise was never an issue.)
    *A strong unifying aesthetic. Every single player character uses guns, even though most of them are psychic. Due to limited (and character-unique) Special Abilities, consumable items replace most of the spell list – which means that there’s actually a reason to use consumables, and they do scale off the casting stat. The Three Standard Elements are present, but Ice is replaced by Force, and their strength/weakness alignments are actually determined by, for lack of a better word, species – Robots are strong against fire but weak to electricity, Mutants are weak to fire but strong against bullets, and humans are strong against electricity but weak to being shot in the face.
    *Four possible scenarios, three of which are available from the start and one of which requires you to beat the other three first, but does explain a lot more. There’s an option to switch routes halfway through, but each starting route bars one of the other routes as a choice – you can’t start Rebel and then become Independant, for example. (Also, if you start your fourth run and are worried because you don’t see a new route option, don’t be – the fourth route is unlocked by finding a secret area, after starting the game on any route.)
    *Unapologetic references. (Mild spoilers follow.) One area has several robots called Vaders (which resemble the Star Wars character) and a probably-cyborg who looks a lot like Darth Vader unmasked. Another boss is a trio of anti-psychic specialists called Agent Smith, Agent Jones, and Agent Brown. There’s even a secret lab under a mansion in what was probably a Raccoon City reference, zombie infestation and all. That said, those basically stayed in the realm of cameo, and the plot holds up just fine without noticing them – I should know; I didn’t realize they were there until some time later!
    *Relatively few out-of-combat puzzles until the fourth route. (Which has to be accessed after starting the game a fourth time (on any route), in case you play through the first three endings and get frustrated by the lack of an obvious fourth option.)

    What you should expect from Alter A.I.L.A. Genesis (going by the bits I’ve played):
    *It tries to combine all the routes from Beginning on Terranos into one. It also changes most of the cast’s characterization significantly, and strikes a much more humorous tone.
    *Gameplay/Story integration is a much lower priority, partly because the combat system is much more complicated. Combat in AAG relies on two main resources; Psychic Charge (also known as ‘Exceed’) and Action Points. There are a bunch of ways to mess with the basic paradigm, but the short of it is that each character has a midsize list of powers, each with a cost in AP and/or Psychic Charge, and you are expected to make a few basic attacks and then use a finishing move.
    *Combat isn’t nearly as convenient. Encounters are random, there’s no auto-battle button, everyone takes their turn at the same time, and the ways to optimize each character make them play quite differently and are dependent on their skill list, which for the most part never changes. The result is that combat is complicated, even when it’s boring.
    *The aesthetics are both more generic and less customizable. Relatively few characters use guns, and the ones who do tend to use them far less exclusively – and they can’t switch to a different type of gun like in BoT. Magic martial arts, psychic powers, and weird unique gadgets are far more commonplace – with relatively little explanation. Also, style is harder to
    *There are some genuinely funny moments, but the jokes I remember (and keep in mind that I’m biased) were either based on insensitivity to crossdressers or mildly crude.
    *More pictures, largely for the finishing moves. I maintain that NeoK has been pretty good at pixel art since BoT at the latest, but isn’t quite as skilled at higher-definition drawings. He’s definitely gotten better over time, though.
    *More puzzles throughout the game, rather than just at the end of it. This is often a case of finding the right ledges to jump from, but there are also secret areas! This can actually be pretty fun.

    Is Alter A.I.L.A. Genesis an improvement? In some ways, yes. If you want a more colorful, generally-lighthearted, and easy-to-100% game, I’d guess that AAG is your best bet. If you prefer moodier (and earnest-but-silly) aesthetics, gameplay optimized for minimum frustration, and a plot that integrates well with the game mechanics, I recommend Beginning on Terranos. If you decide to try both, I expect you’d enjoy them better if you ignore the similarities.
    Either way, I’d recommend Red Syndrome, which is another (and more recent) kind-of-experimental game by the same author, and I think it’s quite clever.

    1. Oh, I actually did review Red Syndrome earlier! It’s pretty good, yeah, and also uses some inventive mechanics I liked.

      It’s been a very long time since I played the original Alter AILA, but I do remember it being a lot less interesting than Genesis. I recall the characters being pretty shallow, and the standard routes felt too short to be really engaging. I also don’t think you get credit for having an interactive narrative if you make a True End, especially when you force people to trudge through the pointless early routes to reach the True End. (And then make people go through the game again to reach the True True End…) I also have to say I found a lot of the conflicts really forced and stupid, especially the stuff with Green at the end of the first act. It’s overall really apparent to me that Neok was a less mature writer when he made the first game, and he took what he learned from it to make Genesis a better narrative.

      (I do think that the ending was stronger in the original, though — the mystery of Blue’s possession is given more attention and weight, Kugar’s situation felt less rushed, and Aila has an actual motive.)

      I also really have to disagree with you on the gameplay being more engaging. The lack of significant innate skills made the characters all feel interchangeable, and the gameplay was terribly balanced — Green, Black, and Violet had gamebreaking abilities while everyone else got useless situational junk, so battles just all boiled down to “have Black spam Mind Blast/have Violet spam machine guns” endlessly. Genesis isn’t well-balanced either, but there is at least some point to using the other characters, and Erin is no longer a top-tier offensive so using her is an actual tradeoff.

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