We get hands-on with Square Enix's upcoming action role-playing game for the PS2.
Based on the manga and anime series of the same name, Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel is an action role-playing game in which you'll assume the role of a young alchemist named Edward Elric. Joining you on your travels will be Edward's younger brother Alphonse who, as a result of the boys' failed attempt to bring their mother Tricia back to life using a forbidden form of alchemy, lost his entire body and had his soul bound to a large suit of armor. Eric, on the other hand, was left with two metal limbs. Needless to say, the boys aren't particularly happy with their current situation, which is why they're searching for a crimson crystal known as the Philosopher's Stone that, if the rumors are true, has the power to transmute human life and return the boys to normal.
As an alchemist, Edward has a number of abilities at his disposal, the most intriguing of which is undoubtedly transforming innocuous objects into different weapons and gadgets. You'll come across more than 50 different objects as you progress through the game, and if you take a few seconds to stand beside them and charge up Edward's powers (which isn't always easy in the middle of a fight), you'll invariably be able to choose one of two different weapon types that you can change the object into. Most of the objects that we transmuted changed into various melee weapons, some of which could be used by either character, but most of which were only suited to one or the other. In addition to melee weapons such as spears, swords, and daggers, you'll find that certain objects turn into gun turrets, tanks, bombs, pogo sticks, mantraps, and even some kind of vacuum cleaner that drags all of the enemies to one spot so that they can be disposed of more easily.
All of the gadgets have their uses, of course, but the early stages of the game that we played through could quite easily be beaten using only Edward's regular abilities, which include attacking enemies with spikes that rise out of the ground and blocking enemy attacks with destructible walls that appear in front of him. As Edward, you'll also be able to give simple instructions to your powerful younger brother, such as having him charge at enemies, pick up weapons that you've transmuted, or team up with you for powerful tag-team-style attacks. Alphonse is definitely a useful guy to have by your side in a fight, but the flip side is that you'll need to share any experience points, health potions, and other items between the two brothers.
The enemies that you'll be facing are incredibly varied--at least as far as their appearances are concerned. To date we've fought with military police, bandits, and all manner of mutated animals--which are referred to as chimeras. None of the enemies that we encountered demonstrated much intelligence, but the numbers that we encountered them in have generally been large enough to make the battles a challenge--challenging enough that we've had to pause the action to use a health potion on occasion, anyway. The combat sequences in the game are quite satisfying, but what's unfortunate--at least in the early stages of the game that we played--is that they're invariably not much longer than the cutscenes (and frequent loading screens) that they're sandwiched between, many of which comprise little more than text-based conversations between largely inanimate 2D renderings of key characters. The more enjoyable cutscenes in the game are those that play out using the in-game visuals or those that use original animation by the same studio responsible for the anime series.
At this point, Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel is certainly an intriguing game, but it seems unlikely that the finished product will appeal to anyone who isn't already a fan of the series. Expect more information on Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel as the game's January 2005 release date approaches.