- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir, by Square-Enix for PlayStation 2, rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $39.99. The ancient science of transmuting matter from one form to another can be practiced in a video-game prequel true to its origins in Japanese animation.

Fullmetal Alchemist has gone from a comic-book series to a 51-episode anime show to a staple on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup in three short years, and its stateside distributor, Funimation Productions, has given the show further life through the DVD market.

The popular, emotionally draining program full of drama, action and humor introduces the tragic epic of Alphonse and Edward Elric, parentless brothers who pay dearly at an early age when they foolishly try to bring their mother back to life through forbidden alchemy. Alphonse dies, and Edward loses a leg and then sacrifices an arm to revive Al’s soul inside a large suit of armor.

That event sets the stage for the teens’ search for the secrets to make them whole again. Edward, wearing prosthetics called Automail, becomes a state alchemist for the military in an attempt to discover those secrets, and poor Al exists as the essence of a young boy melded to powerful metal.

The show’s return to the video-gaming world is a story-driven third-person adventure mirroring the mood and artistry of the animation. Players guide cel-shaded versions of Edward and Al through early-20th-century European towns.

Early levels, which mostly involve training missions, cover the first couple of episodes from the series. The game then branches off into a struggle against twisted alchemist Jack Crowley and his deadly golems.

Players control Edward as he and Al encounter familiar foes such as Scar and Father Cornello and friends such as Col. Roy Mustang and Winry Rockbell, all set among sequences and linear play that also incorporates more than 30 minutes of footage from the cartoon.

Simple fighting moves combine with Edward’s ability to create lances, swords, hammers, cranes and giant metal bowling balls, along with stone and spike walls that provide perfect cover.

Al is easily Edward’s most powerful weapon. He can be called upon to fight bad guys and handle heavy artillery, such as cannons and machine guns, with deadly accuracy.

The development of the game’s story can be seen alternatively as plodding or relaxed. Long conversations take place in a comic-strip-like format on-screen (character stills pop up, with dialogue boxes appearing at the bottom) while lines are delivered by the show’s English-speaking cast.

Unfortunately, the exposition can detract seriously from the action. Players who die just before a save point must start all over again, meandering through the dialogue by button-clicking.

Minor role-playing elements also enter into the fun as the player can distribute bonus points to enhance the brothers’ powers and collect and store objects.

Fullmetal Alchemist 2 does nothing to advance the video-game evolution, but it does provide an excellent opportunity for fans of the brothers to take part in their universe.

Square-Enix adds a bonus DVD disc to the video-game package that includes the first two episodes from the show’s second season (currently showing on Cartoon Network) — No. 27, “Teacher,” and No. 28, “One Is All, All Is One.”

That would be a bad place to start watching the show, however, considering Funimation Productions started releasing the Fullmetal Alchemist saga in the DVD format in four-episode chunks per disc ($29.99 each).

Five discs have been produced, covering the first 20 cartoons. They offer excellent reproduction and Dolby 5.1 sound but only a smattering of bonus features. The latest, Volume 5: The Cost of Living, adds an informative commentary track with the American voice actors along with extras of character profiles, model galleries, production art and music videos.

The possible deal-breaker to the Fullmetal Alchemist digital video experience is the price, which will seem expensive compared to the costs of dozens of other American cartoon DVD releases that group many more episodes in boxed sets for slightly higher prices.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail jszadkowski@washington times.com

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