I have been waiting to review a game in this series.
The Atelier series is one that was just never on my radar, although I did entertain buying Mana Kemia: The Alchemists of Al-Revis when it was first released for the PS2. I thought better of it when the game received less than stellar reviews. I finally snapped up the entire trilogy during this month’s Golden Week sale for $39.99 for all three games, probably one of the better deals on PSN for me.
What initially sold me on this series was not, as you would expect, the premise or the characters, but the costume design The Victorian-esque ruffles and lace, the impractical but not sexualized (for the most part) outfits for the female characters. Next to most of the JRPGs I’ve been playing lately, this was like a vacation from unnecessary sexual fanservice land for the most part.
Rorolina Frixell (just call her Rorona) is an apprentice alchemist under the tutelage of Astrid, the genius alchemist of the Kingdom of Arland. Unfortunately, technological advancement and Astrid’s refusal to do anything even remotely resembling actual alchemy work means the atelier is on the verge of closing to make way for factories unless Astrid can prove alchemy is still relevant by completing twelve assignments for the kingdom. Astrid, being the industrious, responsible mentor that she is, quickly passes the buck to Rorona and goes back to loafing around, leaving a nervous 17 year old with the daunting task of completing twelve assignments within a three year time frame to save the workshop from closing for good.
Most JRPGs focus on combat and an epic struggle to save the world, although Atelier Rorona does have typical turn-based JRPG combat, the focus is on crafting, time-management, and a fairly mundane quest to save a struggling business. Each assignment spans three months of in game time, time that Rorona must spend going to various locations to gather ingredients and fight monsters, synthesizing various items in her magic cauldron, and doing quests for the townsfolk. Failure to complete any of the major assignments (apart from the very first one) will result in a game over. Depending on how popular Rorona is with the townsfolk (through completing quests from Esty at the front desk) how well she does on assignments, and her relationships with certain characters, many different endings can be reached, from “base” endings (True, Good, and Normal) to character endings that unlock via certain event flags, to special endings that can only be reached under very particular circumstances (like having a million cole by the endgame or baking one of every pie). Evaluations are usually based on the number of items Rorona turns in and the quality of the items. Using higher quality ingredients naturally results in higher quality end products. Synthesis requires a certain amount of MP, and Rorona needs to rest to replenish it, so it’s important to not use too much MP in battle. You can raise your friendship levels with a character by completing quests for them and taking them into battle with you. The Plus edition also has an “Overtime” mode which is a year of post epilogue content in addition to New Game+.
Speaking of battle, while the battles are typical JRPG fare for the most part, Rorona is the only character who can use items, and the other two party members act not only as damage dealers, but also to shield her from enemy attacks through Assists, which can also be use to chain skills together. I’m not sure how the number of assists increases, it usually happened for me when a character attacks an enemy with a regular attack or certain skills, but assists can give you a definite edge in combat, particularly in the late game fights. Fulfill certain conditions in combat and you’ll gain access to powerful specials (basically limit breaks).
Although the time management aspect might seem intimidating at first, I quickly fell into a routine. One review commented on this, saying that at times the game felt more like a job than a game. The game is very much about doing the same sorts of things with a few twists, but instead of finding it dull, I found myself charmed by the world and the characters that live in it, from serious knight Sterk to Rorona’s tomboy friend Cordelia to the shy traveling entertainer Lionela. Ultimately, I managed to complete almost every assignment with ten stars (with around twenty days to spare to do quests for the townspeople) and be popular enough to obtain the true ending, but didn’t manage to get any of the character endings (I missed one final event flag due to being under level for a certain fight). It might seem intimidating, but I’d say Atelier Rorona is one of the easier JRPGs I’ve played.
Graphically and musically, the environments didn’t really make an impression on me (note that this is an enhanced port of a PS3 game), but the costumes in particular are very well done, and compared to most outfits for female characters (in JRPGs and otherwise) are pretty conservative. The music is also very well done, particularly when you finish off an enemy with a special attack, but since you visit the same locations frequently, the music wore out its welcome for me by the end of the game.
I don’t have any major criticisms and most of my issues with the game come down to personal preference. I wish there was a way to see the ingredients different areas offered without having to waste days traveling there to find out. It’s a small thing and not a huge deal in the long run, but sometimes I couldn’t quite remember where I’d found a particular ingredient. Some of the tutorials were also lacking in information. An example of this is in the assignments themselves, I was under the impression that the game wanted one of each item listed. The truth is that you need to turn in multiple items to get the most stars, the quantity and quality of the items then determines your overall score.
In terms of triggery content, probably the most uncomfortable thing for me was the way Astrid sexually harasses Rorona constantly. It’s particularly jarring because the other character interactions are pretty cute. I don’t know the details, but a certain character apparently has dissociative identity disorder, but I didn’t interact with this character often enough to uncover many of her events.
Atelier Rorona Plus is a charming, unique game that places more emphasis on crafting than combat and epic quests to save the world. I loved it and I can’t wait to play the rest of the games in the series. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if it sounds like your thing, I recommend checking it out.