Review: Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland (PS3/PSV/PSTV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save No
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland
Format: Blu-ray Disc, PlayStation Network Download (PS3 4.6 GB / PSV 2.9 GB)
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust
Original MSRP: $49.99 (PS3) / $39.99 (PSV)
ESRB Rating: T
Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland is available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation 3 disc version and PlayStation Vita download versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Gameplay:
Atelier Rorona Plus is a remake of the first game in the Atelier’s Arland series, Atelier Rorona. Despite being the first in the series, which consists of the two sequels Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru, Atelier Rorona is the last of the three to receive a Plus version because fan feedback left the developers wanting to make more significant changes to it. Where Atelier Totori Plus and Atelier Meruru Plus are mainly just Vita ports with a little extra content, Atelier Rorona Plus makes a number of changes to the graphics and gameplay in addition to providing extra content over Atelier Rorona.

Set in the fantasy world of Arland, Atelier Rorona tells the story of Rorolina Frixel. Rorona is the apprentice of an infamous alchemist, Astrid. Astrid’s atelier has gained a poor reputation thanks to her laziness and is set to be shut down unless she takes on tasks from the government. Not one to learn from her past mistakes, she instead chooses to give the atelier to Rorona along with the responsibility for keeping the atelier open. Thus, Rorona finds herself obligated to complete tasks for the government for the next three years.

It’s not the main focus of the game, but the central story of the game is perhaps more focused than the rest of the Arland series, thanks in part to having a clear antagonist. However, Atelier Rorona still seems pretty content to keep the plot small and personal, instead focusing more on the characters and world than on the central story. To make up for the infrequency of story advancement, each of the side characters in the game has their own side story, typically involving their own personal issues or their relationship with Rorona, which advance as Rorona becomes closer to that character. Fortunately most of these side stories and characters are interesting and are good at filling the gaps between main story events.

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The time between story events is also, naturally, filled with gameplay; one large aspect of which is exploring and gathering materials. Gathering materials is an important first step to performing alchemy in the game (more on that in a bit) and Atelier Rorona takes this above and beyond most games. Materials in the game, even if they are the same item, are not all equivalent. For example, Rorona might find two chunks of ore: one with a quality of 50 and no special traits, and another with only 30 quality but which has a trait that reduces ice damage. These differences come into play when the materials are used for alchemy later. Exploring plays a key part in finding these materials and Rorona eventually gains access to a variety of areas to explore: forests, mines, abandoned ruins, etc. The variety of places to explore kept the game feeling fresh and interesting, even though the game mostly funnels the player through which areas to go and when.

Gathering isn’t the only thing to do while exploring though, because areas are rife with monsters and baddies to fight. Rorona and up to two of her allies can fight enemies in turn-based combat. As with many turn-based RPGs, allies can attack or use special combat skills during battle. Surprisingly though, only Rorona (and other alchemists) can use items. To make up for that, Rorona’s allies can support her during battle by performing assist attacks or by blocking damage for her. Near the end of the game, characters can also unlock super attacks that do a ton of damage and are absolutely necessary to take on some of the end-game bosses. Defeating enemies also gives materials, such as animal skins or meat, that can be used in alchemy. Enjoyment here probably comes down to how much you enjoy turn-based combat, but overall the system is solid. Grinding through trash mobs can occasionally become borderline tedious but the boss fights, few of them as there are, are much more fun and are a good chance to go all out with bombs and other items Rorona has synthesized.

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As I’ve alluded to several times already, alchemy plays an important part of the gameplay of Atelier Rorona. Fortunately then, the alchemy in the game is fairly deep and very rewarding. Because ingredients can all have different qualities and traits, and alchemized items can inherit traits from the ingredients, the alchemy is very open ended. A synthesized equippable accessory could, for instance, be made to boost the wearer’s attack stat or give extra hit points or even allow that character guaranteed critical strikes against a specific enemy type. Rorona can synthesize a fairly wide array of items by the end of the game, from healing items, to bombs and attack items, to items that can be taken to a blacksmith and made into equipment, even to items that reduce the time it takes to travel on the world map. Making strong enough equipment and bombs leads to better fighting ability which leads to areas with better materials which lead to better equipment. It’s a very rewarding feedback loop that makes the game fun and interesting for the players who are willing to spend the time learning the systems.

Alchemy is also required to progress the story. Each term, the government will give Rorona a task that typically involves alchemizing specific items. Terms last, typically, three months and the game has a system of time management in place. Traveling somewhere, synthesizing items, or sleeping will pass time so getting things done on time is required to keep from failing the game. That said, the game is fairly lenient in this area. Many terms I had the required items as soon as the term started, just by happenstance. Even when I didn’t, the items can typically be made within a few days of in-game time giving plenty of time to pursue the optional tasks that the government gives Rorona. The optional tasks, as well, can be handled fairly quickly for most terms. Especially the earlier terms, several times I had all of the tasks complete and found myself with 30-40 days of free time.

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The game definitely suffers some pacing issues because of this. Most progression, both in terms of areas available to explore and recipes to alchemize, is tied to the terms so finishing early leaves a bit of space to fill and can be some of the more boring parts of the game. That’s not to say there’s nothing to do, as this time can be used to undertake quests or improve equipment or finish off alchemy recipes that weren’t required by the term request, but I still often found myself wanting to just sleep until the next term (but didn’t due to fear of wasting valuable time). Fortunately, this issue was mostly a problem during the first year or so; past that point there were enough areas to explore and alchemy to perform that I was enjoying the game more and finding it more necessary to fill up all of the time in each term.

Visuals:
The visual style in the original Atelier Rorona was one of the largest sticking points in the game and was changed pretty significantly for Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru. Atelier Rorona Plus brings the graphics to be more in line with the later Arland games, to the point that it seems they pulled many of the menu designs and a few character models directly from Atelier Meruru. Character models look much better now, they better capture the characters as they appear in the 2D art in the game, and several characters even have costumes that can be unlocked either by being purchased or made in-game, by having save files of previous Atelier games, or through DLC.

The majority of cutscenes are told primarily through the 2D drawings of the characters. Kishida Mel’s character designs and art help provide a lot of emotion to the characters during these scenes. Environments aren’t quite as good looking as the character models but each zone does feature a distinct design which helps alleviate monotony. Enemy models mesh well with the environments and character models but feature a significant amount of palate-swapping. Be prepared to fight different versions of the same dozen basic enemy types over the course of the game.

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There are some discrepancies between the versions. PS3 version character models seem slightly sharper and seem to have better textures than the Vita version. The Vita version also tends to hang when switching between certain menus or while loading an event. Both versions have framerate issues, particularly during some of the more visually intensive character attack animations, which doesn’t really affect the game thanks to its turn-based nature but are annoying regardless. From a purely graphics and performance standpoint, the PS3 version is recommended but the discrepancies are minor enough that those who want a portable experience won’t be missing out on much.

Audio:
Character voices come in both the original Japanese and a re-dubbed English variety with both offering a solid performance. I found myself preferring the Japanese voices though, partially because I thought Mai Kadowaki and Atsuko Tanaka did a great job of playing off of each other as Rorona and Astrid, respectively, during the scenes they had together. The English dub is also, unfortunately, incomplete and leaves a number of side events silent which was another reason I preferred the Japanese voices.

The music in the game goes a great distance towards helping set the mood of the game and is overall an enjoyable soundtrack. Each zone has its own background music and many sections of the town of Arland have their own as well. I thought the way each of the shops had a slightly different take on the same melody was a nice touch. There are also a huge variety of songs from past Atelier games which can be set to play instead of the default soundtrack, should any of the default ones start to become tired.

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Online/Multiplayer:
The only online feature is Network Save which serves as a way to transfer saves between the PS3 and Vita versions. It works well although the Vita version turns off network functions outside of that mode so connecting to save/load from the network takes slightly longer as the Vita has to sign-on to the PSN again every time it is used.

Conclusion:
Atelier Rorona Plus serves several purposes. For fans of the series, it provides one final look at the Arland trilogy of Atelier games, fixing up the issues with the original and even giving them some fan service near the end (those who haven’t played Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru may want to avoid the post game “overtime” mode until they’ve played those games).

For newcomers, Atelier Rorona Plus is a great beginning, featuring gameplay that is on par with the later games in the Arland trilogy while still being the starting point for the story. The game is not without flaws: the first year of in-game time drags on a bit and the term-based progression system occasionally gives some slight pacing issues. Also, the Atelier games always come with the caveat that only those who feel like they will enjoy the mainly menu-based alchemy will probably be able to enjoy them. Past those flaws and for those kinds of people, Atelier Rorona Plus is a wonderful, alchemy-filled adventure.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built-in screen capture feature.

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