Review: Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland
 (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Nintendo Switch

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K TV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required
  • Move None
Title: Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland

Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (9.04 GB)
Release Date: June 24, 2019
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Original MSRP: $59.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: T
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Anyone who has read my numerous reviews of Atelier games knows that I enjoy the series. However, I definitely have a soft spot for the Arland sub-series of the games, as they were my gateway into the series. So I was intrigued when it was announced that the Atelier series would be a return to Arland after six games in other settings. But also a little curious, as it has been six years since the last Arland entry and the series has changed a lot in that time.

Atelier Lulua, in keeping with series tradition, follows Lulua on her journey to become an alchemist. As the daughter of Rorona, who has become a famous and well-respected alchemist in the days since her adventure, Lulua has a lot of expectations riding on her and is at times afraid of the shoes she has to fill. She doesn’t want to let down her mother or her mentor Piana though, so with the help of a mysterious alchemy book only she can read, she sets out on an adventure to find herself and her alchemy.

The Atelier games rarely feature the kind of narrative most would associate with a JRPG, with huge stakes and consequences, and Lulua is no different. Though her adventure does eventually lead her to a problem that could hurt many people, the story is always told in a more personal way. Even the final boss is more about helping a friend than saving the world.

Interpersonal relationships and Lulua’s own personal growth, both as an alchemist and as she compares to her mother, are the main axes the story operates on. It does a fairly good job in that respect, with fun and enjoyable characters and with Lulua being someone you can relate to. The plot itself can be a little predictable but the journey itself is fun.

My only big gripe with the story was there was one pivotal friendship that felt a little too accelerated. I could see the characters becoming friends, based on their personalities. And I could see the justification in Lulua’s willingness to help that friend. But there felt like a couple of missed scenes establishing their budding friendship between when they meet and when the friendship becomes an integral plot driver.

That gripe aside, I did like a lot of the characters, both party members and not. Many characters are new but Lulua also pays homage to the original Arland saga with an array of cameos. A minor disappointment is that of the three Arland protagonists, only one is playable in the base game. The other two are both DLC, only appearing as non-party members if you don’t pony up the cash. This does feel, to me, like they’re holding popular characters hostage to try to wring more money out of long-time fans.

Mechanically, Atelier Lulua is a bit odd. Obviously it draws a lot of inspiration and mechanics from the Arland series. But many ideas, whether in the combat or alchemy, feel inspired by the team’s work on the subsequent games. Not that that’s a bad thing, as the ideas that were brought in to augment the older systems all work well and keep the game feeling fresh rather than derivative of a title almost a decade old.

Alchemy is, as always, a big part of the game. In keeping with Arland tradition, a big part of the alchemy is that material you gather out in the world varies a lot. Each individual item can have their own quality and traits independent of what kind of item it is. So one feather might have a quality of 50 and no traits while another of the same kind of feather has a quality of 34 but several traits it can pass on during synthesis.

One thing Lulua has drawn from other Atelier games is the system of elements. During synthesis, each ingredient contributes its own elemental properties to the final item and depending on if you hit certain thresholds, the final item will come out with different effects. Some items even have meters that depend on two of the four elements, so, for example, adding items with fire elements will bump it one way and ice elements will push it the other.

Certain ingredients can also be awakened in the recipe, adding very unique aspects to the item you’re making. These can affect the elements the final item will have, add categories to the final item, or even crazier things like giving you more of the final item. Mastering this new system is a big part of Lulua‘s alchemy, and probably what sets it apart the most from previous Atelier games.

Finally, Lulua adds another system wherein you can add one catalyst at the end of the synthesis to make a final impact on the item you get. These catalysts feel a little bit like the alchemy skills of past games, where they usually impact the elements going into the synthesis. However, since you can only use a single catalyst, you have to make concessions between which element you want to bump up or which other aspects you want to add.

All of the alchemy systems are fantastic and I love the puzzle involved in trying to weigh each of them. Maybe you want a specific item for its awakened ability, but you’ll have to give up getting a certain effect because it doesn’t have the elements you want. And the systems can go very deep, in large part thanks to the awakening system and the ability to give your items a different category, allowing you to use it in a recipe you otherwise couldn’t. Chaining through several layers of synthesis is as rewarding as ever for those with the patience to do so.

On the downside, Atelier Lulua can feel a lot more restrictive than other games in the series. Many of the Atelier games partition off some mechanics in the early part of the game to give new players time to get used to the complex alchemy and Lulua does that as well. But, and maybe this is the series veteran in me talking, I felt like this one held a lot of alchemy systems off for too long.

Not to mention, even at maximum alchemy level, you barely get enough Trait Points to carry over a single end-game trait, and multiple are nigh impossible. There are ways to up the Trait Points you get, but finagling both end-game traits and TP-up traits/abilities really started to skirt the line from puzzling to frustrating to me. I felt like I had comparatively more freedom in the end game on other Atelier games, enough that Lulua was constricting some of my fun after already making me wait a long time to get to that end game.

Outside of the alchemy, Atelier Lulua contains a familiar blend of exploration, gathering, and fighting. One thing that isn’t present, however, is the time management system of the earlier Arland games. While there is a time system that slowly advances as you do things, the impacts are minimal. Some items and monsters will only appear at night or during the day and a weather system occasionally impacts them as well. There are no time restrictions anywhere else in the game though, as the only other ties to the day/month are a couple of events that are available only in certain months. Miss those events and you can just wait until the next year, and there is no real repercussion for waiting. This is much closer to the Mysterious series than the Arland series.

The combat systems in Lulua are a lot of fun, with some interesting mechanics. The main combat is turn-based, with an action meter on top to determine which character or enemy will attack next. Your characters get the usual array of options to choose from: normal attack, skills, items (only for alchemists) and defending. While some games in the Atelier series edge one way or another, Lulua has a good middle ground where both character skills and items can be used to great effect. End game set-ups revolve a little more around items but throughout most of the game, you can get by without crazy powerful synthesized bombs and potions.

As with the alchemy, there are some more in-depth combat options that (too) slowly become unlocked. Two back-up characters can provide assist attacks from the backline, and even swap in to the frontline mid-battle. Eventually, you’ll get boosts at the start of battle depending on which sets of characters started the battle. And at the very end of the game, you can unlock ultimate attacks that are pretty crazy and useful. The one big new mechanic for Lulua is the interrupt mechanic. Each of the alchemists in the main game can equip one item to use as an interrupt. Once their timer fills up, the alchemist can use this item at any time, including when it wouldn’t normally be their turn.

One thing I really liked in Lulua is the progression system. Again, the game draws from the experience of the Mysterious series as this progression reminds me a lot of Atelier Sophie. Lulua’s mysterious book also gives her different missions which she can complete to get bonuses: new recipes, areas to explore, experience, etc. It’s a fairly simple system, but it feels pretty organic and interesting as Lulua’s discoveries lead to new ideas. A rare mission here or there can be a little hard to figure out what the hints mean but for the most part the book is a fun way to progress through the story.

Overall, the gameplay in Atelier Lulua is solid. I love the throwbacks to the Arland trilogy gameplay while the new additions keep the game feeling like a modern game and not a six year old game.

Visuals:
As with most games in this series, and many mid-tier JRPGs in general, Atelier Lulua has a solid visual style but isn’t the high fidelity one might expect from the powerhouse AAA developers. The design of the game overall is good, with a cohesive aesthetic and an overall good look. As always, I like the character designs especially, as each character has a unique style while still fitting in overall. And there’s a rule of cool to many of the attacks and animations, like Lulua’s friend Eva who is a petite girl who wields a gigantic cannon in battle, which she fires or sometimes just bashes enemies with. Realistic, no? But fun, yes.

Animations themselves can be a little stiff at times, particularly during normal conversations. And there’s a definite limit to the textures and backgrounds in the game, which can sometimes be obvious when the camera points in or zooms too close to certain areas of the background. Still, the dynamic day/night cycle looks good with interesting overall lighting changes. And while the game does recycle a lot of monster designs, both from old games and through palate-swapping, the monsters themselves have interesting designs.

Audio:
The big thing with Lulua is that Koei USA has decided to drop the English language from the game. So if you’re not a fan of the Japanese voices, unfortunately you’ll have to deal with it if you want to play the game. The upside is that the majority of the game is voiced now, though the occasional side conversation might not have voices. And overall, I felt like the voices work pretty well. I enjoyed the music in the game too, with some pretty solid tracks for different areas and battles. I like how there are thematic through-lines in the music even though there are different songs at day and night and in different areas.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Atelier Lulua had a lot to live up to for me. As the continuation of a sub-series of Atelier games I have a lot of nostalgia for, it had to feel like a worth successor. But as a new game in 2019, I didn’t want to see a regression to too many of the older systems. Atelier Lulua manages to hit a fine middle ground, borrowing what works from both older and newer Atelier titles. Those who, like me, have fond memories of the Arland series can rest assured that Lulua will be a good experience.

For new players, Atelier Lulua is still a good introduction to the series. Obviously references to past games will be missed, but Lulua is otherwise approachable and interesting even for new fans looking into the Atelier series for the first time. The series is still a departure from the trends of not only mainstream games but also other JRPGs, so newcomers should be aware of the slow and thoughtful approach the series and Lulua represent. But for those looking for that kind of experience, Atelier Lulua will provide a great version of it.

Score:
8.0

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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