Ah, updates and remakes. Some work, some don’t. Thankfully, this one very much works.
While I won’t go into too much depth regarding the gameplay of Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland, mainly because senior editor Steven McGehee pretty much hit the nail on the head the first time around in 2010, I will give you some opinionated details of what I thought about it, as well as its new additions.
This is my first experience with the series, as we’ve had McGehee pretty much leading the way with them up to this point. He was on another assignment, so I raised my hand to volunteer. I have to say that my first initial impression of the game is that there is a large amount of dialogue and tutorial that it can be a discouraging beast to get through. You get instructions about everything in this game — and I do mean everything. From synthesizing your first material, collecting the material, risks of damaging the material with the lack of MP points, hiring people to adventure with, synthesizing weapons, fighting enemies — there’s a large amount of information thrown at you at once. I’ve never experienced this with a game before, which is shocking considering how long I’ve been doing this job and how long I’ve been a gamer. It was overwhelming at first. I didn’t really want to get dragged through every little bit of instruction, but it makes you go through it, and with good reason.
In hindsight, this game is nothing more than going to gather material, fighting enemies and making deadlines. If you look closer, though, Gust has put together an enormously complicated system of synthesizing material to certain quality grades. To make a powerful bomb, you have to combine a high quality material A with a high quality material B. If you have lower amounts of quality, then the bomb won’t be nearly as powerful as it can be. If you can imagine a gaming company making you become an OCD driven chemist, then you get the synthesizing idea (see Breaking Bad for comparative details). Because the game challenges you with putting together the highest quality materials in the best possible way, it opens up new avenues in the game. Gust has given you just enough freedom in the material creation process to complete tasks and go certain directions in a mostly linear game to keep the gameplay interesting. It’s more than just putting two things together and creating an object. It takes a lot of thought and preparation to get the material synthesized properly.
It takes about 4-5 hours to really understand and perfect see this portion of the game, but it’s worth the wait. And that’s only a small portion of the game.
Collecting material from across a variety of different locations that have their own unique material grown in them is pretty unique. If you have to go collect wood then you go to the woods stage. If you need more metal then you go to a mine. Each place has different materials to choose from that are related to the land Gust has put together for you. On top of this, Gust has set multiple locations inside each land, some hidden and some accessible in later quests, to keep each land a deeply rooted adventure area.
When you’re not collecting material, you’re fighting monsters and leveling up — as in a traditional role-playing game method. With every kill you make, you gain at the very least XP, and sometimes money if they’re bigger monsters. Each monster has its own unique way to fight and while the simplicity of it is somewhere in the region of the first Phantasy Star game on the Sega Master System, it’s still a nice turn-based element in a material collecting game.
Now, that RPG element isn’t perfect. I found that the leveling system was a bit flawed. First, and this is with almost every RPG that I’ve ever played, when you level up you should be able to replenish your MP and HP. It was tedious going back and forth from exploration to workshop, and back again because I needed to either resupply my character with healing salve or just outright heal them. Every time you level, you don’t replenish anything. That was very annoying to deal with, even if it does add a bit of strategy to the mix.
Also, I felt like synthesizing everything known to man was quite tedious. Make my characters do this later on in the game, not at the beginning. I wanted a weapons upgrade, but I had to find material. Why couldn’t the blacksmith just make it? He works at Beefy Weapon Shop for God’s sake. I get that it just sticks with the gamer doing this on their own, but man, cut us some slack at the beginning of the game. Give gamers a bit of a push before you throw us to the wolves. Just a little push. The beginning of the game should be a bit more automated, if not only for the first-timers of the series. Every good RPG does this, so Atelier should be no different. It’s like picking up the wooden sword at the beginning of the first Zelda game. Yes it sucks, but it would suck worse if you had to go acquire the Master Sword without a wooden one. Get the point? Just a little push at the beginning.
Anyway, before we move on to the new additions of the game, let me leave you with this. I didn’t think I would enjoy Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland as much as I did. I think that Steve’s original score was dead-on what this game should be scored. It had its faults and from afar it seemed like it would be tedious all the way through. Thankfully, I really enjoyed a good mix of collecting, putting together materials and the RPG elements that come with Atelier Rorona Plus. Not to mention the constant hard deadlines (I’m a managing editor, I love deadlines!) you were required to meet to achieve glory as an alchemist. It isn’t perfect, but it’s damn fun.
Let’s talk about the reasons you should consider this 2010 remix for your PlayStation 3.
The visuals have been upgraded considerably since the last game. The character models are nicely done in a more detailed, cel-shaded fashion. A little more detail and a lot more visual love made this a prettier game. Anytime you can give your characters a bit more personality through visuals, it’s a good thing. The dungeons fall into this upgraded category as well. There’s a bit more eye candy to the environments than in the previous game. It still isn’t as hardcore beautiful as say a Final Fantasy XIII, but it will be enough for the type of gamer who loves this sort of JRPG experience. It’s more about synthesizing and completing goals than it is about extremely detailed environments.
Speaking of goals, you get a nice bingo system where you can obtain additional vouchers by doing other tasks during your main assignments. It’s a neat way to give a bit more reward to the gamer for going the extra mile. It also encourages exploration, which is great for this sorta game. It also works out really well. For example, I had my second assignment finished with 65 days left. I took the rest of that time to go complete some extra goals that were laid out by Sterk. It certainly added some fun to the experience, as well as some healthy rewards.
Other added features worth mentioning include a time capsule system (you can bury items and retrieve them in Meruru and Totori Plus), lots of endings which unlock new adventures with characters from previous Atelier games (Totori and Meruru), and data sharing between PS3/Vita. There’s a bit more to it all, but I’m still playing the game and kind of uncovering it.
So what does this mean for you? Well, if you haven’t played this game before then you may want to consider jumping into it from here. The game has been updated and improved from the original 2010 release, which makes it worth you time and money. Understand, it still looks and feels in some areas like a 2010 game, so if it isn’t up to snuff with other more recently released JRPGs in your collection, then it’s because it was made in 2010! You’ve been warned.
Anyway, if you have someone who loves JRPGs or a game like Minecraft (or if you’re this person), then don’t hesitate to check it out. It would be right up your alley.