The newest JRPG/alchemy adventure from NISA and Gust is out now for the PS3. Guide young Totori, daughter of Rorona (from the previous Atelier game), and her friends as they try to find out what happened to Rorona, who disappeared sometime in between the previous adventure in Arland and this one.
The Atelier series is not unlike some of other NISA titles -- long-running, and with a niche fanbase that continues to enjoy the series entry after entry. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, in fact that's a great thing for developer and consumer alike, and NISA and Gust seemed to have found a formula with the Atelier titles that pleases their fans game after game.
Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland sticks to the classic gather, battle, synthesize, and explore formula that has been a staple in the series. Your adventure begins in a small fishing village off of the coast of Arland, the same town that Rorona, from the previous Atelier PS3 game, lived in. You are Totori, the daughter of Rorona and you are intent on becoming a great alchemist and adventurer. Your childhood friend, Gino, wants to become a great adventurer too, and loves to fight monsters with his sword. After some introductory dialogue, the duo heads into a nearby forest to gather some materials to replenish those that Totori inadvertently blew up when one of her synthesis exercises failed, horribly.
I thought Gust did a good job of subtly introducing gamers to the different elements of Atelier Totori while getting the story underway. From within the forest, you will encounter a variety of monsters, and thusly begin your first of many, many battles in the turn based, classic JRPG battle system. Built around many classic JRPG design elements, Atelier features XP for leveling, HP, MP, and a variety of weapons and armor, magic and potions, and restrictions on who can use what. For anyone who has played a turn based battle system JRPG, it's very familiar and accessible territory.
More and more areas of Arland are opened up as you increase your Adventurer's level. You can reach different areas within Arland that you have unlocked from a convenient map screen. As with previous Atelier games, you have to take note of the travel time required to reach different locations, and pack your basket accordingly so that you don't run out of supplies. Most of the items you find in the game world are going to be raw materials that you need to synthesize to make something useful out of. Recipes are found in books, which are sometimes found during exploration, but are at least as often bought from shops and received from NPCs. As long as you have the recipe, materials, and the proper level, you can synthesize all kinds of items, weapons, and armor for you and your party.
Exploring and battling are major components of the game, but you do a great deal of item locating and gathering, too. I would have liked to have seen a system that made it easier to quickly gather items in the area, though. I do like how a small icon appears above items that you can collect, and how that icon changes appearance when a more rare item is available for the taking, but having to mark all of the items for pickup gets monotonous. Although capacity of your basket would be an issue, I would have been in favor of a method of being able to automatically pickup any items in the area automatically, as you walked or ran by them. I think a system like that would have combated the monotony and picked up the pace of the gameplay as well.
Monotony, for anyone who isn't a die hard fan of the series, is likely to be the biggest issue faced in playing Atelier Totori beyond the first couple of hours. The pacing is a lot better than Rorona, however, because Totori does away with the strict time limits to complete certain objectives. Players have more freedom to accomplish their optional quests and the main goal as they please, and that is a substantial improvement. On the other hand, the casual difficulty and "rinse and repeat" formula of gathering, synthesizing, exploring, battling can be pretty grating. Your mileage may vary, but I found it hard to stay interested and play for more than an hour or so at a time once I got through the first couple of hours, because frankly little to nothing new is presented in terms of gameplay after the initial few hours. That said, if you enjoy the gameplay, there are dozens of optional quests and multiple endings that you can really sink some time into.
From a presentation standpoint, NIS includes both English and Japanese audio with English subtitles. The English localization/voice overs were very nicely done, likely the best that I have heard from any NIS game to date. Music was appropriately cheery and whimsical, although combined with the light dialogue and reading, might get you sleepy late at night. Visually, Atelier Totori combines really pretty and colorful art with some cel-shaded textures, and it looks very good. It's too bad you cannot use the right stick (or any control) to pan the camera, though, which I found strange. At times, you will be "walking towards the screen," with a very abbreviated view of the total screen real estate. In addition to pretty artwork, the frame rate and load times are smooth, which isn't surprising, but welcomed nonetheless.
Overall, Atelier Totori is another solid entry into this niche series. It's definitely the type of sequel that probably won't win over any new fans, but it will please the existing ones -- a formula that I like to see from developers.
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