Posted on May 28, 2012 AT 02:40pm
Games bearing Atelier in their title have been around for years and each “series” revolves around a different set of core characters. “Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland” does not stray from this formula being the last game in this character trilogy, following “Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland” and “Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland”.
Your basic Japanese RPG but with a twist, the gameplay revolves around synthesizing items, collecting ingredients, and completing tasks, not just fighting monsters. The story centers around Meruru, the princess or Arls. Arland has proposed absorbing Arls into its own kingdom. Meruru wants to become an alchemist, studying under Miss Totori but the King has other ideas. Meruru cuts a deal with dad…if she can use alchemy to expand Arls’ growth, she can become an alchemist and her father will not let Arls become part of Arland. There is a time limit and if certain goals/tasks are not met within a specified time, players will be treated to one of the “bad endings”. On the upside, Miss Totori and Rorona make an appearance, binding this game’s story into the previous games.
While engaging to play, Atelier Meruru doesn’t quite hit the mark of being great. It is good and fun to play but it lacks the ability to be considered excellent. The time limit can really detract from quests and I had trouble discerning exactly what was supposed to be done by when and how to know “when” I was in the time line. This idea of a time limit was introduced in Atelier Totori but in Meruru, there was far less wiggle room for task completion times. Totori did it a little better by allowing a little more free form gameplay.
Players will be treated to the usual JRPG features. The girls in the game are “adorable” and at times, maybe a little too adorable. The voice acting is okay, not great but not bad. I really want to know how they find woman that sound like such young girls to do these voices. They sound almost childlike. I didn’t find myself emotionally invested in Meruru at all. I actually found her to be a bit vapid and silly. None of the characters really stand out, though my favorite is Uncle Gio. Again, in true JRPG fashion, there are allusions to girl on girl crushes and desires. There has to be a little sexual innuendo injected into anything that has to do with young girls or it’s just not Japanese.
There aren’t any proper cut scenes but there are dialog scenes. Sometimes they offer information or add to the story, and sometimes they are just pointless. The graphic style is gorgeous. It’s like looking at a moving, 3D comic book. I was really taken by it. Movement is simple. When you are in town, you can walk from area to area or fast travel to a specific location within town. When outside of town, it’s map based. Just move the pointer to where you need to go and you’ll watch a mini Meruru avatar walk to that area. The amount of time it takes to get to the area will be displayed at the top so you’ll know exactly how many days it takes to get there. A nice feature is the ability to see what is at the location. If you have been there before, you can see what gatherable items are available and what enemies are in the area that you will have to fight. If you have a development task that needs to be completed there, you’ll see a DEV displayed above the location and with a quick tap of the R1 button, you can see exactly what that task is. Of course you have the option of hitting the SELECT button at any time to get more details about Development Tasks or “fetch” quests.
The music is not award winning but at least it isn’t annoying. You can change the background music at will if you do not like the default music. Fight sounds are the usual RPG fare, slashing noises, bombing noises and some sort of “witty” one liner from the fighting characters. Enemies range from the stereotypical colored blobs to the more exotic unicorn. You will be warned if you are heading into an area that may have monsters you are not ready to fight. Heed those warnings. If you do not, you will probably die.
Synthesizing is probably the most fun. Being able to create things like dynamite or food is just entertaining. It’s even more entertaining if you do it wrong. The quality of the ingredients dictates the quality of the finished product and you can assign a trait to the product when you’re done. Traits range from making it one level higher, not having it degrade as quickly, boosting benefits, or raising and lowering resale price. You even get the opportunity to synthesize armor and weapons.
Combat is turn-based but it’s not the timed style, which I hate. On the right, you will see the order of the fight, like whose turn it is next, and you can move through that order as quickly as you like. I hate the timed style in which you only get to hit when your attack timer fills up. Combat is straight forward. Either use your weapon, skill, or item to defeat your enemies. Since you can craft combat items, you can even toss some dynamite into the fray.
I really did enjoy playing Atelier Meruru, even if it wasn’t a groundbreaking RPG and just a general rehashing of the Atelier Totori style. It’s worth playing, especially if you are a fan of the genre and series.
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland hits store shelves May 29th and is exclusive to the Playstation 3.
The Good: Solid JRPG, Easy Controls, Great Graphics
The Bad: Nothing New, Voice Acting Mediocre, Average Game
The Ugly: Time Limit On Tasks/Goals Not Clear
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