Making fun with Atelier’s alchemical formula

30 Apr

When I picked up Kyle’s birthday gift a few weeks ago, I saw a new copy of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland sitting on the shelf. Thirty bucks for the limited edition sounded fair to me, and I’d been meaning to give it a try, so I picked it up. I’m also a sucker for art books. Especially hardcover ones. And this game has some really nice art.

Atelier Rorona

And a well-dressed, handsome redhead. That always helps.

Rorona is the first of Gust’s Atelier series to make it to the PS3. The third, Atelier Meruru, will be out on May 22nd. While Rorona isn’t a new game, Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru are direct sequels. I’d feel incomplete if I played those games without starting from the beginning.

The last Gust game I played was Ar tonelico Qoga (otherwise known as Ar tonelico III), and it was painful. The music-based technology and lore of the world had me enchanted during the first two adventures on the PS2, but this one… It was a disappointing end to a trilogy and the only thing that kept me going was a desire to experience the story myself. Games like that are why people don’t like JRPGs anymore.

Rorona was actually the first Gust game released on the PS3, several months before Ar tonelico III. Will the issues present in Ar tonelico be found in this game, or will Rorona have a strong case of beginner’s luck?

Atelier is the French word for workshop, pronounced “ah-till-lee-eh” (with the “eh” as in Canadians). The title sums up the game rather well. A girl called Rorona is tasked with saving her master’s alchemy workshop from closing down. This is accomplished by doing a bunch of assignments that the kingdom gives you; twelve assignments over three years. Gameplay is broken up into adventuring to places outside of town to gather materials for your alchemy, and hanging out in town and alchemizing some stuff up in your workshop.

I’ve seen glimpses of other Atelier titles, but I’ve never played one myself until now. Atelier Rorona is colorful and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The still images of characters that appear during scenes of dialogue are beautifully detailed; just what I’d expect after admiring that pretty art book. The 3D graphics, another first for the Atelier series, are cute and cell-shaded. While it isn’t the best the PS3 can do, it suits the game and what it’s trying to achieve. I’m the last person in the world who’s going to complain about graphics. Except, I’d like it if Rorona didn’t look so awkward when she landed her jumps.

Games can have some pretty bad voice acting, but Rorona’s is solid. (And I’m always happy to hear Johnny Yong Bosch’s voice.) The characters do follow anime tropes, but they’re still charming. There’s enough unique about them where I don’t mind. And, thank god, none of the females are obnoxious. At least not yet. There’re no shrilly-voiced, helpless girls that make me want to bury my face in my hands. (Like Saki. Oh, Ar tonelico III…) Japan has abused that trope more than any other.

But let’s not forget the good that comes from there.


Your chef friend Iksel fights with a FRYING PAN. If Tangled taught me anything, it’s that this is a fantastic idea.

Atelier Rorona was well-received in Japan. This isn’t surprising, considering how their games tend to be crafted specifically for their own fans, hardly straying from the usual formula. I can’t say with certainty how similar it is to previous Atelier titles, since this is my first experience with the series, but the phases of gathering materials and crafting items with alchemy are core aspects of all of them.

Western gamers didn’t like Rorona much. The battle system is a basic, turn-based affair. Several critics found the time limits on assignments to be oppressive. I haven’t yet played enough to judge how harsh assignment deadlines are later in the game, but the first assignment wasn’t bad at all.

Have you ever tried to accomplish something before a certain season in a Harvest Moon game? Rorona flows similarly to Harvest Moon, moving day by day with tasks that can take multiple. Traveling costs a certain amount of days, and crafting items takes a certain amount of days. It’s an exercise in time management and repetition, and it can be really addictive.

Some players felt lost. They didn’t figure out that they could draw water from the well outside the workshop, since nothing explicitly told them that they could. But, seriously, if they just walked up to it, the little exclamation point blinking over Rorona’s head would have let them know.

These players also didn’t realize what items the shopkeepers sold, which could’ve made their own tasks much easier. Instead of gathering or crafting everything by themselves and wasting precious time, they could just go shopping. I don’t think they spent enough time analyzing their options.

The things people complained about felt very second nature to me. You explore stuff. It’s an RPG. Kyle said something similar to, “You run all over the place and mash ‘X’ to make sure you find everything. That’s how it’s always been.” And it’s true. This game is catered to players who are already familiar with the genre. It was created to suit the tastes of the already established Japanese fanbase, and the niche groups outside of the country.

Because of this, Rorona doesn’t bring much new to the table. It’s a good example of what JRPGs are this generation. Take it for what it is, though, and it can be a treat. I like spending time with Rorona and her quirky friends. I like the bright world. I like thinking up the most efficient ways to create items and complete tasks. It’s pretty simple and it’s not that innovative, but simplicity can be a good way to unwind when you’re curled up on the couch after a long day.

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