Japanese Developer Gust’s Atelier series commenced on the first Sony PlayStation in 1997, although the franchise wouldn’t see English release until the beginning of its Iris subseries, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana released in North America in 2005. Both entries of the sequel series Mana Khemia appeared like the Iris games on the PlayStation 2, and 2009 marked the start of a new subseries, Arland, its first entry Atelier Rorona, which got its American release the following year on the PlayStation 3. Four years later saw the release of an enhanced port of the game for the PlayStation Vita, Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland, which features some improvements over the original version and is generally solid.
In the game’s hub town, protagonist Rorona can synthesize various items from raw materials gathered on fields and in dungeons outside towns, or from enemies, with item creation both successful and failed netting her alchemist experience for occasional level-ups that allow her greater success in synthesizing higher-level items, most recipes acquired from books bought from shops. If the player wants to go to a field or dungeon for want of raw materials, Rorona can hire up to two adventurers for a fee to accompany her in battle, fights commenced when she contacts a visible foe, the player able to gain an initiative by striking an enemy with her staff.
Battles are turn-based, with characters and enemies taking turns depending upon their speed, with a noticeable improvement over the original Rorona being the inclusion of a turn order meter that shows who will go when. Rorona and her allies have a variety of commands from which to choose, such as attacking enemies with their equipped weapon (one character having an area effect to her standard attacks), use an MP-consuming skill (another change from the original version, where HP allowed characters to use spells), use a consumable item, or attempt escape from the enemy, which doesn’t always work.
Fights tend to be quick affairs, and reward all participating characters (even those that die in battle, who revive with one HP after fights) with experience for occasional level-ups (separate from Rorona’s alchemist level) and increased stats, alongside money and experience. One can also take jobs in town that involve turning in specific items or fighting a certain number of specific enemies for more monetary rewards, and if the player fulfills certain conditions during an assignment’s period, they can receive additional rewards. Aside from the mentioned potential of the escape option to fail, combat in the port is definitely a step above that in the original PlayStation 3 version, the game also nice to players when they die, in which case they return to town with some days consumed.
To fulfill specifics during assignment periods seems to be easier in Plus than in the original Rorona, with failure resulting in a Game Over, so players might wish to make additional saves at the beginning of each period in case of such a situation. The game’s linear structure definitely helps more than hurts, with crystal-clear direction on how to advance the main storyline and easy controls, although the Vita version does have a rare tendency to crash, which may result in a broken system if the player forgets to save upon returning to town. There’s also slight difficulty in viewing overall playing time, only visible within the saving interface, but interaction is by no means a total writeoff, even if it’s the weakest aspect of the game.
The narrative, fortunately, is much better, with a diverse cast of likeable characters and varied endings depending upon whether the player goes up and beyond the base requirements necessary to complete certain assignments. The translation is also largely devoid of errors other than an incorrect objective for a constant extra requirement during each period, not to mention a somewhat disappointing normal ending, but otherwise, the plot decently glues the game together, the game failing not to remember it.
Music has always been a strong point in Atelier games, and Rorona definitely doesn’t disappoint in that area, with plenty of diverse tracks, such as a remix of the shopping theme depending upon which shop in town the protagonist visits. The voice acting is also superb, the only real hangup being the occasional shouting of a skill’s name during the execution of MP-consuming abilities. Otherwise, a great-sounding game.
The graphics also bear some touching-up from the original version, with character models containing more realistic anatomy and a cel-shaded style, although as with the initial incarnation, Rorona makes the odd decision of fuzzing out the graphics during cutscenes to allow static character portraits to narrate the storyline, odd considering the three-dimensional visuals shine, but the game still prospers in the graphical department.
Finally, the game is shorter than average for a Japanese RPG, taking less than twenty hours to finish, with the choice upon completing the main storyline of undertaking an extra scenario or starting a New Game+ with the opportunity for a different ending.
Overall, Atelier Rorona Plus is an ideal example of an enhanced version of a game, given the improvements to its gameplay mechanisms alongside the preservation of many aspects that highlit the original version, such as the story, aurals, and visuals. The port does have a few aspects going against it such as the occasional crash and the disappointing standard ending, perhaps the possibility of locking oneself into a situation where the player can’t reload a previous save file if they fail to complete an assignment within the allotted intervention, but those that haven’t played the first version definitely owe it to themselves to play the Vita port.
+Solid battle and alchemy systems.
+Nice story with polished localization and likeable characters.
+Great music and graphics.
+Multiple endings add replay value.
-May crash occasionally.
-Standard ending feels lacking.
The Bottom Line:
A nice remake.
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: Less than 20 Hours