Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland

Gust Corporation made itself known with the Atelier, Mana Khemia, and Ar tonelico franchises, with Nippon Ichi's American branch ultimately deciding to bring Anglophones these games starting with Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana. In 2009, the franchise debuted on the PlayStation 3 with Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, with NIS America localizing the game the next year. How does it stack up to other games in the series?

Throughout the game, the protagonist, Rorona, receives assignments that she must complete within a period. As with other Atelier games, she can synthesize various kinds of items at her workshop, and around town, she can take on requests from shopkeepers and allies to turn in items, which can net her rewards such as money and increased popularity of her workshop. She can also purchase items with her money from shops, such as recipe books to unlock more items she can synthesize, and hire up to two allies, paying them whenever she leaves town.

Outside town, Rorona can visit various fields and dungeons with her allies, with plenty of gathering points in each, not to mention enemies she can hit with her staff to get a preemptive strike; however, enemies can occasionally do the same against Rorona and her party. Regardless of who goes first, the game takes players to a separate screen for combat, where Rorona and her allies have various commands from which to choose, such as attacking with their equipped weapons, using skills that consume their HP (there is no MP in the game), or escaping; only Rorona can use items.

After the player inputs a character's command, they immediately execute it a la Final Fantasy X, although one should note that there is unfortunately no turn order meter, a step down from other games in the Atelier series that had this feature. The player wins a battle if they defeat all enemies, although defeat means a trip back to town and the loss of some days until the next deadline. Winning a battle nets Rorona and her allies experience for occasional level-ups, in which case their stats slightly increase and the player can distribute a skill point into their skills.

Dungeons and fields may have occasional points when Rorona needs to use a bomb to blow up a boulder or use an ice bomb to freeze a river to cross it, with both kinds of items synthesizable at her workshop. Ultimately, the gameplay systems work decently, although late in the game, deadlines can really put a strain on the player, with the potential for players to lock themselves into an situation where they can't finish the game if they have only one save slot, since failing to meet a deadline results in her workshop's closure and a Game Over. This wouldn't have been a problem if the player could start the game from scratch with levels and items retained, but the gameplay is still decent at best.

The controls are solid as well, with easy menus, synthesizing, shopping, and whatnot, and a general linear structure that keeps players moving in the right direction. To be able to see if Rorona can complete quests before taking them is a nice convenience, as well. Granted, the game does limit Rorona's basket space to sixty items, and it's odd that the game only allows for saving at her workshop since the game is nice to players when they die, but otherwise, the game is user-friendly.

The story is decent, with an endearing cast of characters and some story variations, although there isn't much in the way of antagonistic forces for Rorona and her allies. The translation, however, is largely solid, with some occasional innuendo, and only some small errors. Ultimately, the story isn't superb, although it is a decent driving factor throughout the game.

As usual, the Gust sound team does a nice job with the soundtrack, with plenty of bouncy tracks, although the English voicework is largely hit-or-miss; luckily, the player can switch to the Japanese voices if desired or simply cut dialogues short during cutscenes.

Atelier Rorona uses a cel-shaded visual style, with nice character models, character art, and scenery, although textures look bland close-up and characters and enemies don't have shadows in battle. One odd design decision is that while the normal graphics look fine, the game frequently fuzzes them out to have static character portraits narrate cutscenes. Despite this, the game is easy on the eyes.

Finally, the game is short, taking less than twenty hours to beat even if players finds themselves in a premature Game Over situation, although trying to acquire every Trophy can easily boost playing time and adds nice replayability. Overall, Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland isn't the best Atelier or Gust game, what particularly with the ability to enter a no-win situation, although it still excels in many areas including its gameplay, story, music, and graphics. Those who can look past its flaws, maybe arm themselves with a guide to be on the safe side, might just have a fun time.

The Good:
+Solid gameplay systems and control.
+Charming plot and translation.
+Great music and graphics.
+Trophies add nice replay value.

The Bad:
-Can be unwinnable.
-Can't restart the game with stats and items retained.

The Bottom Line:
Not the best Atelier game, but still enjoyable.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: Less than 20 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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