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7/27/2012

REVIEW: Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland (PS3)



Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland is the first chapter in a trilogy of very obscure and rare games developed by GUST. It’s the typical unpopular JRPG, with a very strict anime style to its visuals, not heavy on exploration and requires lots of grinding to do many things. The game, while charming and with lots of potential, falls shorts in way too many things that will make it completely not enjoyable to most of the public out there, even JRPG fans.

The game tells the story of a very loud but cute young girl named Rorolina Frixell, who is usually called Rorona. She’s the apprentice of an extremely lazy alchemist master named Astrid and works in a workshop with her. The kingdom of the land threatens to close down the workshop unless they complete 12 special assignments in three years. So Astrid gives the ownership of the workshop to Rorona and lets her take care of everything.

The 12 assignments usually include creating certain items via alchemy, gather a special set of ingredients somewhere in the land or simply killing a certain number of enemies. The tasks themselves aren’t hard at all. But the game makes everything extremely annoying with a time-limit gameplay style, where the game uses “days” as a form of currency for almost everything. Traveling from one place to another, creating items in the workshop and moving around in the same area spends days and if you’re not careful, it’s possible to literally mess up and get stuck in the game if you spend too much days and the assignment deadline arrives without you completing it on time. I’ll be talking more deeply about this in a bit.

Story-wise, the game doesn’t ask players to save the world, there’s no dangerous enemy threatening the land and there’s not even a villain in the entire game except for maybe a stupid minister who wants to close the workshop to build factories. The story is very simple but the fact that it goes out of the heroes-save-world formula gave it a lot of potential that the game sadly didn’t use in its favor.

In the visuals department, the game is actually pretty. The textures in the anime-styled characters are good and since they also go for a “chibi” style for them makes everything even simpler. The environments are pretty as well but impossible to explore since most of them are just a passageway with invisible walls. Don’t expect a world map, animated movies, facial expressions and quality animations in this game because you won’t find any. The game is pretty and cute but it really falls short in the graphics department when compared to monsters like Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2 or Lost Odyssey to the point where it really feels like a PS1/PS2 game polished to run in HDTV sets.

Atelier Rorona comes with two options for voice-overs: English and Japanese. The English ones are a complete abomination and should be avoided at all costs. I tried it out for a while and made most of the characters speak in English and there’s really nothing good about it. If you’re going to play Rorona, do it in Japanese and read the subtitles and dialog boxes. The Japanese voices aren’t perfect either, but at least they fit with what the developers wanted the characters to sound like depending on their looks, ages and personalities. You can expect the Japanese voices to sound very childish and most of the anime stereotypes are there, like the cute young girl, the tsundere serious guy, the Casanova who looks like a girl, the shy big-breasted Blondie, etc.

Besides, it’s not like they’re going to make a deep storyline come to life with dialogs because there’s really no storyline. In fact, the dialogs occur in the typical old-school RPG style where two images of the characters speaking appear in the screen and a dialog box is in the lower part with the voices over them. No animations or anything. No videos and no CGI so if you’re looking for that, stay in Final Fantasy.

The sound effects in the game aren’t good at all. The only ones in it are very childish and cartoony. I turned the music off in several locations to see if I could hear water, wind, rain, plants or any other ambient sound but there really weren’t any. This is also because of the game’s simplicity in its presentation. The soundtrack is very cute and most of the songs are catchy so this part of the sound department kind of saves the game. Of course, don’t expect music of the quality of Nobuo Uematsu, Martin O’Donnell or Go Shiina because the songs in Atelier Rorona are cartoony, childish and simple, yet catchy and most of them are very cool.

Now, let’s go to the most important part of the game: its gameplay. Atelier Rorona, while very simple in almost every aspect, actually has a very deep alchemy system where the little girl can create dozens and dozens of different items off hundreds and hundreds of different ingredients found in all the areas outside the town. Each ingredient comes with a quality number, the higher the number the higher the quality and thus, it can be used to make better items. Each ingredient can also include “attributes” of some sort that can be transferred to a different item if used in a recipe. For example, if you use an Iron Ingot with “Attack +10” and “Defense +5” to create a sword for a party member, the attribute will be carried over to the weapon so the user can benefit from it in battle. It’s vital to pay attention to these quality numbers and attributes because they sometimes give the opportunity to finish missions for better money, complete the kingdom’s assignments more quickly or make better equipment for when you “explore” the dungeons looking for even more ingredients and leveling up.

Rorona has her own alchemy level, which is completely different from the “adventurer level” she and her friends use for the battle system. If she’s low on alchemy level, there’s a chance that she’ll fail a creation or she’ll simply take more days to complete them. So it’s important to try and level her up as much as possible so the later recipes can be done in fewer days and with better quality.

Outside the entire alchemy system, there are several “dungeons” like plains, caves, catacombs and mountains where Rorona can go accompanied by two party members of your choice and fight enemies to level up, gather hundreds of different ingredients and finish special missions given by the people in the kingdom outside the official assignments the game revolves around. In battle, Rorona and her companions only have a handful of stats like HP, Attack and Defense. These go up by leveling up and equipping better items like weapons, armor and accessories. The animations and sounds in the battles are very simple and the system itself is very basic to the point where there aren’t many possible strategies other than attack things until they die or escape if they’re too powerful for you. There aren’t many enemies, skills or weapons to allow for a deeper battle system like in other games of the genre.

The game actually has a curious elemental skill system where you can make elemental attack more or less powerful depending on rate of use in a single battle. But sadly, you won’t make much use of it because most fights are over in two or three turns anyway and building-up the elemental powers takes more than that. Also, there isn’t any variety in enemies. Most of them carry over from one area to the next with a different color palette and stats. Rorona’s friends who can travel with her have their own stats, attacks and weapons to equip but I really felt that these were extremely unbalanced. The first one who joins is another little rich girl called Cordelia who is very weak so once you get other members like a knight named Sterk or a puppet master named Lionela, there really is no reason to travel with Cordelia anymore because no matter what, she’ll always be weaker than other members. In fact, I finished the entire game with Rorona, Sterk and a third spot usually occupied by Lionela because that party worked wonderful for me and every time I changed it, I seemed to have a harder time defeating monsters.

During the entire game, there’s a deadline system that will be hunting you down and annoying you during the experience with it. Each time a new assignment is given to Rorona, there’s a “time limit” of about 89 days to complete it. The assignment themselves, as I mentioned aren’t hard at all except for maybe two or three out of the 12 that make the game. In my personal run, I usually took about 20-25 days to complete each task, some took less and some a little more. But even if you complete the kingdom’s assignments very quickly, the game uses these “days” as some sort of currency. As I said before, traveling, creating items and completing missions for the people to earn money spends days. So sometimes the game will simply don’t give you enough days to both level-up the alchemy levels, grind the battle levels, finish missions to gather more money to buy vital things or have all the ingredients you need to have in the workshop for future use.

This last is especially annoying because besides the “time limit”, there’s a maximum carrying capacity for Rorona outside the workshop. She has a basket that can only carry 60 items. And if you decide to carry around healing potions, attacking items like bombs or extra equipment, they will take space in her basket so farming ingredients in many occasions will force you to travel from the town to the dungeon and vice-versa several times, thus, spending way too many days. The general consensus in the community online is that the game simply doesn’t give the player enough time to do everything he/she wants in a single playthrough. And besides all that, there’s a realistic (but very unlikely) chance to mess up and save the game with not enough days to complete a kingdom assignment which would result in a Game Over. So having different save files is 100% recommended. Just in case.

The game can be played several times with no problems because it’s not very long. It can be finished in about 20-25 hours even if you take a lot of time to walk around the dungeons and farm items. The trophy list for it is a little hard to get because it requires you to see all the four different endings and mastering everything that can be leveled up, like the battle levels, alchemy levels, ingredient list and Rorona’s reputation among the townspeople. So in replay value, the game is actually very lengthy and good.

For closing comments, I can say that Atelier Rorona, despite all the things it is lacking, is a good game. Not great, but definitely not bad. If you like JRPGs or are interested in a video game revolving around alchemy, try your luck with it. It’s very simple and as I said before, it feels like a PS1/PS2 game that came out way too late. The graphics, sound, storytelling and gameplay are basic but it has a deep alchemy system that will allow you to create hundreds of cool and useful things. Also, if you like anime and cute Japanese stuff, then you will enjoy the game. Just don’t expect it to compare with more “serious” JRPGs like Final Fantasy, Lost Odyssey, Xenoblade or Tales of Vesperia because it really doesn’t come even close to them. Rorona is a game that is not for everyone, but not because of difficulty or depth, but because of its simplicity and extreme focus on being a cute otaku game.


Pros:

-          Charming characters.
-          Deep alchemy system with hundreds of things to gather and create.
-          Good music.
-          Equipment customization is fun and varied.


Cons:

-          Deadline system is extremely annoying and doesn’t let you enjoy the game’s features to the fullest.
-          The Battle system is very basic.
-          Exploration is non-existent.
-          No cool boss battles.
-          Storyline is dull and uninteresting.


-          Graphics and Visuals………...6
-          Music and Sound Effects….....7
-          Gameplay………………....…7
-          Replay Value…………….…..8

Overall Score……………….. 7 / 10

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