Review – Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland

Alchemy… adventuring… and everything JRPG. These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect video game. But Professor Gust accidentally added another ingredient to the concoction… moe. Thus, Atelier Rorona Plus was born!

While it was originally released in 2009 for the PlayStation 3, Atelier Rorona has received an enhanced remake for the PS3 and Vita, which includes improved gameplay, improved visuals, improved audio, and generally improved functionality. As an introduction to the Arland trilogy, Atelier Rorona Plus not only familiarizes players with the concepts and gameplay, but also serves as a chronological and logical entry point.

And besides all that, this game is plenty of fun.

Story

The story follows Rorona, a young alchemy apprentice tasked with saving her master’s atelier (alchemy workshop) by proving to the kingdom that alchemy can serve the community at large. Every three months, she needs to meet some requirement given by the kingdom, or else the atelier will be shut down – these assignments normally require synthesizing or gathering specific materials.

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As a restraint on Rorona’s efforts, there is a limited amount of time in the game. Travelling and synthesizing each consume time, and mismanaging time in this narrow window can lead to a crunch near the deadline. While all of the main assignments are fairly easy to manage, the quests that provide unrelated bonuses are normally more demanding and require more attention to detail.

Unfortunately, besides Rorona’s attempts to save the atelier, there is not much of an all-encompassing story. Instead, the game is a bit more slice-of-life, focusing on character bonds and Rorona’s everyday efforts. While the lack of a greater conflict is disappointing, the game does a fantastic job with its approach, and the persistent light-heartedness certainly works in the game’s favor.

After the main story, an epilogue becomes available. Besides offering a much greater challenge, this introduces two not-so-new characters, Totori and Meruru, the protagonists of the next two games in the Arland trilogy, respectively. This entire situation introduces a time-travel subplot, which even the protagonists claim is too confusing. While this entire epilogue could easily be written off as fanservice, the high difficulty makes the endgame a significant time investment, where the player will need to create the greatest possible equipment and proceed patiently in order to bring the story to a close.

Characters

While Atelier Rorona has a fairly large cast, they are introduced incrementally, and a key few are most important to the story. However, rather than their relations to the main story, the cast succeeds most with their own individual tales. By fulfilling requests for them or adventuring alongside party members, Rorona will become closer to characters and trigger specific events. Besides learning the stories of most of the characters, this can provide endings that are some of the most amusing parts of the game.

While none of the characters are earth-shatteringly unique, they each have distinct and memorable personalities that come together to create a charming experience. For example, Astrid, Rorona’s alchemy master, is normally cold to the people around her. However, she is always keen on embarrassing Rorona and creating questionable clothing for her, among other quirks. While all of the characters are not this unbalanced, they each have some endearing aspect and imperfection, making them believable and interesting.

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There is one character who could be considered an antagonist, but he disappears from the game after a certain point, as if the developers completely forgot about him. As a whole, his involvement was rather unnecessary, and the lack of a proper conflict leaves him as a mere annoyance.

Gameplay

Atelier Rorona includes two sides of gameplay. The first is venturing out into the wilderness to gather ingredients, either by simply finding them around the area, or defeating monsters. The second consists of completing requests for people who live in Arland, or working towards the missions given by the kingdom. Most of these require synthesizing various items via alchemy, although monster hunting quests are eventually added in. Rorona’s adventuring skills and alchemy skills level separately, but normally maintain balance.

Adventuring in the game is pretty straightforward. Rorona and her party will venture out to a specific area, and then move from gathering area to gathering area. In these places, you can gather ingredients that are laying around, fight monsters, and occasionally find rare books and equipment. At a few points, there are gathering areas that you can’t travel to, and the game rarely suggests how to do so. However, unless you advance the correct character or have the correct item (which is only sometimes logical), you won’t be able to advance. Fortunately, any area that is required for the main assignment will be unlocked automatically.

Battles are fairly straightforward, with the player taking full control of all characters and choosing between an attack, skill, guard, or flee option. Rorona, Totori, and Meruru are also capable of using items. On the right side of the screen, you can see the turn order, which changes based on which actions you choose.

What sets all of this apart is the assist system. As you can see in the below image, next to Rorona’s health and MP, is the assist bar. This fills up a bit more each time someone does something, and can be consumed in two ways. The main way it can be used is to have one of the other characters defend Rorona from an attack. The second is to follow-up from a skill or attack item, ultimately compounding the damage inflicted on the enemy. Balancing the assists system between attack and defense is the main strength of the battle system – over-relying on assists for attacks will leave Rorona defenseless, but it will provide the quickest damage to the enemy.

Another feature is each character’s ultimate skill. While these are not available until at least the halfway point of the game, they provide very high damage. The small bar to the left of each character’s image indicates when they can use their ultimate skill – at the beginning of a battle, it will be completely empty, and will very slowly rise as the battle progresses. This means that it is only useful against the toughest bosses, since other enemies will be long gone before the bar is full. For whatever reason, they left this bar transparent, which means that it can be very difficult to tell how full it is depending on the color of the environment.

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Since this was a brutal (and unforeshadowed) boss battle, there was no “flee” option

The other side of gameplay consists of item synthesis and completing requests. One of the strengths of RPGs is that you can constantly improve your characters and their equipment – Atelier Rorona capitalizes on this by letting you create all of your equipment,  whether weapons,  armor,  healing items, or whatever else you may want. While you can purchase or find usable equipment, synthesizing your own set allows you to customize it to your preferences as long as you have the necessary materials.

Besides weapons and armor, you can also synthesize healing items, bombs, decorations, and many other things of varying importance. Many of these items are required to complete the kingdom’s assignments or the requests from others. Completing many requests can improve Rorona’s popularity in the kingdom, which will impact the game’s ending. Completing requests for specific people can improve Rorona’s relationships with them, opening up the opportunity for specific events to trigger, including possible endings

Synthesis requires a certain amount of Rorona’s MP and consumes up to a few days from the calendar, depending on how many items are made, and what exactly they are. Since Rorona’s MP can be consumed from both battle and synthesis, it is crucial to keep an eye on it and spend a day or so resting to recover it from time to time.

While the complexity of synthesis and the infodump of optional tutorials may seem overwhelming at first, it is fairly easy to gain a grasp on the systems and how to use them to your advantage. The seemingly steep learning curve is not so drastic as it first seems, and everything becomes more manageable within a short amount of time.

Altogether, the greatest strength of the gameplay is the balance between the two sides. On one hand, you gather ingredients for synthesis and requests, but on the other, you synthesize items to improve your exploration. The two sides directly affect each other, and success in the game relies on both.

Visuals

Visually, the game is nothing outstanding. 3D models look pretty good and move smoothly, substantial framerate drops are infrequent, but texture quality as a whole is very bland – this is most noticeable in the environment. Fortunately, the game functions comparably on the Vita and PS3, with the Vita only lagging a bit in menus and the most intense battle animations.

Also, while the game has 3D models for every character, they are only used for city and wilderness exploration. Rather than showing characters move throughout a cutscene, the game simply uses a visual novel style display with a blurred background or static image. While there are a large variety of facial expressions for each character, it seems as if the game would have benefited from their movement in the background of each scene, showing exactly what they are doing throughout conversations. Alternatively, a proper background image may have been preferable in many situations.

swag

Character designs and art style are a huge plus for this game. Characters are visually appealing and their designs as a whole seem very realistic. However, it cannot be said that characters quite look their age. The most obvious example of this is Rorona, who is 14 (for the Western release, they changed this to 17, but that doesn’t line up with the sequels). When static backgrounds are used for specific scenes, the quality is always very high and they generally look great.

Sound

While the music itself is nothing special outside of a few highlights, the game’s greatest advantage in this department is what it lets players do – pick which music to use where. From a selection of tracks from most, if not all, of the Atelier games, players have a wide variety of songs to choose if a default recurring one fails to strike their fancy. If you want a boss battle theme to play in the atelier, it’s only a matter of finding it and setting it up that way. There are also updated versions of many songs, but most of these are not used at default.

The voice-acting is a bit of a mixed bag. The Japanese voices are all well-acted and appropriate, and many familiar voices are used (Cordelia is voiced by Kitamura Eri, Esty is voiced by Satou Rina, etc). The English dub on the other hand has quite a few issues, one example being Rorona’s voice. While her Japanese voice is very “moe,” fitting for her character, her English voice simply sounds like it’s trying to be moe without succeeding, and comes off as annoying more than anything else.

Another disappointing aspect of the English dub is how bare-bones it is, as many characters will speak only during cutscenes. This means that shopkeepers will only speak during cutscenes, among many other examples of shorter lines that are absent. The dual-audio option is a definite plus, and some people will not mind the English dub, but ignoring the quality of the dub itself, the lack of full voicing is a huge flaw.

Miscellaneous

The game has several extras that are unlocked throughout the game. In addition to control of the soundtrack, players can change the outfits of several characters, re-watch cutscenes, view concept and background art, listen to short messages from the Japanese VAs (without subtitles), and view character and enemy models. Basically, a bunch of nifty bonuses.

Unfortunately, I’ve run into a few bugs of varying annoyance. First, I keep randomly hearing this sound while playing the game. It is not a part of the music or relevant sound effects, and it seems to occur every few minutes or so for no particular reason. Also, while talking to an NCP in town, he randomly started to fall into the ground, which was plenty awkward.

And lastly, the game crashed on me once. Normally, I would just say, “Oh darn, I guess I just lost an hour or so,” but this happened shortly after defeating the Iron Giant. If you’re familiar with the game, you’ll know how severe of an issue this was.

Altogether, this game was very fun, and certainly worth the purchase.

"High impact sexual violence."

“High impact sexual violence”

+ You can make pie with alchemy
+ Enough moe for the whole family
+ Constrained time and plenty of quests
+ Dual audio option (English or Japanese)
+ Characters and their stories
+ A substantial epilogue with the protagonists from the next two games and a much greater challenge
+ Fun battle system that uses atypical elements
+ Synthesizing equipment
+ Character designs and art style

± Occasional slow response time in menus and in battle transition on Vita
± The game tells you other locations are out there, but not any indication of how to get there
± Some textures look bad, but only in the environment

− Download only on Vita
− The story/conflict is basically non-existent
− English dub is bare-bones and sub-par
− Bugs

Play time – 30 hours (main story)

Overall – (a very strong) 8/10
Recommendation – Buy it!

This game is fun, overwhelmingly charming, always has more to do, and constantly pushes players to work towards goals without wasting time. The story is basically nonexistent, but it works great as a slice-of-life JRPG.

As an introduction to the Atelier series, Atelier Rorona Plus seems like a great starting point. While the alchemy systems and high amount of quests may seem overwhelming at first, it soon becomes understandable and manageable. The important deadlines are rarely stress-inducing, and the game as a whole is a generally light-hearted and fun experience.

If you have a PS3 or Vita, this game is certainly worth the purchase. However, if you’re aiming towards getting it for Vita, take into account that it is available via download only (and about 3GB).


Public service announcement: When buying the game on the PSN, make sure you buy the right version. One of them is listed as PS3 only (which it is), but the other is listed as playable on PS3 and Vita. While this implies that it’s a cross-buy title, it is not (which is false advertising, by the way). This is the Vita version, but it includes two pieces of DLC for the PS3 version, which is the only reason it is also listed as playable on the PS3. I called Sony about this to get an explanation (and hopefully a download of the PS3 version, which I expected when I purchased it), but alas, my luck is not so.


All screenshots are either from my own playthrough on Vita or the official site.

For people familiar with the series, what Atelier game would you recommend I play next? I have a Vita and PS3, so a game on either console would be fine. I’m expecting to follow this up with the “Plus” version of Totori, but I’m curious what you would recommend.

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7 thoughts on “Review – Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland

  1. All I need is money and this game will be mine soon enough. I jumped for joy when they announced that Rorona + would come out on PS3 and not be a Vita exclusive like the other + games. Heaven knows how much I want to punch JP for making nearly all the + NIS games portables. FINALLY a + game that is not a portable exclusive.

    • It is a bit strange to only make the third Plus title on both consoles, and that will certainly help sales. But really, you should just get a Vita or the PS TV later this year.

        • That’s actually an interesting point. I know they’re planning on it streaming games via the PlayStation Now service, but I haven’t heard anything about it doing the second-screen thing that it does for the PS4. I have a feeling that it won’t be able to though – as it is now, the Vita can only be used as a second screen for very few PS3 games, and that limitation will probably be carried over.

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