Atelier Rorona Plus is a shot at redemption for a franchise title that so desperately wants it, would benefit from it, but not necessarily because it is in need of it. Either way, it is a fine chance for those new to the Arland saga to jump in and veterans to come back to more of the same, if they so desire to.
Title: Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland
Developer: Gust, Koei Tecmo
System: PS3, PSVITA (PS3 retail, Vita digital only)
Length: 45+ hrs
Reminiscing back to when I brought my Playstation 3 around 3 years ago, the first game that I purchased for it was an Atelier title – an RPG series that centers around gathering raw material, using alchemy to turn those materials into items, and using said items to beat up monsters, explore new areas, yet still retaining a relatively slice-of-life atmosphere focused on affable characters interactions and achieving goals in a specific time limit. In a nutshell, that was what Atelier Rorona was supposed to be when it was first introduced, but turned out to be a stressful micromanagement nightmare from hell with unflattering graphics and ridiculous mechanics (from what I hear anyway) and primarily the reason why I picked up its sequel, Atelier Totori instead. Of course, fast-forward to this year, many North American and European fans get to experience the reboot: “Atelier Rorona Plus”, that claims to overhaul many undesirable pieces of the predecessor, add from its successors, and include new content such as playable party members. That all sounds just wonderful and swell, doesn’t it! The question is: Is it really any better?
Like the original, the story follows the journey of a girl named Rorona out to save her workshop (well, her teacher’s) in the kingdom of Arland from shutting down. In order to do so, she must complete 12 task over the course of 3 years that will test her alchemical abilities as well as prove is their any place for alchemist and alchemy in a world slowly coming to contact with technological marvels known as “machines”. As aforementioned, while the game progression is built upon completion of task, character interaction is another facet, letting you get know various individuals that will be of use to you throughout and even determine what endings you get provided certain criteria are met. Many of them are likeable such as: Rorona’s diminutive childhood friend Cordelia (nicknamed Cory) to a few that you might find irksome like Astrid, Rorona’s lazy and irresponsible alchemy teacher. Regardless of your stance, these interactions are pleasant to come across as you learn about about favorites and add to the slice-of-life atmosphere the game wishes to create.
Accomplishing the required kingdom quest given to you isn’t at all difficult – with one given to you every 3 months. A majority just ask you turn specific items you have to make (or can buy) and upon doing so satisfactory, awarded a stamp on a bingo card. To better your score, you can always turn in more. You also have other optional task like: hunt this monster, create this item, or use this item in battle that will also grant you stamp on a bingo-like card and getting three in row will grant you nice stat bonus, items, and even new alchemy recipes. However, the greatest reward for doing these request are vouchers – tickets that are exchangeable for even valuable items via Esty, the palace receptionist. Along with redeeming vouchers, she can also give you optional task that come in 3 different flavors: Friendship request, Syn (or Alchemy) request, and Monster hunts – with the two latter offering vouchers, if extra requirements are fulfilled and popularity points, another metric for determining endings. While you will be doing request frequently, most time will likely be spent on Friendship request foremost, since most characters have scenes that can only be viewed with a certain number points accumulated and ultimately, seeing key ones will lead to their own ending. Your party members do gain points with as they travel with you, but it is slow and caps at an certain limit that only request can remedy. Add to that, popularity points that can also play a role, it does and can be frustrating if your going for a particular ending and don’t known what to look for or do. It’s a mechanic that becomes more understandable and enjoyable as you play, but new players most likely won’t be clearing all endings on their first run – even though it is possible.
Besides that portion of the game, gathering your own ingredients for alchemy also plays an integral role and where most the importance lie. Unlike the previous games in the “Arland” trilogy, Atelier Rorona Plus and time management in the field has become more lenient and taking pressure off worry about the clock. Fighting monsters and gathering at destined points used to take up a prescribed amount of time, but that is no longer the case giving you as much time as you need to do whatever you in please. However, since field and areas are segmented, whenever you travel to the next, it will take up a certain number of days based on the area you going to next and departed. So for example, if I leave to the right of Forest 1 it will take a day to go to Forest 2, but to leave there, 3 days. Likewise, going to the left will take a day, but maybe 2 days from there. It certainly is a welcomed change from the format of what the Atelier series has been doing and makes it more comfortable to a degree, yet really didn’t make much of a difference to me. As for combat, expect from taking a page from Atelier Totori and Meruru, it is still largely the same: turn-based and featuring the assist system, allowing you to pull off devastating attacks once gauge has been filled at the bottom through attacking. Nothing much more to add here.
Once you return from gathering and battling, the other half of time will go into turning those material into useful items via alchemy. Just like the rest of the “Arland” trilogy, you only be able to make things you have the recipe for and the more difficult the item is to make, the more likely you are to fail depending on your alchemy level. You will soon find out that some ingredients are better than others to use and to get desire traits like “Jumbo” (raises the item count) you might have to proceed in interesting ways to make it happen if specific items aren’t available to you. While you are out and about traveling or synthesizing, you can also ask your helper, Homunculus (or Hom) to aid in either gathering items or synthesizing goods – which is blessing since Hom can syth anything you have created without using ingredients as well gather items from anywhere you have traveled, yet the results do vary based on Hom’s own individual levels that can only be obtained as rewards through the optional kingdom quest. The game also allows you to keep a garden where you can plant seeds and harvest many different items after the plant reaches maturity or gain more seeds by choosing not to harvest them for future use.
The graphics for Rorona Plus are great on the PSVITA and unequivocally a huge improvement on the chibi-style that the PS3 first had, however it does bring with it a few problems. Lengthy loading times and choppy framerate variances are a common complaint without question, but it also extends into glitches and exception errors. As someone that has experienced the game terminating on me numerous times, I’m going to have to say that I’m extremely dissatisfied with the frequency and severity it occurs. One time, the game completely went to a black fatal error screen to shutdown and lead me to having to access my the PSVITA recovery menu just to turn it back on after nervously waiting for 15 minutes. Koei Tecmo/Gust games have had these issues in the past (especially when localized), but I am very displeased that they have yet acknowledged it, since it is a common aliment between both the PS3 and VITA versions and happens on an infrequent scale. Save often and frequently is all I can say and hope you do. The musical soundtrack is okay, albeit limited, although with thanks to the free BGM pack, you can access music from all the past Atelier games, arranged soundtracks, and even some other miscellaneous projects that I am not familiar with. A very nice touch if you tire easily of the same droning track and like past work such as Atelier Eschalogy’s “I Am Legion” or want to revel in an boss battle listening to “Delirium Roar” from Mana Khemia 2. Personally, I am a big fan of the Atelier Judie workshop track and brings back some good memories from that title.
For those new to Rorona Plus, the new addition allows you the use of new characters such as: Esty, playable from Atelier Meruru and also use Astrid for the first time in the series. Once you finish the main game, you can also play an additional side story that will also lend you access to Rorona’s future pupils: Totori and Meruru featuring their story arc and access to two familiar dungeons that will test your skills in both combat and alchemy. Speaking from personally experience, the optional dungeons are difficult, yet they are easily doable with the right equipment and persistence. A lot of persistence. Oh, and I did mention there is this cool time capsule thing post game? You pop items in it and if you have data from Atelier Totori or Meruru Plus, you have the chance to get exclusive items from those. You really don’t need data from the other two, but the items you get are slightly more random. Okay, so maybe it isn’t that great, but it is the thought that counts, right?
Looking back to how poorly received the original title was years ago, it is a wonder what a couple of small improvements that should of been made in the first place and time could do. Although, seeing how almost all of the Atelier PS3 titles are going portable and add very little expect for the DLC, the only real reason to pick up this (or any of the other of the plus titles), is if you want to play on the go or new to the series. I highly doubt this will entice any new audience than it will the old, but for either demographic, it should provide the same level of entertainment. So, to answer that all important question: Is this version really better than it’s debut from 5 years ago, I have to say: in some ways, yes. However, since you essentially get the same content from the original that plus has (minus graphical upgrades and extras) I have to ask myself if their was anything wrong with the original in the first place other than hearsay? You likely won’t care either way and neither do I now.
Pros: Graphical upgrade from the original, nice storyline, amicable characters/character interactions, rewarding alchemy system, kingdom task system streamlines story progression, nice soundtrack upgrade and access to free BGM of past titles.
Cons: Infrequent to frequent bugs/ fatal crashes, post-game content is uninteresting, reaching desired ending requirements can be confusing.