A light hearted JRPG about a girl finding her mum
Gust has been developing Atelier titles since the early days of the PlayStation. It wasn’t until the PlayStation 2 era that we English-speaking gamers could finally get a chance to play the series. Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana (EM) received the series’ first translation thanks to Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) America. To put it into context Atelier Iris: EM was actually the sixth game in the series, and this new title from the same developers titled Atelier Totori, is the twelfth.
Atelier Totori is a direct sequel to last year’s release Atelier Rorona. Even though these games are part of a series the PlayStation 3 games will be its own trilogy that will share characters and locations between them. This doesn’t mean you have to play Atelier Rorona to enjoy this game as the game does a good job of introducing you to the locations and any returning characters from the previous games.
This game picks up about five years after the end of the Atelier Rorona and follows the adventures of a young alchemist called Totori. Totori got into alchemy at a young age after meeting Rorona (Main character from the first PlayStation 3 game) and her demonstration of alchemy. Her main objective inAtelier Totori is to explore the world as an adventurer and find her missing mum, who vanished when Totori was a young girl.
If there’s one thing to say about the story then that is how different it is from other Japanese Role-Playing Games (JRPGs). Generally most JRPGs have you saving the world from some imminent danger or evil ruler that’s so powerful no one can stop them. They feature a heavily story-focused plot that pushes you in a certain pre-defined direction. Atelier Totori’s story line doesn’t do anything like this. Instead it almost gives you a sense of freedom to progress the story at your own pace, as you watch Totori grow from been a weak, little, and clumsy girl into a fully confident alchemist and adventurer.
This could be seen as a negative for some, since the story is solely focused on Totori and her relationships with the world and the characters that inhabit it. It may seem less interesting for the people who love those “world threatening” stories, but for some, they will find that it to be a bit of fresh air in a genre full of similar stories.
Progressing through the story comes with Totori’s main objective to go up the ranks of her adventurer’s licence. Quests help her accomplish this, such as hunting down certain animals, synthesising items with alchemy, exploring areas, and gathering ingredients from ‘gathering points’. All of these activities add towards gaining points from a list of tasks to do on your licence; these tasks almost feel like the game’s version of Sony’s Trophy system, with tasks like killing so many of a type of enemy, or discover all gathering points in a location. The aforementioned quests are acquired from characters in the world of Arland, and because of the ability to handle these quests whenever you want it portrays a sense of openness in Atelier Totori’s gameplay.
A great improvement over Atelier Rorona is how the game manages key story progression, or lack of it. Before, in Atelier Rorona, you were required to keep doing key tasks that met specific dates or you’d fail the game. In Atelier Totori there is only one time in the whole game where you have to meet a deadline that will end the game. You also have three years of the game’s year system to do this, so you have a lot more free time to do what you want.
Each of the main characters you come into contact with have distinct personalities. For example, Totori’s father always seems to get ignored by Totori and her sister Ceci. You feel sorry for the poor chap as his kids act as if he’s a ghost or something. Another character that likes to be picked on is Sterk, a knight with a face that scares everyone because he’s always looking so serious. Gags like these are often played upon for laughs. The cast is certainly a lively bunch and never make Totori’s adventures unexciting.
Time is a key aspect of this game as everything you do moves the time forward. Quests gained from shopkeepers or potential employees normally must meet a deadline. If you don’t meet these deadlines then you won’t get paid. You have to keep an eye out on the date since doing simple things like exploring the world map, gathering things, fighting and synthesizing items will all move the time forward. Sometimes things will move time forward by days, while others will only move it by hours, represented by a red bar when you are exploring an area visited. You have to be good at time management, to make sure you don’t feel like you are wasting time when you could be doing something meaningful in the game.
Fighting is always an important part of a JRPG; unfortunately this isn’t a strong point of Atelier Totori at first, as all your characters have next to no moves to use. All you end up doing is attacking or defending for the first few hours. Battle mechanics are turn based and straightforward, even when you start unlocking new moves and abilities, the fighting never seems to get very deep. The battles are only random when moving to locations on the world map. In an area you can actually see the enemies, and can even get preemptive attacks on them by bashing the fools with the square button before they notice you.
Totori is quite a weakling when it comes to fighting, but she can be protected by your other two party members. Under each of the two characters that aren’t Totori in battle is a bar that fills up when a character hits an enemy. Once it’s filled passed a certain point a character can block an attack aimed at Totori to save her from losing health. This bar can also be used to gain an extra attack on enemies if you’d rather use it for offensive move. If you die in battle then you’ll return to your house instead of seeing a game over screen. This costs you a few days, so it’s not advised to die in battle often. You can heal yourself using items created or bought, or resting at your house, but this can cost days depending on how much health and magic you need to have replenished. Time really is money in this game.
Apart from fighting you’ll be doing a lot of synthesizing, it’s one of the main features of the game since all those quests you get from NPCs (Non Playable Characters) will either involve killing something, gathering something or crafting something from alchemy. Doing this costs magic points (MP) and days, although as your alchemy level increases you can start making more of the same objects in fewer amounts of days. Books help you to create new items, and there are plenty of those to find in the game’s world.
Every item that can be used in alchemy has stats and quality rating. The higher the stats of the ingredients, the better the quality of item that will pop out of the alchemy pot. Bonus points can also be used to add certain stats and abilities to item. This is even better for when you are using the items to make weapons at the blacksmith to give you a boost in combat. You can get overwhelmed with items; thankfully even though you can only carry 60 (and more later on), you have a container at home that houses up to 999 items. This can also be accessed when handing in finished quests, so you don’t have to carry the product you’ve created or gathered unless it specifically states as such.
Visually, the game has a gorgeous art style which is certainly aimed at fans of anime. It brims with bright colours and cute character design. Atelier Totori looks sharp and runs buttery smooth. The only downside is that some of the locations when fighting in battle can be a bit bland at times. Also there are a tiny amount of recycled assets from the first PlayStation 3 game, but everything else has adoring detail applied, be it a mountain location, a town or even new weapons.
Music is very appropriate to the game’s presentation. Cheery chimes and upbeat tunes are featured throughout the game, almost as if the composer is making sure the player is always feeling happy and in the mood for some fun. Again, there is quite a bit of recycled music tracks when you visit locations that were featured in Atelier Rorona. The game features both Japanese and English voiceover tracks. The English tracks have a mixture of both good and bad qualities. A few of the characters are done well and get across what they are trying to represent (Totori as the shy girl, etc), but some are a bit overdone and annoying.
Fans that have played the games before won’t need any introduction, they will know what to expect in an Atelier game, and it’s a good game in that respect for them. As mentioned it’s not an epic adventure, but it never tries to be. This story is a personal one of one girl’s emotional ride to becoming experienced in alchemy and adventuring and her quest to find her mum. It’s not an RPG for everyone who likes the genre, but it is fun, and if you can get into it once you’ve passed the initial couple of hours then you’ll have found yourself one of the most relaxing and easygoing RPGs on the market today.