Title: Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland
Alternate Title: Atelier Meruru
Developed By: GUST
Published By: Nippon Ichi Software America
Console: Playstation 3
Classification (US): The ESRB has classified this game as Teen for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes and Use of Alcohol.
Classification (AU): This title has been classified as M for Sexualised imagery
Review Conditions: PAL Region, Playstation 3
Special Thanks: Nippon Ichi Software America for providing me with a copy of the game for review
Arls Kingdom – this tiny nation is located far to the northwest of the Arland Republic. Compared to Arland, with its highly developed machinery and alchemy, Arls is rather quaint, but with unlimited potential for prosperity. Gio, leader of Arland proposed to Lord Dessier, King of Arls and Gio’s long time friend that Arls join the Arland Republic. But there are many tasks to be completed before their goal can be realized. In order to minimize criticism from opposing parties, Arls begins a development project to increase the kingdoms influence.
To begin, they decide to dispatch a number of skilled adventurers to Arls from Arland. Among the delegation is the alchemist Totori Helmond. Meruru, the Princess of Arls, soon encounters Totori and alchemy for the first time. With aspirations of becoming an alchemist in her own right, Meruru forces her way into becoming Totori’s apprentice.
That is right folks, after about a month of being unable to do reviews due to my Masters Thesis taking up all of my time, all my university assessment items have been submitted and I can now treat myself to gaming, anime watching and review sessions without having to worry about anything else being due. Passing over a month-long backlog I have amassed, I would like to review Nippon Ichi Software America’s release of Atelier Meruru as the first title in my post-review review-a-thon.
Atelier Meruru is the third game in the Alchemists of Arland trilogy, with each title in the series taking several years into the future from the last and focusing on a different girl who is being mentored by the main character before. Both previous releases, Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori have received scores of B+ when reviewed by my keyboard…. so will Atelier Meruru be an improvement from the similar formula or will it not live up to the standards of the other two?
The storyline follows protagonist and Princess of the Arls Kingdom Merurulince Rede Arls (Meruru) who in an act of defiance against her potential boring life as temporary princess decides to become an apprentice under the guidance of recently-moved-in alchemist Totooria Helmold (Totori). While not initially approved by her father Lord Dessier or kingdom “Butler” Rufus, her wishes are eventually approved under the condition that she uses her alchemy to help develop the kingdom – with a set population target at 3 years and a total of five years until merging with the Arland Republic.
Those who are familiar with the other two games in the trilogy will be aware that this series unlike other Atelier games are not based around a storyline with alchemy implemented into it but is a game about alchemy with a storyline intermingled throughout it. Unfortunately unlike Atelier Totori which at least had some underlying storyline towards it, Atelier Meruru took the Atelier Rorona route of focusing on just the alchemy with no real purpose to it other than aiding the development of the kingdom. The only content you could really consider to be main storyline would be through one of the games main ending routes, which for your first playthrough it is quite possible to miss all of them and spend all five years in-game building up your population for either Bad or Normal Endings.
So you might be wondering what storyline you are presented with during your gameplay experience – as just alchemy and battles would be pretty dull right? This game is very heavy on individual character storylines, with almost every NPC and playable character with a portrait having a respective Friendship Level and a pile of scenes waiting to be unlocked. Without DLC the game has a total of ten playable characters, broken down into three characters unique to this game, four from Atelier Rorona and three from Atelier Totori. Each of these characters have some plot surrounding them although for the older characters it seems to be focused more on continuing from previous plotlines or otherwise dealing with particular character quirks which means that enjoying them will require knowledge of experience with both other games in the series. Still these proved not too bad, and I enjoyed the plotline and subsequent ending path plotline surrounding Rorona / Astrid, being able to play as Esty who was only a receptionist in the first game and all the little events surrounding Sterk and Meruru.
The issue was that there were quite a few times that the number of events I had were so great in number that they would actually detract from the other components of the game. For example, in the process of quick moving to Rufus’ Study to develop a new building, I had to witness in one occasion four events, each of which would warp me back to various other parts of the town. Which I appreciated the fact I was not missing out on event scenes I would have liked a limit to them being shown at one occasion. If there was another thing I would have liked to have seen considering this was the final game, would have been to give more characters at least cameo appearances or conclusions to their roles as characters in the series. For example with the characters Tantris and Lionela from Atelier Rorona, they were sort of removed from further plots in the series and gave no closure to their purpose in the game other than as random party members.
Overall, the storyline was weaker than in Totori with no real direction other than developing the nation through completely random alchemy or battle related tasks, however for the most part I enjoyed the individual character plotlines, and the fact they were less restricting on building character friendship levels through means other than adventuring with them.
In my review of Atelier Totori when comparing its design to Atelier Rorona I wrote “The design is one area which I think has been improved upon the most”. While the quality of character portraits may have remained the same in terms of the 3D world and character model designs I can happily say there has been another considerable improvement in these regards. While I found it hard at first to fully appreciate the character design of Meruru, for the characters which have been brought over from previous games have benefited from a more realistic and mature appearance to their designs (Except for Rorona due to plot reasons). My thoughts are similar for the new characters exclusive to this game as well, and I thought their characters worked well with their character portraits and were individually well designed.
While initially you might find the environment designs unrewarding and not having improved much from previous installments, as you get to the later levels in particular the game rewards you with some brilliantly planned out landscapes for which you can gather items and battle monsters within (Monster designs seemed to be half-rehashed from previous installments but the new monsters are pretty well designed as well). Battles actually take advantage of more creative skill special effects – with each character having a set of skills all uniquely animated (In comparison to prior games) and a single special ability with not only some creative animated scenes but a character-specific attack song.
With the exception of the same no free camera issue as previous installments, I must say it is once again an improvement and suits the games theme and intended visuals well.
Before I begin this component of the review I would like to state that in terms of battle themes, I purchased the games DLC music pack which came with many additional battle tracks from previous GUST and Compile Heart games (Trinity Universe / Cross Edge) which I occasionally switched between, and considering how many times I ended up in battles during my first playthrough – I personally think it was a decent investment. But aside from that, the quality of the music in this game is comparable to that of other Atelier games – a sizable collection of music exclusive to this game which encompasses a diverse range of styles and themes and several remixed tracks from previous games which were used purposefully or given new life.
In terms of the English voice acting, I felt it was once again a strong performance by most of the character cast. However I still felt that Gino’s voice could have used a bit more tweaking to fully integrate into his characters personality. In terms of Rorona who has now been turned into an eight year old child, I felt that her voice actress did a solid job at matching the childish tone but failed to meet that same level she met in Rorona and Totori which made her easily my favorite voice role out of both games.
As with previous installments your biggest adversary in the game is not some gigantic dragon or high up trying to replace your alchemy workshop with industrial buildings but time itself. The game itself gives you five years to complete all your tasks, develop your kingdom and make friends with all other characters before it forces you into one of the games several endings. Now this might be fine in most games using a similar time-based system…. but almost everything in this game takes time. Travelling from one gathering spot to another can take anywhere from two days to a month, gathering items and battling enemies can take half a day and to make matters worse there are also a few unavoidable events which will shave a few days off your total as well. While the time restrictions have laxed considerably since Atelier Rorona (Where you only had three months to complete particular tasks), the game relies heavily on your time management skills to fulfill all your goals lest you are required to start over again with only the equipment you had equipped to each of your characters.
Previously the games outcomes primarily depended on alchemy, with Atelier Rorona requiring you to fulfill a number of objectives every three months and Atelier Totori requiring you to build a certain ship to get to a certain plot event by a certain date otherwise you would be forced into a less than stellar ending. This time around while alchemy sure helps in achieving this goal – your primary goal is to develop your kingdom and raise your population through development quests, popularity (Through completing quests for others) and just random increases. Every so often you are sent a letter from someone within the kingdom which can be anything from asking you to improve your knowledge of a certain monster class, to requesting building materials or pie – these once completed provide you with development points which allow you to level up your kingdom and develop structures. While I would have liked to see this used more effectively – perhaps allowing for further areas to visit within Arls, it changed the formula to the gameplay a bit and I appreciated that.
The game once again heavily relies on alchemy more than a progressive storyline, but for once doing so does not break your in-game budget with Meruru able to learn almost all necessary alchemy recipes through gaining alchemy EXP and plot events rather than inflated price alchemy books. By the end of the game you will become very much accustomed to the alchemy system which is not really different from any past Atelier game where you can convert one or more items into another item with its quality based on source materials and usefulness dependent on inherited stats. The system does encourage you to get out into the field and collecting items to synthesize rather than just purchasing the basics from the Arls Kingdom stores as they are required to complete some quests, and provide enough options to give you some freedom when choosing what to incorporate into your battle strategy (For healing / attack items). Unlike previous games where only a few items were of use, most items in this game had some benefit whether it was for development purposes or battle purposes.
The turn based battle system has not received many changes from previous installments and while primarily being used to collect materials from enemies itself, the game does for once provide you with a wealth of opportunities to face tougher bosses which can lead onto additional endings – some of the fights proving to actually be difficult. The battle system is simplistic with nothing to set itself apart from similar systems. However in addition to the normal Attack, Skills, Item and Guard commands, once your character hits a particular level (Level 40 from memory), as in previous games a “Special” command appears allowing you to cause a greater amount of damage to your enemies. What makes this different however, more in the design department that if you were to defeat the enemy with that blow a special sequence takes place which were pretty well thought out and proved to be of great use during longer boss battles (Although not game-breaking).
Overall while the storyline was a bit lacking in comparison to the other two games, I thought Atelier Meruru was a solid end to the trilogy and should keep fans of the series interested with cameo characters of a number of previous characters. This game is not just the same game with an additional set of characters, storyline and gameplay features added onto it and provides enough to appeal to both newcomers and veterans to the series alike. My first run through of this game took me approximately 18 hours and I ended up ~1,000 people short of my population target to reach the Normal End over the Bad/Normal End.
“Now if they would have only made Astrid a playable character…..”
Storyline/Character Development: C
Music/Voice Acting: A
Personal Opinion: A-
Overall Score: A-