It’s all about Alchemy.
Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland is the eleventh installment in the Atelier franchise on PS3 and PS Vita, and is probably the most enjoyable entry in the series so far. The story focuses on the small kingdom of Arland, located at the edge of a massive continent. Arland had the misfortune of becoming isolated once it had been stricken down with poverty and ancient relics called ‘Machines’ were discovered in a nearby ruins. Inside the kingdom is an alchemy workshop, once busy with activity, but now quiet and insignificant. One day, a messenger from the castle delivered an order from the king that the workshop must be kept active or it would be closed. This is where you step in to take responsibility.
In the game you take the role of Rorona Frixell, a beginner in alchemy, who is assigned as workshop keeper to keep the workshop open, by taking on assignments over a three year time period. The game is based around assignments and missions and timed around the day and calender month, whilst you spend your days synthesizing ingredients and making various concoctions.
The majority of the game consists of gathering and collecting various items, crafting, battling and completing quests. Quests and assignments are to be performed in a set time period, and journeying through the various areas will take time and effort, consuming your days. It’s relatively easy to explore the world, gather items and battle enemies, and a lot of your time is spent in your workshop, synthesizing items by using the ingredients you’ve gathered. At various times, you can obtain recipes or purchase them from the store in town, or they are given to you by various characters within the game.
Gathering the best ingredients is as important as your alchemy skill to make successful recipes. Higher level ingredients will create a high effect gauge. Once the gauge exceeds the threshold, the effects will be produced. Once you’ve completed the synthesis, you can select what traits you wish to carry over and you can choose multiple traits as long it’s within the cost level.
The various characters within the game are charming and delightful to interact with during your journey. Stop and meet Hagel at the weapon shop and he will offer to make equipment for you, as long as you can gather Ingot and Cloth. Equipment can be customized with different effects and traits inherited within that ingredient, so it takes a little bit of experimenting.
Rorona can have two side kicks to accompany her out in the field and she can hire them for a daily fee. Characters have various abilities and combat skills, such as Rorona who uses her special Angel Shot attack to deal damage to one enemy or performing Ether Light to cause a blindness attack combo. You can change the leader of your team at any time, if you feel you want to level up certain characters more than others. Players will defeat enemies, come back to the town to heal and rest, and then head out to explore once more. Occasionally you’ll come across monsters that require you to be a certain level before you can advance, so there’s plenty of grinding to be had in this game, but it’s enjoyable and the characters excel in their field with experience.
In order to keep up with assignments and requests and to keep the workshop operating, you must complete requests within the selected time. Requests are completed by reporting to Sterk, who you meet in the palace hallway. Requests are set up in a mandatory or optional mode, allowing you to prioritize what you wish to accomplish. Mandatory requests will affect your evaluation from the kingdom, if you are unable to carry them out within the designated time, the workshop will close down. Taking optional requests allows you to pick and choose from various assignments and if completed give you several bonuses. If you complete a request from Sterk, you receive a special stamp from him, which in return gives you vouchers which you can trade in for items at the kingdom’s reception.
The game has a daily journal where you can save your progress, decorate the workshop, change Rorona’s attire or alter the background music. It’s a good idea to not tackle battles head on without going back to the workshop for a rest and some healing. The journey back and forth from each gathering area can be time consuming and eat away at your days, so it’s always best to take a break back at the workshop so your characters can full restore their health. Their health is very much dependent on how long you wish to rest, because you accumulate more health for the more days you rest.
The level of combat, gathering and crafting is very well balanced in Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland. I’ve played past Atelier games and they’ve had far too long and exhausting storylines, and characters with vocals I’m not particularly keen on. However, this game sees a marked improvement in the Atelier series, by giving players the chance to fully enjoy the whole experience of Synthesizing, battling monsters and enjoying an engaging storyline, without feeling too overwhelmed.
Visually, it has to be noted that on the PlayStation Vita it is of outstanding quality. Past games have looked washed out, but Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland is rich with colour and vibrancy. This is the best looking Atelier game so far.
Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland has great gameplay mechanics, looks wonderful and can be cross-saved with PlayStation 3. Above all though, it really is enjoyable to play. If you’ve loved any of the previous Atelier games, this is one to seriously add to your collection.