Saturday, September 21, 2019

Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland DX

Atelier Rorona ~The Alchemist of Arland~ DX Box Art
While Japanese RPG developer Gust’s Atelier series began on the first Sony PlayStation, foreign players wouldn’t receive any entry in the series until a way into the PS2 era, with fellow developer Nippon Ichi’s North American branch translating Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana for Anglophone audiences. Since then, most entries of the franchise have seen release outside Japan, with the series transitioning to the PlayStation 3 with the Arland trilogy, which would see rereleases on the PlayStation Vita, and recently, versions on the Nintendo Switch, the first entry of the subseries, titled for the system as Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland DX, marking the beginning of the trilogy’s overarching narrative.

The first of the Arland trilogy follows the eponymous protagonist, Rorolina Frixell, Rorona for short, working for master alchemist Astrid Zexis, to pay off her parents’ debt. One day, a knight for Arland, Sterkenburg Cranach, Sterk for short, informs Rorona that her shop will be shut down unless she can prove it can function as part of the city’s economy, and she is thus given twelve different assignments over three years to pass to avoid closure. The story is generally enjoyable, with a cast of likeable characters, Rorona in particular far from being a blank-slate protagonist, decent pacing, different endings, and clear direction on how it unravels.

The localization generally serves the game well, with very few, if any, spelling or grammatical errors, and legible dialogue, which has occasional mature content that escaped the censors, although there is occasional overflow of text from textboxes, and there are some odd expressions such as “if your party gets ruined” during the explanation of what happens if the player’s party falls in combat.

Rorona, true to its plot, divides into twelve different three-month intervals where Rorona must fulfill certain objectives to avoid her workshop’s closure. Typically, these goals involve synthesizing items she needs to turn in to Sterk at the royal palace, with a number of stars rewarded depending upon things such as the quality of the ingredients she used to synthesize said items. During each term, moreover, Rorona has a number of side objectives she can fulfill to earn vouchers and stamps on a three-by-three grid (whose central square fills when she fulfills the primary term objective), where completing lines of three stamps earn her a reward such as equipment, more vouchers, permanent stat increases, and so forth.

Rorona can exchange vouchers for items, although there are points where she needs to turn in certain items with various qualities to improve the inventory from which she can choose. She can also take on a number of requests that involve things such as synthesizing a certain number of items, turning in one or more ingredients, and killing monsters of a specific type. In her workshop, she can synthesize items from raw materials or other synthesizable items, although attempting to formulate high-level items may result in failure, although regardless of synthesis’s success or failure, she earns alchemy experience for occasional level-ups, increasing alchemy’s successfulness.

In town, Rorona can hire up to two story characters she encounters throughout the game, who cost a certain amount of money to take out of town into dungeons or fields, these divided into various maps that have gathering points and wandering enemies. Striking a visible foe with her staff grants her party the initiative in combat, with foes contacting Rorona first commencing a fight normally, the first turn granted to whoever has the highest agility. Fights are turn-based affairs, with a turn order meter akin to Final Fantasy X showing who takes their turn when, a feature beneficial to other similar RPGs that, unlike in the Xenosaga trilogy, is not half-hearted and updates constantly.

During their turns, each of the player’s characters can execute a normal attack, defend to reduce damage, use an MP-consuming skill (which necessitated HP usage in the very first version of the game), or attempt to escape. During her own turn, Rorona can use a synthesizable consumable item, and when enemies attack, if a special gauge has accumulated enough points, one of her allies can take damage in her stead, which consumes a level of said meter. Moreover, when using skills, particularly those that affect single enemies, the same gauge can allow the ability user to execute an additional attack.

Victory nets all participants, even those who have lost all health and become incapacitated, experience for occasional level-ups and increases in stats, along with occasional ingredients. Combat tends to be a quick affair, even in the most challenging of fights, most which come late in the game, and after battle, Rorona has a few seconds where she’s invulnerable to more encounters on the field/dungeon map where she fought the last battle. Fortunately, death of all characters in combat results in a trip back to Rorona’s workshop, effectively minimizing wasted playtime, culminating in general solid game mechanics, the only major issues being that travel between field and dungeon maps is irrevocable, and the player can’t see which enemies and ingredients areas have before consuming days to visit them.

Control has its share of strong points, such as the general inability to get lost given the game’s linear structure, the skippable cutscene dialogue, the easy menus, the in-game clock, the generous save system, and shortcuts for visiting certain areas of Arland. However, various issues bog down this aspect, given the aforementioned issues with the interface’s databank not specifying where to find certain ingredients, which items enemies drop, a few load times, the limit on how much Rorona can gather from fields and dungeons, the need to search around town to find hirable allies, and the inability to see which items and enemies fields and dungeons have before consuming days to visit them. Overall, interaction is perhaps the port’s weakest aspect.

Like previous Atelier titles, Rorona features bouncy, energetic music that’s very rarely out of place, with a number of vocal theme songs kept in Japanese that sometimes serve as central themes. The workshop music, town theme, and shopping tracks (which contain different remixes depending upon the shop), are solid, as are the dungeon and field exploration pieces and the battle themes, the primary one of which very rarely loops, given the quickness of combat. English voice acting also exists, which is good for the most part and never sounds miscast, the ability to skip cutscene text a boon to those who finds the voices annoying, alongside the availability of the original Japanese voices. There are some occasional incoherent voices for human enemies, music for the load screens would have been welcome, and there are some silent portions, but otherwise, the game is generally easy on the ears.

The graphics have their own share of strong points, such as a good cel-shaded style, alongside the rare anime cutscene, such as that which plays whenever the player loads the game, and superb artistic style. The enemy models, along with those of the human characters and NPCs, look believable as well, with good proportions, although there are occasional reskinned adversaries. The battle animations flow nicely and look pleasing, too, although one major issue is the choppy framerate that occasionally plagues exploration sequences. There’s also the odd decision to narrate most cutscenes by “fuzzing out” the three-dimensional graphics and using static character portraits (which still show ranges of emotion) instead. Regardless, the visual style is generally pleasing.

Finally, the game lasts about twelve hours, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea in terms of RPG length, although there exists plenty of replay value, given the different endings depending largely upon Rorona’s performance, along with a clear game mode upon successful completion of the storyline.

In conclusion, Atelier Rorona DX is for the most part a solid port that hits many of the right notes regarding its enjoyable gameplay systems, tightly-paced narrative, superb sound, and plenty of reasons to come back for more. It has issues, for certain, including various flaws with the control, some localization oddities, technical quibbles with the visuals, and its length, although these largely don’t detriment from an otherwise-solid experience. Those who haven’t played prior incarnations of the game let alone a single Atelier game will be hard-pressed to pass over the latest version for the Nintendo Switch, which is undoubtedly its definitive port.

The Good:
+Great battle and alchemy systems.
+Enjoyable narrative.
+Superb sound.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Some interface quibbles.
-A few localization oddities.
-Issues with the graphics.
-Players might not like the shortness.

The Bottom Line:
A great opportunity for Nintendo Switch owners to experience this classic.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 9.0/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 10/10
Localization: 7.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.0/10
Graphics: 7.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: ~12 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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