Thursday, June 4, 2020

Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland DX

My Neighbor Totori

The Gust-developed Atelier series didn’t see exposure outside Japan until the localization of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana by NIS America, Koei-Tecmo eventually taking over translation duties. The franchise would endure mechanical metempsychosis since its PlayStation 2 debut, given the differences in the Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia games, this trend continuing with the series’ movement to the PS3 with the Arland trilogy, which would see several remakes and rereleases on future systems such as the Nintendo Switch. The latest incarnation of the second game of the Arland trilogy, Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland DX, largely provides an experience on par with Rorona.

Totori follows the eponymous adventurer as she attempts to make her mark with an adventuring license, with alchemic duties in the mix, pun intended. Throughout her adventures, she meets a number of new and old characters to help her through her quest, who contain good development throughout the game, additional story scenes unlocked depending upon how often the player uses them in battle. There are also multiple endings, which enhance replayability, and the plot is consequentially a good driving factor, although the subplot of Totori finding out what happened to her missing mother, also an adventurer, isn’t a completely original concept.

Even while largely legible, the translation effort doesn’t wholly help the storyline: the names used for characters throughout are generally consistent, and there is a choice of English and Japanese voicework, but there is the rare bit of Engrish, and battles, naturally, have the worst writing. Moreover, whenever the game introduces new characters, there’s the odd decision of displaying their full names in large letters in a decorative textbox, with the name repeated in a smaller font below the border and aligned to the right. Ultimately, the translators could have put more effort into the localization.

Fortunately, the general game mechanics are far better, with Totori, like its precursor, melding alchemy and adventuring, the former done at either at the titular Atelier Totori or Rorona’s workshop. Before she can, the player must gather ingredients from different areas across Arland, the player able to hire up to two allies that can help her in those regions that contain visible wandering enemies and random battles on the overworld. Walking on the overworld and gathering items consumes a certain amount of days, with these times potentially reduced through having synthesizable items on hand.

In the various fields and dungeons that enemies inhabit, the player can see them wandering about (or in the case of certain “boss” units, sitting or standing still), and Totori can attack them with her staff to give her party the initiative in the subsequent battle. Fortunately, enemies don’t seem to be able to do the same to the player’s characters, and in combat, they and the enemies take their turns depending upon speed, a turn order meter mercifully showing who takes their turns when. Characters can attack with their equipped weapons, use MP-consuming skills, defend to reduce damage, or attempt to escape.

Only Totori and Rorona can use consumable items synthesizable at either of their workshops, which can, depending upon their traits and effects, can actually be the difference between victory in defeat in the hardest battles, namely one the player has to win in order to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the central storyline. This adds some degree of strategy to combat, which can later on the game feel challenging, but mercifully hardly cheap. Death of the player’s party on the overworld results in days lost equivalent to how long to get back to a workshop, all characters revived with 1 HP.

Death on enemy-infested fields and in dungeons yields the same result, though another synthesizable item can take the characters back to an entrance, all revived with 1 HP and no days wasted, and outside battle, there is no need to waste items reviving them. Moreover, characters that are still dead after a battle receive full experience points, level-ups somewhat common and consequentially increasing the leveling character’s stats by a bit; enemies also tend to drop items usable in synthesis. Outside combat, the player can equip each character with a weapon, a piece of armor, and an accessory, the first two obtained from equipment synthesis at Hagel’s shop and the last acquirable through workshop synthesis.

Another synthesizable item allows for instant return teleportation to Totori or Rorona’s workshop with no days consumed, which can make beating the game’s time crunch somewhat easier. Anyway, once the player has acquired enough ingredients, they can perform synthesis at either atelier, with verbal notices from Totori prior to syntheses cluing in players as to how they will fare. Successful synthesis nets Totori alchemic experience for occasional level-ups separate from her adventuring level, whereas failure results in no experience and a pile of ash. In the case that Totori has a minor chance of alchemic success, but fails, they can reload a prior save within whatever workshop she’s at.

Enemies don’t drop money, and in order for Totori to make any, the player must take on quests that involve providing a certain number of ingredients or synthesizable items, or killing a certain number of a specific enemy type, to solve her monetary issues. Performing such quests, along with alchemy, travel, and battles, are essential to acquiring Quest Points that occasionally allow Totori to “rank up,” which is actually necessary on a mostly-yearly basis for the player to continue the game to the end, lest they risk a premature bad ending, in which case the player must start the game from the beginning, the tutorial sequences mercifully skippable, with only each character’s equipment at the time retained.

Overall, the various gameplay systems work harmoniously, with each having their own degree of entertainment, and while battles have a “turbo mode,” they’re still faster than average even without the increased speed enabled. Exploring new areas for new ingredients and enemies is also fun, as is performing quests for money (which is necessary to purchase many alchemic recipe books) and acquiring points for adventuring, alchemy, battle, and quests themselves. The ability to retain more progress in subsequent playthroughs would have certainly been nice, but otherwise, gameplay is perhaps Totori’s strongest suit.

Control is, as well, albeit to a lesser extent. Totori is semi-open-world, and even with said element, there’s almost no getting lost, with clear direction on how to proceed, Totori keeping occasional notes about subquests that fortunately aren’t fundamental in seeing the standard normal ending. The game menus and other interfaces such as those for alchemy, shopping, and quests are also easy, and saving is available on the overworld and in the workshop. The only major flaws are perhaps the inability to skip cutscenes outright (players can only fast-forward them), and a weird glitch when trying to bring up menu options on the overworld. Otherwise, a generally user-friendly game.

Like its many precursors in the Atelier series, Totori features a wide assortment of bouncy tracks, starting with the theme during the opening animation, although it does reuse some music from its precursor in the Arland trilogy such as the themes in Hagel’s shop and workshop themes. The battle themes are different, however, with the main one lasting for a while and rarely looping, given the speed of fights. There is a track that sounds like a slight ripoff of John Denver’s “Country Roads,” and the quality of the English voicework is spotty at times (though the Japanese performances are available). Overall, the game sounds good, but has issues in that regard.

Totori largely uses the same visual style as its predecessor (in addition to the opening anime cutscene), with character and enemy models sporting cel-shaded appearances, which superficially looks pleasant. However, like Rorona, during cutscenes, the graphics “fuzz out,” with static character portraits largely doing the job of narrating the storyline. Granted, the artwork does convey a range of emotions for the characters, although the story style is somewhat lazy, and what’s also visually lethargic is the reskinning of many enemy types. Ultimately, the graphics leave plenty room for improvement, although they definitely aren’t an eyesore.

Finally, seeing the worst ending takes only around six hours, though getting the standard normal ending took me a little over thirty hours. Fortunately, the game is enjoyable enough to go back through again, given the multiple endings and sheer amount of side content, though the option to skip cutscenes fully instead of just fast-forwarding through them would have been welcome.

In summation, Atelier Totori is for the most part an enjoyable sequel that hits many of the right notes, particularly regarding its enjoyable fusion of alchemy, combat, and questing, the general user-friendliness, the well-developed narrative, and many reasons to come back to the game for subsequent playthroughs. It does have a few serious flaws of which mainstream, casual players need to aware, such as the occasional interface quibbles, the lackluster localization, some music reused from its predecessor, and the weak visual execution, but those who enjoyed Rorona will most likely appreciate Totori, which is very much on par with the better games of the Atelier franchise.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy digitally downloaded by the reviewer, with one of the standard endings obtained after one initial playthrough and two clear games.

The Good:
+Enjoyable adventuring and alchemy mechanics.
+Good control.
+Great story.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Some interface issues.
-Lackluster localization.
-Some recycled music.
-Visuals could have been better executed.

The Bottom Line:
A fun, if flawed, sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 8.5/10
Controls: 7.0/10
Story: 8.0/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 6.5/10
Graphics: 6.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.0/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 6+ Hours

Overall: 7.0/10

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