Sunday, August 30, 2020

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland DX

Alchemic Kingdom Hearts

Despite being around before the turn of the millennium, the Gust-developed Atelier series didn’t receive exposure outside Japan until Nippon Ichi Software’s North American branch localized Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana for the PlayStation 2. Since then, most mainline entries of the franchise have received English translations, among them being the Arland subseries that commenced with Atelier Rorona on the PlayStation 3, which would see several enhanced rereleases, among the latest being Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland DX on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch consoles, the latter which this review covers.

The third installment focuses on the eponymous princess of Arls, a kingdom north of the Arland Republic, who aspires to be a great alchemist to her father the king’s chagrin, and receives the goal of significantly boosting her country’s population within three years. The storyline is generally enjoyable, with plenty of humor and different endings, not to mention an endearing cast of characters, although some may find the plot too saccharine. The localization definitely helps, with perfectly legible dialogue and some funny battle quotes such as “Suck on THIS!”, although there are occasional oddities and errors. Regardless, the plotline helps the game far more than hurts.

The gameplay too serves the Arland trilogy’s conclusion well, being very mechanically similar to its precursor games, with a great emphasis on alchemy, harvesting items for alchemic use, exploration of Arls, and occasional turn-based battles, with a nice twist being that one needs not fight a final boss to see one of the standard endings. Alchemy is generally fun, with Meruru’s alchemic level rising even with failed syntheses, and the battles, where enemies are visible in fields and in dungeons, tend to flow quickly, even without the turbo mode that slightly increases speed.

Moreover, Meruru takes cues from RPGs like EarthBound, with the titular character able to swat visible adversaries with her staff and, if she’s powerful enough, instantly kill them. She can take two allies with her for experience and leveling, and the game actively encounters the use of offensive, defensive, and healing items synthesizable at her workshop. She can also get achievement points that allow for the construction of facilities in the kingdom to increase population, such as killing a certain number of enemy types. Overall, the third entry definitely excels in terms of gameplay, with the only real issues being the restriction on party size and occasional brevity of usable item descriptions.

Control also serves the game very well, with little opportunity to get lost, given the general straightforward nature, easy menus, quick shopping, a fast-travel option available within the royal capital, a generous save system, in-game tracking of playtime, minimized wasted time due to things such as a Game Over (nonexistent in Meruru), and so forth. The only major problems here are that the player can only fast-forward through cutscenes rather than skip them completely (though fortunately, voiced dialogue is skippable), and the inability to see how prospective weapons and armor increase or lower a character’s stats before synthesizing it. Generally, a user-friendly game.

Meruru’s musical style is similar to that of its predecessors, with plenty of happy, bouncy tracks, and while there are tracks reused from the last two entries, they’re remixed and feel sufficiently fresh. The battle themes are good as well, with the most common one having a flamenco feel, and others a rock-n-roll style. The sound effects are good, as well, and the English voices definitely fit the characters, although there are occasional weak performances, but if the player doesn’t like them, they can switch to the Japanese voices. Ultimately, a superb-sounding game.

The graphics also have plenty of things going for them, such as the bright, vibrant colors, anatomically-correct and cel-shaded character models, good monster designs, beautiful environments, and so forth. Granted, there are occasions, like in the game’s precursors, where the visuals “fuzz out” to have cutscenes narrated by static character portraits (although these show plenty of different emotions and still look good), many enemies are reskins, and the framerate is fairly choppy if there are a lot of elements on the screen. Regardless, the graphical presentation is definitely above average, even if it doesn’t reach excellence.

Finally, the third game is fairly short, taking as little as six or as long as eighteen hours to finish, with plenty of side content such as synthesizing every item, the various areas to explore, the different endings, and even a New Game+, very well enhancing lasting appeal.

In the end, Atelier Meruru is a solid conclusion to the Arland trilogy, given its engaging game mechanics, tight control, endearing story with good localization, the superb sound, the pretty graphics, and plenty reasons to come back for more. There are some rare issues, such as a few rough spots in the translation and the inconsistent graphical quality, but the game ended up in my opinion as one of the stronger entries of the Atelier franchise, not to mention one of the highlights of my videogaming career, and I would more than easily recommend it to those that enjoyed its precursors and other entries outside the subseries.

The Good:
+Great game mechanics.
+Tight control.
+Endearing story.
+Good translation.
+Superb sound.
+Pretty visuals.
+Plentiful replay value.

The Bad:
-A few incongruities with the localization.
-Some minor issues with the graphical presentation.

The Bottom Line:
A great conclusion to the Arland trilogy.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 8.0/10
Story: 9.5/10
Localization: 7.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 7.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: 6-18 Hours

Overall: 9.0/10

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