Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland Video Game Review (PS3)
Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland is a sequel to Atelier Roronoa: The Alchemist of Arland and the predecessor to Atelier Meruru: The Apparentice of Arland, which is due for release from NIS America in Q1 or Q2 2012. Newcomers need not be wary though, as I found this game to be enjoyable on its own merits and what continuity it has is adequately explained. More importantly, whereas your typical RPG is focused on some sort of grand quest, on leveling up, and on combat, Atelier Totori is a laid back affair with different priorities. There is much adventuring to be done but you lack a specific, over-arching goal for most of the game. Leveling is important, but to really get anywhere players must craft items and manage their time well to succeed.
- A vast but simple crafting system has you synthesizing a host of items to strengthen your party and fulfill quests
- Open-ended gameplay
- Gorgeous cel-shaded graphics
- Multiple endings offering replay value
- Very basic turn-based RPG combat, with a minor twist or two
The story of Atelier Totori is extremely light. Our protagonist here is one Totooria Helmold (Totori for short), an up-and-coming alchemist that was tutored by the alchemist Rorona growing up. She lives in the quiet seaport town of Alanya with her father Guid and her sister Cecilia, though her mother–an adventurer–has been missing for many years. Totori is resolved to follow in her footsteps and become a great adventurer, believing that perhaps she’ll be able to find her mother out there somewhere. So despite some initial resistance from her sister, she sets out with her childhood friend Gino to make her dream come true. However, while the pair do eventually make their way to the capital city of Arland and earn an Adventurer’s License, there’s a catch: if they don’t perform well enough at their job after three years have passed, Totori’s license will be revoked.
However, as Totori’s adventuring career begins in earnest she’s far from alone. Along with Gino the finds new companions such as her friend Melvia, an adventuring veteran, the aristocratic spear wielder Mimi, the scientist Marc, the former knight Sterk, and eventually her mentor Roronoa as well. With them at her side Totori quests to become the very best adventurer that she can be, forming relationships with her companions along the way.
Besides conventional battle experience, progression occurs in two important ways. The first is Totori’s alchemy skill, which is essential to success. Whether it’s equipment, bombs, healing items or other useful consumables, alchemy is the means by which you acquire them all. For that matter, you will be using alchemy to create items that you need to create other items that you will ultimately use. Alchemy levels naturally the more it is used; the higher the level the easier it gets and the more item recipes you can purchase and learn. Alchemy levels fastest when you successfully synthesize something that’s at least somewhat of a challenge at your current level, although it’s also possible for your synthesis to fail and give you low quality junk. So while the game rewards some calculated risk-taking, you won’t be taking any easy shortcuts. Some prudent planning is involved in the crafting process itself, as multiple materials can be used to make a certain item and the ones you choose to use will affect the quality of the item you make and what kind of bonuses it will have, if any.
Aside from alchemy there is Totori’s adventurer rank, which needs to be improved past a certain point for Totori’s adventurer license to be kept and for the game to continue. Fundamentally, this area functions like an achievement system. Accomplishing tasks in the game will earn you a set amount of points, and once you have enough you can return to town and advance to the next rank. Every time Totori ranks up more areas of the world map become accessible, offering more exploration and more challenging monsters. License points are awarded for combat, for item synthesis and even for simple travel, so for the most part you’ll be able to advance just by playing normally, though at higher ranks it’ll be in your interest to go out of your way to seek certain high-reward objectives.
Adventuring is open-ended, although Totori does need money to learn how to make new items and to fund the synthesizing of stronger equipment. To that end you can go into town and accept jobs, simple quests to hunt certain monsters or to turn in certain items in return for money and some good quality materials as a bonus. The catch is that most quests have a set deadline, and everything you do in the game takes time. Take too long at doing alchemy or too much time slaying monsters out in the wilderness, and you’ll miss your deadlines and get nothing for your trouble. So while to a point you can play Atelier Totori however you see fit, wise players will balance their time and effort to make the most of it when they venture out.
Exploration is enjoyable while it lasts, though it’s actually rather limited. While there are many areas in the game to visit most of them are quite small, and out of necessity you’ll be visiting many of them often to find that one monster or one ingredient that you’re looking for. Fortunately travel is also easy and quick, so you’ll never be grinding in one place for very long. Every area is populated by wandering monsters that can be approached to trigger a battle screen, or avoided altogether (though not always).
Combat is turn-based and very simplistic. Your characters and the monsters you fight have a few special abilities, but many battles can simply be won by auto-attacking. The tricky element of it is that Totori herself is both extremely fragile and essential to your group, since she can use the game’s potent items while other characters cannot (except for Roronoa, who joins relatively late in the game). With items Totori can revive fallen party members, heal them, and do significant damage to enemies. In fact it’s in your interest to make item use part of your offense, as each round you can call in your other two party members once to either defend Totori from an attack or to attack for extra damage when Totori uses an offensive item. Unfortunately it’s much too easy for your party to protect Totori, as she has a passive ability that predisposes enemies to attack teammates first. And since only one teammate may be used for an offensive assist, the second one is left free to protect Totori from the occasional attack that targets her.
Moreover, combat can be very unbalanced. If you are decently geared and leveled encounters can become extremely trivial for awhile before you advance to the next adventurer rank, while other times you’ll likely stay away from certain places because your adventurer rank outpaced the level of your party. It’s worth trying your luck at battle, though. If an encounter is too difficult you’ll usually be able to flee, even during a boss fight, and it isn’t game over if your party is knocked out; instead, getting KO’d returns you to town and costs you a lot of time. The bigger problem with balance is that your party members are really not created equal. For instance in the early game your playable characters besides Totori are Melvia, Mimi and Gino, but as a practical matter it’s irrational to not always take Melvia along because her high defense renders most enemy attacks a joke. In contrast Mimi has moderate attack strength and weaker defense, while Gino is just flat out weak until you can gear him up. He doesn’t even have a special ability to use until Totori creates a certain item for him! Things get more interesting in the middle and late game (using Rorona as a second alchemist is a potent option that carries some risk, for example), but Melvia remains incredibly useful and her issue applies even more to the mighty Sterk when he becomes playable later on. He’s a juggernaut on offense, resilient on defense, and his skills let him do great damage to a single powerful foe or call down lightning to greatly damage a crowd of foes. Success can be achieved without these characters, but to ignore them is to irrationally gimp your party. Most combat in Atelier Totori is really only as challenging as you choose to make it, which is unfortunate. There should be very good reasons to take any party member along, completely independent of a player’s character preferences or desire to earn a specific ending.
Speaking of endings, there are quite a few in the game. There’s a bad ending for when you really slack off or overlook a certain important objective late in the game, there’s your standard good ending, and then there are variations on that which focus on Totori’s friendship with one of your party members. To accomplish these you have raise Totori’s relationship level with your preferred character, which is mostly done by gifting them items when they visit Totori’s home to ask for one. It’s also essential to go adventuring with them, as this triggers events that develop their relationship with Totori or reveal details about the characters. However the requirements for these special endings are not always intuitive; one gets the impression that players aren’t really supposed to discover them until they play through the game a second time. A handful have pretty specific or demanding requirements, and I doubt anyone can see everything in this game without reading a guide or otherwise getting very lucky. On the bright side there’s a handy New Game+ option for replays, which resets experience and alchemy knowledge but lets you retain your powerful equipment.
Based on the character designs this game has definitely got the proverbial anime look, although you don’t need to be a fan of that to appreciate the beautiful cel-shaded graphics on display here. This isn’t Valkyria Chronicles quality but the scenery here is absolutely lovely and the characters fare well also, appearing real but cartoony. When certain events occur players are treated to lavish CG illustrations to highlight the moment, and outside of that dialogue is accompanied by assorted still portraits that communicate the emotions a character is having at the time. A significant strike against the presentation is the animation used for character faces, or lack thereof. There are times when a character is supposedly surprised or upset but the facial expression on the character model doesn’t communicate that, or doesn’t do it that well. For me, this was occasionally distracting to the point of breaking immersion. The game is also surprisingly lacking on certain design work. When you equip new weapons the graphics change but the appearances of characters never change no matter what you’re wearing, and the game only has a few types of monsters. Higher level foes are simply the same models with a different color palette, which is stunningly unimaginative compared to how the rest of the game looks.
The controls here are quite straightforward, and you’ll be pushing the X button constantly to do everything from giving attack commands to getting through the game’s substantial amount of dialogue. When Totori is exploring you can swing her staff to strike a roving enemy, giving your party the intitiantive when the battle starts. This takes some getting used to, but before long getting this advantage will become second nature. The most interactive the controls get is when you call in offensive or defensive assists in battle by pressing R1 or L1, and the game gives you very forgiving prompts to do so. If a chance to protect Totori or execute a devastating combination attack is missed, it’s entirely due to the player’s negligence.
The game is accompanied by a decent English dub and the original Japanese track. While certain common phrases inevitably wear thin after awhile (Totori exclaims “what should I do?!” every single time she’s targeted by an enemy), the English voices are generally enjoyable to listen to and appropriate for the characters. While the standard battle music is thoroughly forgettable the overall musical score has pleasant and cheerful tunes to offer while you’re traveling, exploring town or getting things done in Totori’s workshop. There are tracks that suit the moment also, whether you’re exploring a sublime forest or an abandoned village occupied by dangerous foes. Nothing here excels, but it all certainly complements the game’s unmistakably cheerful and upbeat tone.
Some well-worn character archetypes and anime humor aside, Atelier Totori is a light-hearted and enjoyable RPG that just about anyone can get into. The game proves surprisingly addicting once you really get into the heart of the game and you’re compelled to make savvy choices about the quests you do and how you make the most of your limited time. The crafting system is appears complex at first but actually has a rather low learning curve, and the game is rarely hard unless you neglect synthesizing the essentials. However this emphasis on item creation isn’t necessarily to everyone’s taste, and the lack of depth and forgiving difficulty means that RPG veterans and gamers looking for a challenge might find themselves bored by the core gameplay. Still, this is a game that you or someone you know can just kick back and relax with if that’s what you’re looking for, and there’s an appealing and innocent charm to it that’s mostly lacking elsewhere in the genre.