Review by krrsos

"If not for the characters, I would give 10/10"

Since you are reading this review, you have probably played, or at least heard of the long-running Atelier series, from which people expect to have an excellent item synthesis system and lots of charming characters. If you have played its predecessors Rorona and Totori, you will be able to quickly familiarize yourself with the synthesis system and the atmosphere, but not the characters, though most of them are returning characters…

Story and Character

You play the role of Meruru, the princess of Aruzu. Since Aruzu is going to form a republic with Arland within 5 years, your job as a member of The Royal family is to develop your kingdom properly so that the integration will go smoothly. What is in store for you to achieve this goal? Alchemy, of course.

Without spoiler, the background and the main story are fine and light-hearted. Meruru is an absolutely adorable character. You will be easily attracted by her outgoing, active and generous personality. Much to my surprise, Gio is exceptionally well defined as a character too. However, apart from that, most of the casts are bad, really bad. The other new characters are your typical maid, servant and warrior. How about the returning characters? Rorona is the prime example of how to ruin a lovable character. We know that Rorona is cute. It is just natural for us to want to see her making an appearance. Despite that, an 8-year-old Rorona without memory is not even funny. I don't care if she can causally draw recipe for Meruru (yes, with NO conscious knowledge of alchemy). If this is the only way to make her appear in the game, I would rather have her staying in Arland with Cordelia. Speaking of which, Totori does not even have her own character event sketch. I always think that characters are one of the strength of Atelier series, but not this time.

Rating: 6/10

Graphic

The only word I have to describe the graphic of Meruru is “gorgeous”. This time, they put much effort in the models of the characters, backgrounds and effects. My feeling is like playing FF7 on the PS at its time. The characters are lively, the backgrounds have more details and items effects are wonderful to look at. The event sketches are even better. They are vivid, colourful and expressive. It is obviously not on a par with FF13, but the graphic successfully creates the atmosphere needed by the game.

Rating: 9/10

Gameplay

This is the saving grace of the game. While the characters are horrible, the game itself is a highly engaging experience. The core gameplay can be divided into kingdom development and synthesis.

To develop your kingdom, you have numerous tasks to finish within 5 years. You may need to clear all monsters in an area, synthesize items for development, collect samples, etc. As your kingdom grows bigger, you can explore more areas and gather better ingredients for synthesis. It is essential to manage your time carefully as every action takes a specific amount of time. Going to the forest? 1 day please. Synthesizing elixir? 5 days passed. Fail to manage your schedule means doom to your kingdom development plan. Having said that, you still have a fairly high degree of freedom because as long as you keep your “popularity” parameter up (popularity zero=game over), you can do whatever you please. Some people may find it tedious, but I consider this a reasonable challenge. You have to use your head or it is a game over. How many games today actually demand you to think before you act? This is one of them and I absolutely love it.

Once you complete a certain task, you will be given development point, which is used to establish new building that has specific function. For instance, you can build an academy so that your items can be used more than once. You can also develop your street so that more people will move to Aruzu. This is important as you have to meet a population requirement. The sense of accomplishment is there when you develop Aruzu to a big city with more than 100,000 people.

Apart from that, you will enjoy the synthesis system as well. The basic of synthesis is, in short, getting the right recipe and choosing the right ingredients. What affects your result is the trait found on your ingredients. The fun is, I may have mentioned this somewhere before, you can create your OWN items. Below is an example of the process when creating an item: I want to make item Y which can inflict critical hit every time. I synthesize item X using base materials with traits “critical lv 1”, “critical lv 2”x2 and “critical lv 3” and then use item X and another base materials to make item Y. Instead of a simple critical 100% items, I get an item which can one-hit KO normal enemy! The excitement of finding and combining new traits and effects are highly addictive and engaging. There are so many traits that I have even spent 1 hour just to figure out which is the best base materials to use.

Moreover, your items DO make a difference in many occasions. For example, in a quest asking you to create 2 “magic stone” which takes you 8 days, you can finish it in 4 days by making 1 high quality “magic stone” instead. In another case where a certain dungeon appears out of nowhere, for those who wants to gather the precious materials immediately, they should prepare superb items by themselves since a yellow Gryphon mid-boss can take down a decently-equipped lv 3x party with ease. With carefully crafted items, you can enjoy a freshly fried Gryphon with a lv 2x party and savour the moment of victory.

Speaking of battle, the system is greatly improved as well. The same as its predecessor, this is a turn-based RPG using symbol-encounter system. Without long action sequence, the battle is extremely fast-paced. The biggest changes from before are the inclusion of time card (Time card means items or abilities that trigger automatically at a certain time in the battle after use) and turn-delaying ability. For party members, instead of mindless attackers like in Atelier Totori, each party member has a specific function in the battle. For instance, Esty can inflict status abnormality and Keira can boost your status.

To sum up, the core gameplay improved greatly when compared to Atelier Totori. So, the rating: 9/10

Music / VA

The music and sound effects are astonishing. I especially enjoy the rock style boss battle themes. For people who love old school anime music, the battle theme when you fight “G” is a masterpiece. If you know Japanese, you should pay attention to the lyric of the ending theme. It is beautifully written.

The VA of Meruru has outdone herself – her voice is nice to hear. On the contrary, the VA of Rorona forced herself – she deliberately sounded like a child but failed miserably. Other than that, most VAs did a great job.

Rating: 8/10

Overall

Pro:
- solid gameplay mechanic: an excellent synthesis system and kingdom development
- fast-paced turn-based battle using symbol encounter
- gorgeous graphic
- suitable music, sound effect and VA
- a sense of accomplishment
- everything created by you and you can make your own unique items

Cons:
- poor characterization, except for a few characters
- no epic story
- some people may find it tedious to make everything themselves and manage their schedules

Overall rating: 8/10

This is a solid game. If you want to enjoy a light-hearted game, this is a must-buy. For those who expect an epic story or don't want to do time management, you may want to rent it first to see if this is your cup of tea.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/27/11

Game Release: Meruru no Atelier: Arland no Renkinjutsushi 3 (JP, 06/23/11)


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