[Disclosure: This review based on a PlayStation 3/PlayStation Vita version of the game provided by the publisher]
The Atelier series has always taken a more relaxed, focused approach to the RPG genre, foregoing the massive swords, epic quests and world-saving antics in favor of more relatable characters and adventures that don’t typically hold the fate of the world in the balance. With Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland, this 2010 PlayStation 3 romp from Gust and Tecmo Koei has been given several upgrades for players new and old to sink their teeth into, including new story content, enhanced graphics, and even a release of the PlayStation Vita.
It’s not uncommon to see a remastered version of a game hit the market these days, but usually we’re talking about classics from a console generation or two ago. Luckily, Atelier Rorona Plus looks to have packed in enough new content to make this lighthearted RPG worth a second look or, even better, a first look if you’ve yet to dive in.
While many RPGs begin with an ancient evil awakening from a thousand-year slumber bent on destroying the world, Rorona instead kicks off with the titular apprentice finding herself in charge of an alchemy shop on the brink of closure. No amnesia, no spikey haircuts and dresses made out of belts, and no epic struggles between good and evil. Instead, this youngster has three years to turn her ailing business around, which she must carry out by fulfilling 12 increasingly difficult alchemy challenges within that timeframe.
Rorona Plus is deceptively simple, though, only offering the character so many activities to take part in, but plenty of depth within those various aspects of the game. Your time will be spent between a handful of primary objectives. You can explore the city of Arland in order to progress the story and talk to friends, recruit members for your party, buy new equipment and supplies and accept quests. Aside from the major quests you’ll need to complete in order to save your shop, you’ll also have a large number of side quests available to tackle, which will grant you additional bonuses and supplies for a job well done.
When you’re ready to go questing, your adventures will take you to a steadily growing set of locations where you can run around the map collecting items for your alchemy and taking on baddies in a classic turn-based round of combat. The levels you’ll explore are pretty straightforward and serve as one of the game’s only glaring downfalls, offering little creativity and little more to do other than run over to an icon to gather items, then smack an enemy in the head with your baton to trigger combat. And while the 2D character art and battle sequences are vivid and nice to look at, the dungeons are on the lower end of the spectrum, more like something you would expect to see out of a late PS2-era game.
Combat, too, is pretty straightforward, offering a few key wrinkles to the standard turn-based fare to keep things more interesting. I especially enjoy the reflexive abilities, giving the player the opportunity to grab some additional help on the fly if they are quick enough to push a button when prompted. My main problem with turn-based combat is that it can get very repetitive and, while Rorona does little to break that mold, these types of moments help keep the player on their toes rather than falling into a button-tapping stupor.
Finally, and perhaps where you’ll spend the majority of your time, is the alchemy portion of the game. You’ll bring everything you’ve collected in the field and during battle back to your shop, where you’ll combine various ingredients in order to make potions, requested items and more. Some items help alter the outcome of your latest brew and new recipes mean you’ll be finding additional uses for those various twigs and barriers you thought were going to waste.
Running through the heart of this entire experience is a timing system that the player should always keep an eye on. Brewing potions, taking a break to recover, traveling to certain areas and looking for new ingredients take time and, as stated above, you’re only got three years to complete a dozen major tasks. But that’s not an arbitrary number that just sort of ticks off in the plot’s background as you progress the storyline. Each major task comes with a deadline (in days) that you need to meet and many actions within the game take up chunks of that timeframe. I usually dislike working under a deadline within a game but, in this case, it helps move things along at a nice clip. Rather than try to produce a certain item over and over and over again, I know that I have X number of days to gather all of the necessary ingredients and aim for a homerun. If things don’t go so well, hopefully I’ve left myself enough time to try another time or two. And, on the side, I was constantly thinking about what I could do within the framework of the main quest in order to accomplish as many of the side quests as possible.
While the game proper should take you around 25 or so hours to complete, loads of endings mean you’ll likely want to dive in again, using the lessons learned from your previous playthroughs in order to optimize your progress even further the next time thorough. There’s also new bits of story peppered throughout that help flesh out some of the characters who did not receive much attention in the first version of Rerona, as well as the ability to personalize the game’s soundtrack in order to have a desired song pop up at certain points in the game. That nifty feature is further bolstered by musical options that actually range the Atelier series’ history, meaning you’ve got a lot of great music to pick from and plug into the game wherever you see fit.
The final Plus enhancements include an actual tutorial system and the blessed ability to fast travel. Quick tutorials give players a nice rundown of the game’s major systems with loads of more in-depth tutorials available within the menu. If you’d rather be more like Rorona and go into this adventure fresh, you can do exactly that and learn your way through alchemy via trial and error. For those who would prefer to understand the game a bit better before diving in headfirst, though, there’s an option to read up and prepare yourself before setting out. As for the fast travel, it’s just a nice little time saver that’ll prevent you from needing to run everywhere when there aren’t events waiting along the way. A special icon actually lets you know where special events are taking place, too, so you never have to worry about missing important details, even when you’re using fast travel to zip around.
What this all boils down to is a nice package made even better with some much-needed tweaks and improvements. Typically a niche series, the Atelier line offers a more relaxing break from your standard RPG fare, giving players a condensed, yet rewarding experience where the success of a hometown shop is as important as, say, saving the kingdom from a legendary dragon. And for those who like to continue their questing on the go, the PS3 and Vita versions of the game even offer cross-save functionality, allowing you to transfer your progress from one platform to the other and back again.
Platforms: PS3, PS Vita [Reviewed]
Publisher: NIS America/Tecmo Koei