Released in Japan just over a year ago, Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland is the latest adventure in the long-running Atelier franchise — the latest to be released in English, that is. Hardcore fans who are fluent in Japanese are already checking out the sequel, Atelier Totori: Alchemist of Arland 2, which dropped in Japan late last month. For the rest of us, however, our first excursion into Arland will happen at the end of September. Anxious for a sneak peek, we sat down with NIS America two weeks ago and played through the first half hour of the game.
Making the jump to the PlayStation 3 has been a good thing for the Atelier series, as the visuals look like something pulled right off an anime page. Despite the switch to 3-D models over 2-D sprites, nothing appears to be lost in the quality of the art direction. If anything, the team has simply used the extra horsepower to make everything look better than ever. In short, it's quite a pretty game.
Ah, but pretty or not, no RPG is ever successful without a good story, and that's what the game laid out for us during our session. The main character, Rorona, works at an alchemy shop for her master, Astrid. It seems that Rorona is indebted to Astrid for some help that she granted to Rorona's family, but until the debt is paid, Rorona must work in the shop. It's a good deal for Astrid, who is a brilliant, but exceptionally lazy, alchemist. Astrid's inherent laziness is what kicks off the game's plot, as her shop is on the verge of being shut down by the royals. In order to keep it running, Astrid has to prove that the shop can be productive. Keeping with her nature, Astrid turns the shop over to Rorona and instructs her to abide by Sterk, a knight of Arland.
Completing the alchemist assignments issued by Sterk is a driving force behind the game, since each one has a due date. Sterk gives you a total of 12 assignments, one every three months over three years. Fail to complete any given task, and the game is over. We're told that the assignments are all alchemy oriented, which means that you'll have to spend time learning recipes, collecting ingredients and then synthesizing new items in your cauldron. For example, Sterk's first task required us to make three items for him. One was a basic recipe and one we found in a shop (no idea if this is considered cheating or not), but the third required a bit of work.
The catch behind it all is that every major action in Atelier Rorona takes time. Going into the forest to look for ingredients takes time. Synthesizing items takes time. Napping on the couch to restore HP … takes time. In order to succeed, you have to balance what you want to do with how long it'll take to do it. Waste too much time doing any one thing, and you'll end up missing the all-important deadline.
Of course, no RPG would be complete without a combat system, and Atelier Rorona doesn't disappoint. This is an area where we only got to spend a little bit of time, but it was straightforward and intuitive. You wander around each area of the world freely, with enemies visible on-screen. To start a battle encounter, simply walk into a monster. The first baddie we encountered looked exactly like one of the classic blue slimes from the Dragon Quest series. It didn't put up much of a fight, but it did give us a chance to play with combat.
Each character in your party is controlled individually, with action proceeding in a turn-based manner. You choose your character, choose your action and then specify the enemy that you want to attack. Items can be used during battle, which presents another reason to round out your collection of alchemist recipes. We've no doubt that some of the best items in the game cannot be found. They will likely have to be synthesized. The magic system within Atelier Rorona is known as the skill system. Unfortunately, we were not able to check out this aspect, since it wasn't working properly in the beta build.
It is difficult to make any solid assessments with such a brief look, but when we put down the controller for Atelier Rorona, we were left wanting more. The assignment premise promises to add an interesting time management twist to the standard RPG grind. The game is visually lush, and the combat system appears to have potential. Assuming everything pans out as expected, Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland could be a sweet treat for the J-RPG fans out there. For the hardcore fans, NIS plans on releasing a limited edition of the game, complete with an art book. Start saving those pennies.
More articles about Atelier Rorona