The Atelier series has been around for some time, but it only recently debuted on the PlayStation 3 with Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland. The adventures of the lead character, Rorona, tie directly into this sequel, Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland. Totori became the apprentice of Rorona, and Atelier Totori picks up five years after the events of the first game. Fans of the series will know that this is the second entry in a trilogy of titles; the third game hasn't been given a North American release date yet, but it's recently hit store shelves in Japan. Fans of classic role-playing games who don't mind anime tropes and overly cute girls stewing over trivial matters will probably enjoy Atelier Totori. I'm not a particularly big anime guy, but I'm pretty much in love with this game.
It's developed by Gust, a Japanese developer that's long been associated with similar titles. The core of the Atelier series, for instance, has always been about crafting and alchemy. Alchemy also plays a pretty big role in other Gust titles, like the PS2 Mana Khemia series. Atelier Totori's design feels very similar in that a major gameplay mechanic involves scouting through different areas and picking up a variety of items. These items are for recipes that you either gain or buy, allowing you to craft armor, items, weapons and more. You'll take quests, both related and unrelated to the story, that make use of your crafting abilities.
Totori is a young teenage girl who's on a quest to become a promising alchemist and adventurer. She's accompanied by friends, but her quest takes on a more personal nature as she strives to discover what happened to her missing mother. Totori's sister and father both believe that her mother is long gone, but Totori holds out hope that she can be found. The story has some touching moments, but it's often peppered with humor. A lot of the humor is pretty juvenile and sometimes takes on an unnecessarily creepy sexual undertone. For the most part, I found myself engaged in Totori's tale of self-discovery. It helps immensely that her character is instantly likeable. She's a bit aloof and unsure of the world around her. Sometimes, she plays the role of dumb young girl, which is an unfortunate addition to her character, but she certainly ends the story as a stronger character.
The characters who accompany Totori on her quest are decent. She'll also meet people in towns and shops. There are a few stand-out characters, including Rorona from the previous game, but there are also a few that are downright annoying. Some of this is helped and hindered by the English voice acting, which varies in quality. Totori, Mel and Totori's sister Ceci are all well voiced, whereas other characters, like Gino and Mimi, tend to grate on the nerves.
Combat in Atelier Totori is all turn-based, like most classic RPGs. You can get into a fight with monsters by bumping into them on the field or getting into random encounters through the overworld map. Monster variety isn't huge, there are a lot of palette-swapped monsters, so you'll often fight the same creature, only it's stronger and is in a different color. You take turns battling it out and can have two other party members with you in a fight. There's a meter in the lower left-hand corner of the screen that dictates turn order, so there's some light strategy involved in eliminating the correct monster before it takes a turn. You can also get the jump on monsters in the field by attacking them with Totori's staff instead of just bumping into them.
All characters come with basic attacks, which are based on the weapon they're currently yielding. Most characters can also learn skills by leveling up, a task that consumes MP (magic points). Some of these skills can affect a group of enemies, and you'll get a visual marker that lets you know which enemies will be hit by a particular skill. Since Totori is all about crafting, you can also carry a number of offensive weapons, like bombs, some of which can be outfitted with attributes to improve your battle results. One other feature is the ability to use your party members like shields or to have them follow up on certain attacks. Every time your party member successfully strikes an enemy, a gauge starts to fill. If Totori becomes the target of an attack, you can allow a party member to jump to her aid by pressing L1 or R1 on the controller. This depletes the gauge, but prevents Totori from being injured. Likewise, if you land a critical hit on an enemy or use an item, party members can follow up with an extra attack. This depletes the gauge in the same manner as defending.
Exploring the world of Arland takes on two forms. One is the overworld map, which fills out as the story advances and Totori levels up her adventurer status. The world is filled with small circles that look almost identical to Atelier Rorona's presentation. When you move to one of these locations, you can tap the X button to switch to a field view, which allows Totori to walk around, battle monsters and harvest selected points. Some of these areas are completely devoid of monsters and might feature encounters with side characters. Depending on your party setup at the time, you'll come across special scenes that can enhance a friendship rank with different characters.
The town setup for Atelier Totori is composed of a few key locations. One is the Atelier locations, which are basically home bases for Totori. At the Atelier locations, you can craft various items based on the recipes you've recovered, sleep to regain health and MP, or save your game. Most towns also have item and weapon shops, which also sell a variety of crafting items and recipe books. There are also locations, like bars, that feature a quest giver for special side-quests to earn more money. These quests primarily involve collecting or crafting a certain number of items or defeating a number of monsters. This gives you more reason to explore the field areas on the map beyond merely gathering supplies and leveling up.
Another major mechanic comes from Totori's adventurer license. The license gains points as you continue to accomplish certain goals in Arland. Crafting items, taking on and completing quests, fighting monsters, and exploring field locations will earn you a number of points for your license. Once you've earned enough, you can level up your license by revisiting the guild. Once leveled up, even more field points open up on the overworld map, expanding your exploration range. You can visit the license option through your character menu to see what you need to accomplish to earn the points.
The characters that inhabit the world of Atelier Totori all look fantastic. The models don't have a lot going for them in terms of animation; when they walk, they tend to float over the ground instead of interact with the environment — a trend that pervades most Gust titles. The models are all extremely detailed and look like they've been ripped right out of an anime cel or manga illustration. The only drawback is that the level of detail poured into the characters is missing in the backgrounds, environment, and texture work. The characters certainly pop more due to the flatness of everything that surrounds them, and that's another common flaw in Gust titles.
The music of Atelier Totori is downright amazing and holds up well through the entire game. The soundtrack is composed by two individuals with backgrounds in other Gust titles. One is Ken Nakagawa, who had a hand in Atelier Rorona, and the other is Kazuki Yanagawa, who also composed the soundtrack for Ar Tonelico Qoga on the PS3. Totori has some excellent arrangements throughout, with a big emphasis on upbeat tunes featuring a lot of woodwinds and mixed in with some jazzier themes. It's a great mix, and the game's opening theme is a pretty good indication of the quality you'll encounter in the rest of your adventure.
If you've ever enjoyed a Gust game or Atelier title, it's likely that you'll dig Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland. It's a fun, mostly upbeat adventure that doesn't get too bogged down by generic anime themes or trappings. It's a nice-looking game, but it's a shame that the rest of the world doesn't match the detailed attention of the characters. Its gameplay mechanics can feel dated, I'm still surprised to see RPGs using random encounters, and the turn-based combat isn't exceptionally deep. The game really shines in its alchemy system and ends up becoming an addictive title as you continuously craft new items and level up quickly. Running out to new locations, gathering up materials, building new stuff, and then opening up more areas makes this more fun than you would expect. I'd definitely suggest checking out Atelier Totori. While it's not a top-tier game, it's a solid effort, and I'm pretty enamored with it.
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