To date, there have been two Atelier titles released for the PlayStation Vita: Atelier Meruru Plus and Atelier Totori Plus. Both are effectively straight ports of the PlayStation 3 versions, with the addition of built-in DLC and some minor new features. It would be easy to assume Atelier Rorona Plus fills the same niche, but it's known as New Atelier Rorona in Japan for good reason. Rather than a port, Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland is a remake of the original game. Atelier Rorona aged far more poorly than any of its sequels, and it seems Gust knew that. Atelier Rorona Plus is an improvement on the original in every possible way.
Atelier Rorona is the story of Rorona, a girl from the small kingdom of Arland that thrives on discovering ancient technology that's hidden below the city. After a local alchemist saved her life, Rorona became her apprentice-slash-servant. Unfortunately for Rorona, the alchemist is lazy and the kingdom is threatening to shut down her atelier unless she can prove that it benefits the kingdom. The alchemist gives the task to Rorona, who now has three years to prove that her workshop isn't a waste of resources. If she fails, it will be shut down and she'll be forced to leave the kingdom.
Atelier Rorona Plus, like most games in the franchise, is roughly 95% of adorable saccharine sweetness and 5% of raunchy jokes. It's a lighthearted game, and the characters are genuinely fun. None of them evolve particularly far outside of their archetypes, but they're likeable and have some good interplay and characterization. Basically, the only thing that holds back the game are the occasional out-of-place jokes, which fit in about as well as a swear word on "Sesame Street." None of it is particularly explicit, but it's strange since the game could've received an "E" or "E10+" rating without the jokes.
As in most games in the series, Atelier Rorona Plus has a time system, though it's simple and boils down to time being a resource that you spend. Going to or from a dungeon takes a certain amount of days. Once inside the dungeon, you can visit various areas, with each area requiring a certain number of days to visit. Unlike later games, there is no time cost when you're doing things in a dungeon. You can harvest or fight enemies to your heart's content, and it takes exactly the same number of days as if you avoided every enemy and just ran through the room. This is more relaxing since you know exactly how many resources you need to invest to gather items, but it's also more simplistic.
Combat in Atelier Rorona Plus is based on the systems used in the later Arland games, in particular Atelier Meruru. The combat system is turn-based, with players and enemies smacking each other until one falls over. Rorona Plus reintroduces the Time Card system that's seen in other Atelier titles but was missing from the original Rorona. Player and enemy movement order is shown clearly on a gauge on the side of the screen, and you can use various actions to manipulate it. Another big addition is MP. This might not sound like a big deal, but it wasn't present in the original Rorona, making it weird to use special skills. A more traditional MP-based system has been installed. Other systems, like the Assist Attack, were in the original game but now function more like they did in Atelier Meruru, with special assist skills tied to them. In addition, the Battlefield Element system from the first game has been removed, streamlining combat in a good way.
The system is a clear improvement over Atelier Rorona's bare-bones combat system, although it still isn't a match for Escha & Logy's far improved system. The combat is enjoyable enough so it doesn't get in the way, but it's not enjoyable enough to stand on its own merit. There aren't enough options to keep things fresh and exciting the fourth or fifth time you go into an area and smash the same foes. It isn't tedious because the combat system is fast and encourages crushing a number of enemies at once, but it feels simplistic if you've played the later games in the franchise.
The crafting system in Atelier Rorona is also based heavily on the one used in Atelier Meruru. You have a recipe for an item and can create it. Some recipes require specific items while others require an item class, such as water or oil. The item quality can add certain traits to the final product, with good-quality items giving more powerful traits. Each item also has additional traits that can be carried over to the finished item. A big change to Atelier Rorona Plus is that you can pick which traits are carried over and even combine traits to form new and more powerful ones. This makes it significantly easier to create really good items to use.
Since you're trying to prevent Rorona's shop from being closed down, your goal is to complete requests from the kingdom. Adjustments make the system more similar to the one in Escha & Logy. Rorona has a single assignment she must complete every three months or so. This assignment usually involves crafting a certain type of items. Unlike Escha and Logy, this isn't a binary pass-fill test, so you can squeak by with a small number of low-quality items but are rewarded for going above and beyond.
In addition to your main quest, you also have a number of optional quests. This may involve killing enemies, crafting items, exploring dungeons or other things. Each time you complete one, you get a stamp on a 3x3 stamp card. If you get three stamps in a row in any direction, you earn a prize. The major change from Escha & Logy is that you can choose where to place the stamps, altering the order in which you get prizes. The exception is the middle spot on the card, which is reserved for the main kingdom assignment. There are more objectives per month than stamp card slots, so you don't have to finish all objectives to get all of the prizes.
The request system from Atelier Rorona also returns. You're given requests from the townspeople and your party members to craft certain items or kill certain monsters. These get more complex as the game progresses, going from "craft me a simple item" to "craft me a complex item with a high quality by this date." These requests are optional, but you get money for every completed request. Complete a request perfectly, and you'll also get vouchers to trade for new and valuable items. Completing quests for party members or shopkeepers increases your friendship level with them, which can result in special cut scenes or discounts.
The revamped kingdom objective system really gives Atelier Rorona Plus a sense of structure. Each objective is a tutorial encouraging you to explore new areas, create new items, or reach the proper level for upcoming dungeons. It doesn't force you to do anything beyond the main objective, but it gives you a sense of, "There are things I should be doing." This structure gives Rorona a feeling of freedom while holding your hand just enough so newcomers to the franchise don't feel lost. Of the three Atelier games available on the Vita, Rorona is the best for beginners. It gives you a firm limit but not so much that you feel overwhelmed or worried that you're doing something wrong. The three-month checkpoints also make sure you're on track toward success or failure.
There are a number of new features to Atelier Rorona that add some complexity to what was a simple game. There are some new characters, including future protagonists Totori and Meruru, who appear later in the game. You're now able to keep and tend a small garden, which allows you to harvest useful items and create and cross-breed new plants to get new traits. A time capsule system lets you transform items into other items; this is amplified if you have save data from other Atelier games. There's more content, including additional dungeons, bosses and an amped-up New Game+ feature. It doesn't drastically change the game like the mechanical upgrades, but it's appreciated.
A lot of the improvements to Atelier Rorona Plus are cosmetic or interface-related. Everything has been cleaned up, polished and made more user-friendly. In addition to the visual upgrades, there are a bunch of shortcuts or minor adjustments that make the game more fun to play than the original PS3 version. The character models are now done in the style and quality of the later Arland games, including more detailed models and improved special effects.
The dubbed voice acting is reasonably good, although the dub is inconsistent, such as certain enemy types still yelling in Japanese. Those who prefer can use the Japanese voice acting. The soundtrack is quite good and improved by the inclusion of a ridiculous number of songs from the Atelier franchise and can replace any of Rorona's songs. The one big problem with the remake is with the PlayStation Vita port. As with the other Atelier titles on the Vita, Rorona sometimes suffers from some severe frame rate drop or excessive loading times. It is a step up from Meruru's problems but still very noticeable. It can occasionally make the game finicky about detecting Rorona's pre-combat swing animation, causing you to lose a chance at a first strike.
Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland is about as good as a remake can be. It doesn't change the core of the game but polishes and adjusts everything it can. Perhaps the only problem with Atelier Rorona Plus is that, even when polished, it still shows its age and simplicity of systems compared to the more recent Atelier titles. Despite that, it's a charming little game that improves upon its previous iteration in every way. Atelier Rorona Plus is a great introduction to the franchise for beginners in terms of plot and mechanics. It might not be the best of the Atelier titles, but it's still a big improvement over the PS3 original.
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