Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland review
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland
Developer: Gust Incorporated
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release date: out now
When I was younger the majority of the games I played were JRPGs, but as I got older I moved away from them the genre. Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland brought me back to the genre and reminded me of how much I enjoy playing JRGs. When I first started I was going to just play for a few minutes, but those few minutes turned into 2+ hours as I found myself not wanting to put down the controls. I wanted to know what happened next in the story or just to gather one last batch of ingredients to synthesis. Atelier Meruru sucked me in from the start and if it wasn’t for my PS3 breaking I would still be paying the game.
The first thing that grabbed me in Atelier Meruru where the characters. It was very difficult to find to a bland character, each one had their own unique personality from the overly enthusiastic playable character of Meruru to the brash and hard logic of Rufus. I found it difficult to find a character I hated as each one made me laugh or smile at various points (some characters weren’t afraid of making sexual references etc), I would have to say one of the reasons why I kept playing was just to see what each character would say in a cutscenes. An example of how interesting/funny some characters are would be when I walked in on a conversation between Sterk and Rufus arguing about their carrier pigeons and why theirs is better than the other.
Enough of the characters though the game has a story to it. The game focuses around Merurulince Rede Arls also known as Meruru for short. Meruru is the princess of a small kingdom called Arls and rather than focusing on her studies she sneaks out of the castle to learn alchemy from Totori who recently moved to the kingdom from Arland after Arls requested an alchemist. Not long after Meruru’s father the king of Arls learns about how she sneaks out to practice and forbids her from practicing it. Meruru is deeply upset by her father’s decision as he is usually supportive of what she does, but Rufus the King’s official butler comes up with a solution to let her learn alchemy with her father’s blessing. The solution is to use alchemy to advance the development of the small kingdom. Her father agrees, but sets her a goal of raising the town’s population to 30,000 in 3 years with mini population goals she must achieve every year. If she fails to reach any of the goals she has to stop alchemy which basically means game over.
To progress in the game you have to be able to multi task well. As you have to raise your combat level, alchemy level, keeping your popularity as high as possible, complete development tasks, perform quests and most importantly upgrading the kingdom. Fortunately with so much to keep an eye on it never feels like it is too much.
Alchemy which is the core part of the game is rather interesting, levelling alchemy allows you to access more powerful items which can be used for attack, defence etc. It might just be me but I found synthesising an item to be very rewarding as you have to hunt down the ingredients by leaving Arls and visiting a specific area which contains the ingredients or if you are lucky you might pick it up in a shop in Arls. Items made through alchemy can contain traits which you can assign after it is made, the traits come from the ingredients you used and can provide an array of buffs such as increasing the items level or adding extra health.
While Alchemy is fun to do you can’t just focus on Alchemy because it has a few draw backs. Performing a synthesis uses up days and depends on the amount you are making or the level required it can take several days to complete, also alchemy uses up MP which can only be regained through certain items or by sleeping which can lose you several days, but worse still using up all your MP through alchemy will cause you to lose several days. Keep in mind the amount of days you have left to complete a mini goal could be important if you are behind.
Items made through alchemy are important as they could be needed for developments tasks or quests and as such levelling alchemy cannot be ignored.
With alchemy being so important in the game you would be forgiven for thinking the combat would be lack luster and unfortunately you would be right if you thought that. While it is your standard JRPG turn based combat it feel somewhat like a chore.
Combat is impossible to avoid and of course like alchemy you do have to make sure you level it up because if you don’t you will run into trouble later on in the game. One good thing the combat ahs going for it is the fact losing a battle doesn’t give a game over it instead takes away X amount of days.
While combat is a chore it does offer a nice feature called the assist system. This system is twofold as it can be used either defensively or offensively. You can use the system to protect Meruru from attack by ordering one of the two party members to take the hit or you can use it to help Meruru with a combined attack. The assist system is used by a small gauge which increase with every attack the character performs, increasing the gauge will allow for stronger combined attacks. Also away from the assist system party members can perform a special attack which can be devastating to the enemy. The specials offer up a cutscene when used which cannot be skipped and while nice looking the first time, it does get tiresome.
With the goal of Atelier Meruru to raise the kingdoms population a lot of focus should be given to completing development tasks given to you by Rufus. Rufus gives you development tasks related to mail from people about certain areas of the world map and tells you how you can best accommodate the request. The tasks you must complete vary from creating specific items via alchemy, collecting certain items or defeating all the enemies in an area.
Completing tasks offer both visual rewards and development points. Visual rewards offer changes to the environment for example a mountain area that was originally deserted will gain windmills etc. Development points you gain from completing tasks are used to build various facilities. These facilities will help increase the kingdoms population, unlock bonuses (exp boosts for alchemy and combat) and open up new areas in Arls.
Now development tasks aren’t the only thing you should be focusing on because there are also quests provided by the adventurer guild. These quests are pretty basic and require you to collect x amount of items or kill x amount of monster. While these quests are simple they are important as they provide popularity points. Popularity points determines how popular Meruru is and more popular she is the more people will come to the kingdom.
There are also friend quests which when completed increase your friendship with the character that made the quest. Increasing friendship with the active party members is important as it will affect how often the assist system can be used in battle.
With that all said and done the sear amount of stuff to do is staggering and there was something extra that I really enjoyed about the game. While some may consider it small I liked it and that was the fact if you reached the goal in time you could continue playing the game for another 2 years until Arls merged with the Arland republic. While it seems small I thought it was rather nice as it didn’t mean you have to rush to complete certain tasks if you knew you had time in hand.
The games’ ending is rather nice as there are multiple versions of it depending on how well you did in the game for example if you got max level in alchemy you would have a different ending to say if you completed the game with max combat level. The various endings are a nice idea because it means the game has a lot of replay value. I got the basic ending when I completed the game and while it wrapped up the story nicely it left me wanting to play the game just to see the different endings.
Away from the gameplay the game offers a lot of extra content. The first and foremost is the prologue which recounts the tales of Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori which are both games in the Atelier series. This is a nice touch in my opinion as it offers a chance for people to know the backstory of the game without having to play the previous games in the series. There are also other extras for the game which are unlocked after you complete the game which includes the ability to listen to the soundtrack and look at 3D character models of the main characters.
+ Good replay value
+ Interesting and likable characters
+ Good humour
+ Alchemy doesn’t feel boring as you can always make the same item behave differently with traits.
+ You can visually see how the kingdom changes as you progress.
– Combat feels lack luster and time consuming
– Quests require little to no effort
– Some plot points of the game are left unanswered.