Gust and NIS America have returned with the localization of Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland, the long-awaited sequel to the original release of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland. Like its predecessor, it's not the cliche melodramatic quest to save the world, but a more personal journey as little Totooria Helmold ventures out into the world to become a first-rate adventurer; but, more importantly, to search for her missing mother.
Many years have passed since the events of Atelier Rorona and players will be joining company with a new cast of characters. Although familiar faces will show up at some point too, providing fans with a sense of nostalgia and grounding the experience with continuity. Totoori Helmold - and don't worry her nickname is shortened to Totori, much like how Roronina was shortened to Rorona - is a budding alchemist working in the small fishing village of Alanya and she has pretty big dreams of becoming an adventurer. Together with her childhood friend Gino, the two set out to do just that.
The thing is, Totori's mother was an adventurer, but she's been missing for years. Her family is convinced that she has long sinced passed on, but Totori believes otherwise and in following her footsteps, she's persuaded that she'll find her mom on one of her adventures. Throughout the game, Totori will meet a whole bunch of characters, both new and familiar, who'll help her on her quest.
Character is exactly what this game excels at. Each one has their own reason for being there to help Totori, be it to find a missing person or to forward their own ambition, or even as simple a reason as finding friendship. The development and relationship that each character has with Totori is both amusing and almost touching to a certain degree. However, like I said, it's nothing too overly melodramatic like most JRPGs on the market; in fact, comedy is its strong point. While Totori tends to get along with most characters, there is plenty of friction between everyone to create some rather entertaining moments. These moments are played out in visual novelesque cutscenes throughout the game and, surprisingly, flow very well without breaking up the pace of the story.
The core of Atelier Totori can be summed up in three parts: story, which we just talked about, alchemy and adventuring. The story is basically presented as a visual novel, with cutscenes and quite a bit of dialogue to tie it all together - unfortunately, this isn't a narrative everyone can enjoy. Alchemy and adventuring are better described as the core gameplay mechanics used to progress the story. As a budding alchemist trained by Rorona - which in itself is a rather hilarious backstory when you consider that Rorona is the teacher - Totori is tasked with synthesizing items for clients. To synthesize items, Totori has to first gather materials from the world, which are usually signified by little notification bubbles. Then it's back to the workshop where she can choose from set recipes to create items like bombs, cannons and even alcohol.From the world map, players can choose where to go and what to do, leading onto the game's time flow mechanic. Anything Totori does, be it alchemy, gathering, exploring, questing and the like, consumes time. Unlike the first game, there isn't quite as much pressure as missing a deadline doesn't mean your workshop gets shut down - you just don't get the reward. With that said, Totori still has three in-game years to rank up as an adventurer, but like I said, it's a lot of time. Dates and deadlines are displayed conveniently in the calendar for players to keep track of their schedule. Completing quests and achieving certain goals will yield points towards Totori's adventurer's license which can then be upgraded to the next rank when there's enough points, unlocking new recipes and access to new areas. Players will also run into randomly triggered events on the world map, be it finding a certain material or running into monsters - even the weather can affect you.
It's a surprisingly flexible system as it means that players can experience the game at their own pace. On one hand, you can spend hours just gathering and synthesizing items for quests - which still earns Totori points towards her license. On the other, you can invest more time in the story if you really want to know what happened to Totori, her mother and her family. Either way, there are plenty of events dropped in, impressively naturally I might add, that are relevant to the characters in the party or to the story in general regardless of what you're doing. Even if you do fail to meet the three year deadline, you can carry over your save file into a new game. It's quite an interesting form of replayability and allows players to experience the various multiple endings.
Adventuring involves the obvious battles with monsters as Totori ventures around the world, exploring new areas as she ranks up as an adventurer and defeating powerful monsters together with her friends. The game employs a simple and effective recruiting system where players can recruit characters into their party of three simply by talking to them. The battle system, while fun and enjoyable, remains uninspired as players take turns to whack a monster in the face using standard attacks, items or abilities that consume MP. The Assist feature seen in Atelier Rorona returns and does a relatively good job of keeping battles from becoming overly mundane. Party members other than Totori have an assist gauge that fills up throughout a battle and players can hit the associated buttons to trigger an assist, be it defensive or offensive. This adds a layer, if only so much, of depth and strategy to combat, allowing players to pre-empt the enemy before their turn.
Unlike the first game, battles have become a lot more integral to the system as fighting monsters and defeating boss-type enemies usually earn Totori a whole lot of points for her license. Still, it never feels as though it's being forced onto the player. Each aspect of the game, be it story, alchemy or adventuring, flows in a very fluid and natural manner - something that isn't often seen in many JRPGs where players have to level grind to push the story forward.Sadly, Atelier Totori isn't a game that pushes boundaries in the graphics department. While it is a nice game to look at, it's not incredibly impressive. Textures are flat, character models remain simple and animations stiff. What is impressive is the illustrated artworks that accompany many of the story events. 2D Character illustrations and environments are beautifully rendered, making these events a nice little treat. All in all, the game remains a very colourful world, complementing its light-hearted story.
The game's soundtrack earns props for some very well arranged tracks that, again, goes along well with the light-heartedness of the story and its characters. I still have a number of tracks stuck in my head as I write this review, including Atelier Totori, The Waves Call My Name, and Family Memories. The score creates a rather pleasant and soothing experience overall.
Moreover, players can opt for either the original Japanese voice overs or the English dub. Personally, the Japanese voice overs sound much more natural, although a lot of it can get quite high-pitched. The English vocals are best described as averagely performed, with some moments that sound really good and others that sound forced and unnatural - some of the voices don't seem to match a character's personality either.
Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland doesn't stray very far from the tried-and-true turn-based JRPG conventions. The story is great in that it remains light-hearted and steers clear of melodrama. The characters are fun and interesting while the core mechanics are tied in with the story quite well. Story events are triggered in a frighteningly natural flow. Unfortunately, the battle system remains uninspired and can fringe on the mundane. The good thing is that players can experience the game at their own pace regardless of what they do. Graphics aren't amazing, but the artwork is brilliant and the colourful and interesting world more than makes up for it. All in all, Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland is a game that I can easily recommend to both fans of the JRPG genre and the curious newcomer.
|The story is light-hearted and flows in a frighteningly natural progression.|
|The core mechanics are easy to understand and you'll find yourself coming back for more.|
|The illustrations and music are quite lovely, complementing the light-heartedness of the game.|
|Graphics aren't very impressive.|
|The battle system can become repetitive.|
|It doesn't push boundaries or stray to far from already established genre conventions.|