Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice of Arland Review

By Andrew McDanell on September 4, 2013

The Atelier series has been around for many years, with its main selling point the deep and interesting synthesis systems that is iterated on with each release. Atelier Meruru, which was the 3rd in the series of PlayStation 3 Atelier titles, continued that tradition and improved on so many elements that the previous had. Now released on the PlayStation Vita, it looks to offer new skits, costumes, and missions. However one begs the question if this nugget of JRPG fanfare is at home on a portable console.

Meruru, the princess of the kingdom of Arls, loves to sneak out of the castle to seek out adventure. After the alchemist Totori comes to the kingdom, Meruru learns of alchemy and seeks to become her apprentice. Unfortunately her father, the king of Arls, will not allow his daughter to pursue her dream. After some consulting by his adviser Rufus, the king finally gave in. Under the condition that Meruru would focus her attention on developing the kingdom.

The Atelier series is not best known for a deep story. Instead, it chooses to focus on individual characters and relationship development. For this, Atelier Meruru Plus manages to keep that staple of the series, providing fun and laugh out loud moments between each character.

When it comes to gameplay, Atelier Meruru improved much in the way of tutorials and easing the player in compared to the previous installments. Reminders pop up on the screen in an intuitive fashion in order to keep your progress in full check. Also, unlike previous installments, there's a defined goal set before you that seems easily achieved while still requiring a great deal of effort. This was all a breath of fresh air coming straight out of Atelier Totori's lack of focus.

Your primary goal is to improve your kingdom. This is done by taking on tasks like acquiring materials, doing deliveries, clearing out monsters, choosing developments, and more. Doing all of this will better the kingdom and draw in population, as well as improve Meruru's standing with her people. This is all easily tracked by a simple to navigate log system that you can access by a press of a button.

While Rufus offers most of your main objectives to building the kingdom, Philly from the tavern offers most of your minor quests. These can range from killing monsters, gathering resources, and synthesizing items. Doing these quests nets rewards and also increases your popularity. However producing poor resources can result in losing popularity.

In order to take on all of these tasks, Meruru will have to employ all of her skills she will learn in alchemy. This is where the advanced and well-designed synthesis system that the Atelier series comes into play. You must gather materials, then combine them to create needed items and materials. However this is where it gets more challenging, as not any material will do.

Every material you obtain will have different attributes and quality. Synthesising low quality materials will result in a low quality item in the end. Traits also make for added effects to usable items. It sounds complicated at first, but after some careful planning, you can boost your character's performance and job execution in no time.Returning in Atelier Meruru is the weapon and armor crafting system. Using the same methods mention before, you will create materials that will be brought to the local smith to be fashioned into gear. This creates unlimited possibilities as you can slowly mould the perfect weapon or armor. Providing +Damage attributes, +HP attributes; the choice is yours.

Combat is turn-based with a traditional menu system. When dealing with enemies, Meruru takes a backseat to her companions; her physical attacks leave much to be desired. Her companions on the other hand serve as a shield as well as the brunt of blows. This doesn't mean Meruru is without her own perks as she is the only standing member (besides Totori and Rorona) that can utilize items. Items can vary from healing and bombs that can either recover members or decimate enemies. So with careful preparation before leaving off on adventures, Meruru can deal overpowering damage.

Visually, Atelier Meruru Plus feels right at home on the PlayStation Vita. The colorful and bright visuals give well to the bright OLED screen. While the Atelier series has never strived for realism, it instead has a more cartoonish and Japanese anime style to it. A style it does very well, although some may find the overly cutesy style choices to be a bit hard to bear.

Dialog exchanges between characters are done with beautifully drawn 2D style characters that change with expression. While lacking for some tastes, it gives itself to fans of visual novel style storytelling. Most of the dialog does not include deep story, but the jokes are often witty and charming enough to bring smiles and laughter.

The only area in which the visuals seem lacking is in combat. Similarly to previous Atelier titles, when exchanging blows with enemies the game phases out other combatants and isolates the involved members. While it may seem like a minor peeve, it just seems like an archaic system. However minor annoyance aside, it really looks like Atelier Meruru was meant to be on the PlayStation Vita.

Throughout your journey, you will encounter musical scores that seem fitting to the world in which you live. Fitting in that each song has a certain silly aspect about them. Unfortunately, none of these songs are very memorable. After a few dialog exchanges, it becomes apparent that the music levels are default entirely too loud and it drowns out most discussion. Luckily there is an option to change the audio levels to a more manageable level.

For the purist out there, Atelier Meruru Plus offers both English and Japanese voice options. The English voice work is done well enough, though it often lacks any emotional push to the acting. It's also important to note that not everything was voiced in English, though some may not find that a bad thing. For those that enjoy Japanese voicing instead, you'll be happy to know pretty much everything is voiced. Though be forewarned, sometimes the amount of talking Meruru can do during synthesizing can become too much.

Final Thoughts

The Atelier series has never been a series for everyone. After all, its audience is more niche than the Disgaea series. Some may find the large amounts of dialog and cute nature too much, but for those that enjoy fun dialog, deep synthesis systems, and world building, Atelier Meruru Plus delivers all that and more. That makes it a must for any Atelier fan.

Good tutorials and learning curve.
Colorful and Vita fitting visuals
Tons of content to explore and experiment with
Dialog drags out at times.
Combat is a bit simplistic.
Time restriction can be overwhelming
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