The folks at Gust are avant-couriers of memorable JRPGs, orchestrating one of the most lovable cast of characters from different walks of life and expanding them to a world breathing with life and vibrant colors. You have the likes of Lydie and Suelle, the twins of the Mysterious Trilogy that provides double the trouble or the high-spirited princess of Arls, Meruru, as she runs away from her royal duties to pursue alchemy but then ended up developing her village into a booming city anyway. And the latest entry and continuation of the Arland series is no different.
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland expresses the tale of a young girl and her friends in the small village of Arklys. A remote town that was built in order to explore and study the mysterious tower of Fellsgalaxen. Although at one fateful day, she happened to catch a mysterious book that appeared out of nowhere… and with her tiny little forehead no less. This mysterious book called “Alchemyriddle” would, later on, guide Lulua almost every step of the way towards her journey. Even at such occasions that would usually put the party at a standstill, the empty book would show hints in the form of riddles, gradually filling up the entirety of its pages as if someone or something is rushing Lulua into a certain outcome. But who???
If you’re a fan of the Arland trilogy with its time-based sense of urgency, then you’ll feel somewhat alienated by the looks of this. As there really is no ticking time-bomb or the chaotic requirements that need to be fulfilled at certain points in time. While I do love both types, each one has their own merits and strengths and Lulua honestly hit all the marks to make it one enjoyable experience that is free from the stress of time management.
This makes the game’s focus go towards character development while also making full use of the updated time cycles when it comes to synthesizing. The usual one day to craft a simple pie or even the protag’s most loved food, curry, now only takes an hour or two which feels more realistic in a way. But more on the many types of curry recipes later. Within the first hour alone, there were already things that had me hook with questions and that’s what I think really drives a good game and what makes people drive it towards its end credits. There’s a meaty chunk of JRPG goodness from its characters despite its obvious and overused J-troupes. While you can always find the cute and fragile-looking girls but end up amassing superhuman strengths that makes any gag character feeble, it really all comes down to how well they all mash in and develop as you venture on.
The Atelier franchise has one of the greatest freedoms towards item building. The likes of the Mysterious Trilogy had a panel of blocks making you play a mini-game of sorts to activate certain effects to make even better items and that was interesting in its own right. Lulua on the other hand takes it a step further with a simple game of “elemental tug and war”. And yes I’m aware that I just said “a step further” and “a simple game” in one sentence. So let’s get this all sorted out. While it sounds really simple, putting a tug of war between elements makes item effects harder to obtain as certain elements would cost it to cancel each other out just like two teams of equal strength would only make the rope stay in place than go to one side or the other. But luckily there are four teams some fighting the other and some fighting no one. And it’s our job to make sure we don’t fight fair and square.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the synthesis process… there are awakening effects and all that gibberish plus all the different boost items to make even the worst possibilities work out. So let’s start with the awakening effects which is one of my favorite aspects of the alchemical process. Items that can be crafted can have multiple awakening effects based on what material used. This could go from adding more layer of elemental attributes to be used for synthesis, incorporating a passive skill, adding a certain value in quality or even adding a category to an item. One such example is crafting Rorona’s favorite pie but adding an effect to add it as a bug category. Like seriously?! A bug? This means that specific pie will show up on synthesis of other items that required a bug type material which is very helpful when you need a specific type of trait you can only craft from that pie or if it has an absurd amount of elemental attribute which makes it the best contender in making the best item to use in your future endeavors?
And then there are the boost items which simply alters the elements be it switching, stealing from another or simply adding a few points. Though not to be taken for granted, this little one is an essential tool for maxing out your abilities while also taking a few minutes of careful planning to get the perfect set of shinnies. The process is time-consuming but also rewarding to those who chose to do so and that’s what I loved from Lydie and Suelle as well.
Besides all that synthesis, there are the three vanguard battles with two more characters assisting from the backline. But while I do love the alchemy bits on here, its battles were the disappointing bit for me. It felt like a cluttered mess with so much going on at any given time. Each battle starts with the primal arts animation (once you’ve unlocked them) at which you can’t skip, making every battle a long and gruesome animation slideshow of the same things you’ve seen hundreds of times already. Then when you’ve finally started attacking, you can find yourself with even more repeated animations. With an assist feature that lets your assist characters follow up on an ability when certain conditions are met which at times a certain assist character can use three abilities when one character attacks and two more repeats with the next two vanguards. Then there’s the interrupt feature for the alchemists that lets you fill a meter in which you’ll be able to use an item that you’ve equipped on the specific character that adds even more wasted time. They love it way too much that it hurts! So if there’s an option to just skip all those animations then I would spend 74 quids in no time, flat.
But despite all that, there’s a really good combat system that can be enjoyed especially when you beat monsters to a pulp with a spam of bombs you’ve spent hours crafting the perfect one then duplicating it ten times over or when you’ve just got an awesome staff paired with an even more awesome symbol that adds the glittery and sparkly effects even a rainbow unicorn will be proud of.
The kingdom of Arland is a beautiful place even filled with gorgeous visuals, day and night cycles and the environment that comes with its varying weather effects just to keep you glued to the screen and it worked way too well that I’ve barely slept in the last few days trying to finish the game, completing every riddle and crafting every item as well as beating the optional bosses and unlocking the post-game dungeon while getting massacred by the boss within it. But more than that, the animations, in general, stepped up overall as the characters felt more alive in their movement more than ever. Plus, extremely fast loading times! With most things only taking a second or two with just a three-second load time when going into a cutscene with the PlayStation 4 Slim.
However, there are quite a few things that haven’t sound good. And it has to start with the lack of English dub not to mention a few grammar errors although just a tiny few to nitpick about. While most JRPGs are akin to re-skins… Atelier Lulua just has too much pallete swap work that had been done. The amount of types of birds doesn’t really have much of an obvious change outside their colors but even more so on the optional bosses to which there are four and only two of them are unique to one another. Micromanaging in your inventory when selling items and the lack of an easier navigation for crafting newly learned items can also add up to the struggles of daily life.
Atelier Lulua is outright a great addition to the ever-growing franchise of young girls with weird names. Its core campaign takes you into an adventure around the kingdom without the struggles of time management and being the fourth game of the Arland series, it never felt the need to play the entirety but the long-time fans can expect great things, cameos even, while appreciating how the world took shape in a few years’ time. But I’m sorry, we don’t have time to get into the types of curry.
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch, from Publisher and Developer KOEI TECMO