Let’s journey back to a simpler time. The old demon king is nowhere to be found and the scheming villain is just a simple old man that plots to overthrow a workshop in the most harmless yet most annoying ways possible. Koei Tecmo and Gust’s heartwarming JPRG, Atelier Rorona offers the whimsical misadventures of an alchemist-in-training that hopes to fulfill the shoes of her bonkers of a master Astrid Zexis that lives to tease her cute and clumsy apprentice in every way possible.
The Kingdom of Arland is slowly being industrialized with machines while also using technology possessed by an ancient civilization. Factories are being built and it just so happens our main character Rorolina Frixell, who is forced to work for her master Astrid to pay off her parent’s debt is going to be in a bigger predicament. When one day, Sterkenburg Cranach, the steadfast knight of Arland and bearer of bad news comes to their alchemy workshop to inform them of the plans of shutting it down should they not be able to prove its worth for the kingdom. But alas, her master has done it again! She puts all the responsibility of saving the workshop to Rorona. So over the next three years, she must pass twelve examinations to assess the workshop’s abilities to function in the ever-expanding economy.
Along with her childhood friend that is nowhere near the height of 4’ 8” and the friends she’ll meet along the way, they’ll go on adventures around the outskirts of town finding the rarest ingredients for a synthesized pie to the most devastating bombs you can think of. But without a great evil to foil their plans or a serious threat other than a closed workshop, what makes the atelier series most appealing is the actual adventure and its narrative rather than the goal. There are tons of misadventures to stumble upon from meeting ghosts, trying out the weirdest of ingredients or being the cabbage girl of the festival. But to an extent, the goals don’t disappoint either with tons of endings to go through based on how you live your life as an alchemist of Arland.
Unlike other RPGs, the game itself consists of three parts. Alchemy which is the process of synthesizing ingredients and raw materials in order to provide goods for your evaluation every three months with Sterk. Adventuring the outskirts of Arland which goes from simple material gathering to monster slaying for monster-unique ingredients. And lastly, running errands from the front desk of the palace which ranges from making unique items from alchemy, defeating monsters or delivering raw materials in exchange for currency to be used from anywhere like buying ingredients from the shop or alchemy books to learn new recipes of destruction.
In a nutshell, Atelier is about alchemy and time management. Everything you make and everywhere you go consumes your time which makes that three-month time bomb go by so fast. There’s a definitive pressure involved with every action you take which makes it more challenging to get everything done or get insanely overpowered on the first few months of your adventure. But it paces well enough that you’d barely feel that you aren’t being efficient in battles or struggling to get your evaluations on time while still clearing the bingo card on your assignments from Sterk for bonuses like money (Cole), alchemy books, bonus stats or equipment to help you in your adventure.
Crafting and synthesizing is the life-blood of the Atelier Series and it doesn’t disappoint. Unlike the latest title Atelier Lydie and Suelle that offers a mini-game of sorts for crafting the craziest of items, the Arland Trilogy provides you an easier and simpler way to get top-notch quality items. Provide the best quality items and you get a stronger version of the item. Should you combine a trait of similar properties like Last Lv 1 and Last Lv 2, it’s going to provide you with a ??? trait that improves the combined trait while requiring more points to attach it to the synthesized item. While the MP pool on characters other than the alchemist herself is used on active skills during battle, MP for Rorona, Totori and Meruru will be used up while synthesizing items and can be replenished by sleeping in the couch that provides even the slightest bit of realism like normal people being fatigued from overwork.
Visually, Mel Kishida’s illustrations and designed game characters are top-notch. They look lovable and gorgeous as ever which is the main thing that draws me in from the get go. Their aesthetics and silhouettes are vibrant and enchanting which makes the heartwarming RPG, easy to fall in love in a second or third time over. With his designs being made in pastel palettes and soft line work, it gives the 2D visual-novel style art a fairytale storybook quality that never gets old. Although the 3D environment seems jagged and lacks a bit more on polish but a minor complaint that could never make me hate the game for what it is.
Overall, the game itself is indeed a treat whether you’re just getting into the series or simply wishing to fall in love again. This came in such great timing as well considering Rorona’s daughter will be the fourth installment to the trilogy which would take place after Meruru’s adventure. With a heartfelt misadventure with your companions and the expansive alchemy system the game offers, it’s hard not to leave the game alone and not experience at its core the purest of joys.