Publisher: NIS America
Available on: PlayStation 3 Only
It’s no secret that the JRPG has been dwindling on Western shores this console generation as more and more action oriented games take the spotlight. Enter Atelier Totori: The Adventure of Arland as it tries to charm its way into your pants and convince you the genre is still worth your time. But did it rock our socks off or leave us sneaking out of the bedroom in the morning?
STORY: Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland takes place 5 years after the previous title in the series (Atelier Rorona) and follows wannabe adventurer and part time alchemist, Totori on her quest to be (yes, you guessed it!) an adventurer. In the land of Arland adventurers are a special bunch who have the freedom to traverse the world as they please, hunting down monsters and doing good deeds for others, but Totori is also an apprentice alchemist (one of only three others in the land) and this makes her a bit special in spite of her apparent uselessness at the start of the game. Motivated by her desire to find out what happened to her presumed dead mother, Totori sets out on an adventure of defeating monsters, making friends and helping strangers along the way.
Despite Atelier Totori being an JRPG, story is not its strongest attribute. In fact for the most part it remains non-existent until you “flag” an event by being in a certain place at a certain time (in most cases with specific characters in your merry group). More often than not these events have no bearing on Totori’s main quest and boil down to a random inert conversation between you and another cast member that leads nowhere.
What story there is, is self contained – meaning budding adventures will not have to play through the previous game to understand what is going on.
GRAPHICS: Atelier Totori is a mixed bag. Character art should be commended as every character is beautifully and delicately designed. Anime fans especially will appreciate the art direction and detail present in the “toon” shaded graphics. However, backgrounds do not match up to the detail on display for characters and violently shunt you out of falling in love with the game’s visuals. In addition to this, zones all seems to be very bland and lacking detail of any kind. It’s not likely to ruin the game for you, but it is slightly disappointing considering the beauty of the characters.
SOUND: Ken Nakagawa, Kazuki Yanagawa and the rest of the Gust sound team have done a decent job with the soundtrack for Atelier Totori. Voice acting is sufficient and only a few characters will make your ears bleed, while the background music is repetitive but amazingly catchy. Certain remixed songs make a comeback and will be sure to please veterans of the series, while every now and then you will hear a tune that will smack you in the face with great composition and whisper a soothing melody into your ears.
GAMEPLAY: Every action in Atelier Totori takes up a specific amount of in-game time. From the moment you begin the game you will notice the date and time displayed in the corner of your screen. This isn’t so you can keep a track of how many hours you spent whacking monsters; no, Totori is on a mission and she has three years to complete it.
Most of your three years will most likely be taken up travelling the land. Atelier Totori’s world comes equipped with its own world map that you can use to navigate to your destination, but not without a cost. As well as eating away at your precious time, each character comes with its own “LP” stat that lowers every time you traverse the world. Lower it enough and it will start to have an effect on your character’s other stats making them weaker in battle.
Atelier Totori has a traditional turn based combat system where you will be taking turns with the enemy to move. Normally this would give a game license to introduce you to some in depth combat and tactics but Atelier Totori’s system is unnervingly simple. Each character can guard, attack or use skills with the exception of alchemist who have their ‘skill’ options replaced with the ability to use items. In an ironic twist on the whole time system, you won’t be getting any new skills for a very, very long time. When you do eventually unlock the more visually stunning skills their use will come at the cost of that characters ‘MP’. Health and MP will regenerate outside of battle while you travel provided you have enough “LP”. Alternatively you can go for a nap to recharge all stats, but don’t sleep for too long, remember you are on the clock.
As simple as the combat system is, it takes an exceptional amount of time to unlock, which can leave you spamming attack for a good 2-3 hours! In an attempt to keep you entertained and your eyes glued to the screen, each support character has the ability to perform a special and defensive assist. It is a good thing too as Totori hits like…well, a girl and her HP and defensive skills are nothing to write home about. These abilities are activated in QTE fashion after filling a bar that charges with every turn. If Totori gets attacked you will get the chance to hit the R1 or R2 buttons and block her from damage provided you have enough charge bar. If she uses an item you get a chance to add to the attack with an offensive assist. It’s possible, but challenging to complete early battles without this mechanic considering the momentously slow skill unlock system.
The major problem with combat is that it serves as little more than a way to gain new items and provides little in the way of entertainment. This is in no small part to the limited array of abilities, but with new items comes Atelier Totori’s most addictive feature – alchemy. The world contains an unknown number of recipes (at least I couldn’t find them all) that can be obtained by ranking up as an adventurer. Found in chests scattered around the world or purchased at stores, the combinations are numerous and for anyone familiar with the phrase “gotta catch ‘em all” this will be the part of the game you will enjoy the most. Each synthesised item can be assigned various different qualities depending on what items you used to make it and then either used in battle, traded in at your local adventurers branch (yes, they exist), used to create weapons or put towards new armour. This all makes it the number one feature for completionists and micro-management nuts alike.
Items can also be acquired via exploration where you literally walk around and pick stuff up off the floor, or on the odd occasion sweet talk a cow into giving you milk. This too isn’t without its problems; The zones in Atelier Totori are just too small. You will spend no more than 10 minutes in each one, with each zone populated with around 5 enemies. You will then leave, return, kill and farm some more. Due to this you never really feel like you are on an expedition, which is strange as you are meant to be an adventurer. Cities provide little exploration too, more often than not boiling down to two stores, your base of operations and the adventurers guild.
Outside of seeing what awesome items you can make, you will be collecting points on your adventurer’s license to rank up. This can be done in a few ways including mini-boss fights, monster bounties, item requests, and finding important landmarks in the very small Atelier Totori world.
Atelier veterans will be pleased to hear that the game comes with multiple endings leaving you to unlock them all, which is half of the fun. For example, failure to sufficiently rank up in the 3 years will result in failure to renew your license and an end to your game, giving you the bad ending. Those channelling their inner adventurer will be able to continue on for differing endings.
LONGEVITY: As with all Atelier games there are a multitude of flags (read: events) and endings to explore and the lifespan of the game will be extended for those who wish to see every single one. Figuring out where you need to be and with what company after fulfilling certain prerequisites is no simple task. Otherwise the shortest ending (which is pretty much failure) can take you around 8 hours.
VERDICT: With its lack of exploration, simplistic combat and shallow story it is hard to completely recommend Atelier Totori to the average RPG enthusiast. That being said, those who have the patience to contend with the title’s very slow starting pace will be rewarded with an in depth alchemy system that can be quite fun once you get used to it and will easily consume hours.
On the other hand, fans of the series can expect more of the same and will no doubt be completely absorbed in trying to find every flag and ending that is on offer. Despite its shortcomings, Atelier Totori finds a way to draw you into its collectable marathon and will appeal to anime addicts, completionists and collectable fiends alike.