(www.nisamerica.com/games/roro) Rated T for Teen by ESRB. “Never stop being different” – that can be NIS’ motto. Time after time, they continue to release the Atelier games that are very much a genre of their own. Most notably, these games never (with a few exceptions) have an arch-villain or a centuries-long war of some sort going on. One may ask, “How can it be a video game without some larger-than-life violent struggle?” Violent, it has some, but it is certainly not Atelier Rorona’s focus. The Atelier series is like a crusade of sort to proclaim that video games do not necessarily center on violence and it is only a matter of how to make them interesting – NIS and Gust certainly has some good answers to the riddle.

(www.nisamerica.com/games/roro) Rated T for Teen by ESRB. “Never stop being different” – that can be NIS’ motto. Time after time, they continue to release the Atelier games that are very much a genre of their own. Most notably, these games never (with a few exceptions) have an arch-villain or a centuries-long war of some sort going on. One may ask, “How can it be a video game without some larger-than-life violent struggle?” Violent, it has some, but it is certainly not Atelier Rorona’s focus. The Atelier series is like a crusade of sort to proclaim that video games do not necessarily center on violence and it is only a matter of how to make them interesting – NIS and Gust certainly has some good answers to the riddle.

Presentation:
Atelier Rorona is a tale behind the titular character Rorona. But to say “tale” is perhaps a bit misleading because it’s an open-ended story. In contrast to the usual multi-path RPGs where “choices” are the equivalent of “dialog options,” Rorona’s choices are what she does, or not. In other words, in-game actions determine the story flow and the ending.

The story starts out with Rorona being given an alchemy workshop that is going through a series of trials, and the workshop gets shut down by the kingdom should she fail. To avoid that unpleasant epilogue and the rather calming game over screen that follows; Rorona must finish a main quest assignment every three months for three year in order to prove the ability of her workshop. But fortunately these are every bit as fun as the other parts, and also provide good hints about what kind of sides quests Rorona can take on.

For Atelier Rorona to be an RPG, it has to have more than one characters and it does. Rorona is joined by a cast of characters, some having more depth than others, through the three years. The story takes itself more seriously this time around, unlike its predecessor Atelier Annie, and so there are a few less moments of random laughter. Though that is not to say the game isn’t humorous, there are quite a few comedic relief characters around to liven things up. When the game is all said and done, it is quite satisfying to see how Rorona changes during her time of challenge – for the better when the player manages to achieve wanted results.

       

Graphics:
Fans of NIS will once again come to enjoy the hand-drawn character portraits, which are detailed and creative to say the least. Dialogs and conversations are rendered fully with hand drawn graphics, including multiple portraits for each character and background for each location. The one slight disappointment was that they didn’t incorporate the animated character portraits used in Trinity Universe, another NIS recent release, in which the characters are brought to life by simply having subtle, breathing-like motions. On the other hand, 3D graphics had never been, and still isn’t, one of the strengths of NIS and Gust. The field and exploration screens are represented with cel-shade modeling, which are of acceptable quality – they are in-line with the anime-style graphic presentation. In comparison to Wii and PS2 titles, these models are quite a bit more crisp and clear. As the Atelier series goes, Rorona is the first title in the series to be released on the current generation of gaming platforms. So hopefully the developers will be able to make the next Atelier game not just play well, but also look great in full HD.

Sounds:
NIS America shows off their thoughtfulness by including the original Japanese voice acting, which is far more pleasant, fitting, and overall better polished than its English counterpart. Turning on the Japanese audio regardless of one’s ability in understanding the language is a simple recommendation to make. For those who understand hardly any Japanese like me, the English text dialog is comprehensible and natural. The localization team should be applauded for this humorous script.

Gust’s composer Ken Nakagawa returns as the sole composer for this Atelier series entry, bringing his tranquil, dramatic sounds with a hint of tribal flavor to the medieval kingdom of Arland. The composer’s genuineness overcomes its only setback of the lack of real woodwinds and strings, and is definitely notable even against composers who write for better-funded projects. Some of the more memorable soundtracks begin quietly, and are already being enjoyed unconsciously well before they are noticed. Much like Nakagawa’s musical style, the soundtrack inches into its audience mind then softly develops the audience’s affection for it.

       

Gameplay:
As mentioned previously, Atelier Rorona isn’t about violence. But rather, it is all about alchemy and item synthesis, defeating monsters is only a mean for that purpose. Monsters only make up a small portion of the material collecting, the bulk of the materials are just waiting out there in the fields for Rorona to pickup. The item synthesis is surprisingly easy here when compared to most other titles with similar features such as crafting or item creation. Its seemingly short list of items doesn’t get old either. It is thanks to item qualities that come with the materials and are fused into the final products, meaning that two of the same item can have very different stats and attributes. Though there are some missing features from past Atelier titles such as creating hidden items or variations of the base item using particular attributes. As a whole, newcomers will find this system easy and enjoyable while returning players will appreciate this refined core system without too much extra flare and complexity.

Synthesizing isn’t where the game ends though, even if it alone can get pretty addicting once the player gets a hold of the basics – and there is never enough in-game time to make everything there is. Rorona makes the items for the purpose of finishing quests, whether it is one of the official quests (the only way to lead to game over) or one given by an NPC. It is the player’s choice who they want to work for and it is where the role-playing part – often craved and VOCALLY requested by other critics – comes in. There’s all the townspeople represented by the lady knight at the castle, Rorona’s friends and companions, and also the shopkeepers; it requires quite some skills in time management in order to please them all.

It is as though quite some thoughts were put into making battles as optional as possible. The monsters can be spotted in the fields and they can be easily avoided for the most part. Should Rorona runs into a monster, most lovable part of the battles is that they are kept short since looking at the after-battle spoils is far more satisfying. The intensity of the battles is very user-friendly, but given the simplicity, the short length keeps them from being tedious. However, in the boss fights, which are just slightly longer than the normal battles, the few but intuitive systems give the player something to work toward during the fight.

Innovation:
To put this simply, Atelier Rorona isn’t the first of its series and it focuses on refining the core item synthesis system rather than putting in new features. The result is an Atelier game that is even more approachable. But if viewed as a game compared to the rest of all the genres, it certainly does not fit into any category neatly. So while Atelier Rorona may not be very different from its predecessors, it is by default refreshing because nothing else in the market compares to it.

       

Longevity:
It’s quite rare to find the drive to replay any RPGs when they keep getting longer and longer in length. But Atelier Rorona is an exception to that. A single playthrough of Rorona will clock in anywhere between 15 to 25 hours, depending on whether the player rushes through the dialogues or not. But with 14 endings (according to Japanese guides) and virtually unlimited ways to play through Rorona’s three year challenge, it is a perfectionist’s ideal game – to get more out of the same title without going back to the same field, background, and monster for 200 hours.

Conclusion:
Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland is easy to recommend to fans and non-fans alike, or perhaps it is even harder to recommend to NIS fans because NIS’ signature mascot Prinny doesn’t make an appearance here. To evaluate Atelier Rorona without the fan-considerations: its introduction is attractive both visually and aurally, and the playing part is easy to get started and there are plenty more to get into even for the hardcore. In other words, anyone who comes across Atelier Rorona will easily be charmed by it from beginning to end.

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