Hands-On Preview: Atelier Rorona - The Alchemist of Arland
Atelier Rorona is a title I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I’ve played previous entries in the Atelier franchise, and have been enthralled with the depth of game play from such a simple concept as combining two or more items to make something new. While this certainly isn’t the only franchise that places the ancient art of alchemy up on such a high pedestal, it is one of the most notable. That tradition continues in North America this fall with the release of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, the first venture of the franchise into the realm of the current generation of consoles, and 3D visuals.
The good people at NIS America were kind enough to toss us a preview disc of the game, which is a PlayStation 3 exclusive developed by Gust. I’ve had the chance to play through several hours of the game at this point and thought I’d throw together some early impressions to get you started, until our entire review is complete.
Atelier Rorona puts you in control of a young apprentice alchemist, Rorolina Frixell. You would think her name would be pronounced Ro-ro-leen-a, but it isn’t, it is Ro-ro-line-a. However, that doesn’t matter, because she tends to go by Rorona, for short. The alchemy shop she is working at comes under scrutiny because of her eccentric boss, or “master”, Astrid, who has a general bad attitude all around. The townspeople don’t like her, and that, apparently, has gone far enough to get the place shut down. However, Rorona steps up to the task that the kingdom assigns her, which is to complete a total of 12 assignments over the course of three years (each assignment lasting three months). If she does this successfully, the alchemy shop will be spared condemnation.
So, this is your task. It is somewhat a game of time-management, but only so much as, for example, Persona 4. While that ultimate deadline always looms overhead, you really aren’t under any danger of not completing your task in the allotted time if you even half pay attention to what is going on. To put this in perspective, you have roughly 90 in-game days to complete a task. I completed the first assignment with almost 30 days to spare, at which point I just passed the time by continuing to collect ingredients and complete quests for townsfolk.
The 12 tasks that Rorona is assigned are basically 12 alchemy projects, starting off fairly easy and becoming more and more complex as time passes. One of your major tasks is go outside the city of Arland and collect materials. Naturally, the surrounding area is infested with monsters, so there is an element of battle to the game. Rorona can hire various townsfolk to help her out in battle, including her close friends.
So far, battles seems like a pretty simple affair, being a standard turn-based system. As you gather ingredients, you’re faced with enemies to attack at various points, and they sit right on the field screen, so there aren’t any random battles. This early in the game, though, I’m pained by the lack of ways to heal your party members. As far as I can tell, the only way to heal them is with an item which can apparently be used multiple times. When it runs out, though, I’m screwed. However, this healing item can eventually be created through alchemy, fairly early on, once you learn to make it. I will, however, reserve judgment, simply because I see this in a lot of RPGs early on, and it typically gets better as you progress through the game.
The anime-style visuals are great, if you like those. They’re eye-catching and the anime cut scenes and static drawings are very well done. Some of the 3D model animations seem a bit off, though, especially Rorona’s model when she’s running and jumping. But, this is hardly a big turn-off, just more of an observation.
The alchemy and synthesis aspect really interests me – learning new recipes, completing item lists (this time around, for trophies) and fulfilling requests for certain items. This is what drew me to other Atelier games, as well as spin-off franchises like Mana Khemia. It is the heart of this game, as well, but definitely not the soul. The characters fill that role, and I’m just speaking from the few I’ve gotten to know a bit at this point. What also helps is that the voice acting and localization are spot on. See, I knew NISA does solid localization work!
Speaking of voice acting and the like – the game has both English and Japanese voice tracks on the disc, and you can swap between them at will within the options. That is a definite plus for me at this point, considering how disappointed I was with another recent JRPG offering that completely butchered the localization to the point I wish there was no voice acting at all. I’m glad to say though, that, as I mentioned, the English localization here is very well done, so there really is no need to resort to the Japanese voice track. However, it is nice that the option is there.
All in all, I’m really enjoying Atelier Rorona and am looking forward to digging deeper into the game. This looks to be another great JRPG for the PS3, which seems to be hitting its stride for genre fans as of late. If you have any questions, ask away in the comments and I will attempt to answer. Stay tuned for my full review in the coming weeks, as Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland releases in North America on September 28, 2010.