I’m a firm believer in the point of view that not all games can or should be about saving the world from some impending apocalypse. That basic premise, which fills 90% of the games out there, is so overdone. That’s why it’s so refreshing when a title comes along that you can just sit back and enjoy instead of gripping your controller so hard with you sweaty hands that you seem on the verge of crushing it into a black hole.
Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland fits that bill perfectly. This follow-up to last year’s Atelier Rorona improves a bit over its predecessor while still maintaining the air of semi-casual non-chalance that gives such a fresh feeling amidst all the heavy, must-save-the-world games that we see all too often in this genre and just in general.
For those new to the Atelier franchise, the concept is simple – there’s a goal for the entire game which you progress to over time as you play by completing quests which involve either gathering, alchemy or battle. That’s pretty much it. Of course, there’s a story to follow as you go through the game, and this one revolves around Totori (pronounced TOH-toh-ree, note the emphasis on the first syllable).
Years ago, her mother, who was an adventurer, disappeared. Her mother never returned home and left her, her father, and her sister, Cecillia (Ceci), to fend for themselves. After her mom left, Totori came into contact with a famed alchemist from Arland and began to learn the art of synthesis, which is a rare talent in the realm. Eventually, though, she wonders about her mom and, in her heart, believes she’s still alive somewhere. Totori sets out to become an adventurer like her mom and uncover the truth behind her disappearance and get answers about why she left in the first place.
To be honest, that sounds pretty heavy, but it doesn’t feel like it as you experience the story unfold through the first hours of the game. Totori is a happy-go-lucky child who tends to have a wiser head on her shoulders than most of the other characters – young or old – in the game. In fact, I found myself smiling many times after Totori delivers a line of dialog with a twinge of sarcasm and seeing the character on the receiving end not give her the time of day. There are some pretty great comedic moments due to the juxtaposition of the general ditziness of other characters as opposed to Totori’s solid disposition.
Totori has to basically prove that she’s worthy of being an adventurer over the course of five years (broken into two large time periods – one three years, and the other two years). After she acquires her adventurer’s license, she has to prove that she’s worthy of it or, three years later when it’s up for renewal, she could be denied. That’s where you come in, guiding her through the questing and exploring that makes up the bulk of helping Totori find her way.
The dialog and voice acting is pretty spot on, at least for the main characters. Totori’s actress especially hits a high note with me, with Ceci and Mimi not far behind. Some of the side characters suffer from either faulty acting itself or just general over-acted and oddly-written dialog, but at least that isn’t very prevalent throughout the course of the game, and some of it is entirely optional. There is some very basic, or obvious, dialog, and the typical hiccups that bother me about games like this is still there – plot points will be repeated, goals will be emphasized, much of it is suggestive (skirt flipping? really?) and a lot of it can be very, shall we say, simplistic.
The rest of the audio, while enjoyable at first, becomes extremely repetitive given the amount of time you spend in certain areas. While you do change location – and thus background music – during the course of the game, you spend enough time in each location that things really start to grate into the back of your head. So, the voice acting and dialog is mostly excellent, but the background music can easily become a nuisance.
What is really great is the little graphical and animation improvements over Rorona. While the two games maintain the same general graphical style, Totori is animated better. Totori herself is much better designed and her model seems more lifelike and intricate than Rorona’s did. Even when you see Rorona in this title, you can see the sharp difference between the two characters, and I’m not just talking about their personalities. Little things like Totori jumping and swinging her wand in the field are much better animated here and it all really meshes together.
A couple areas of disappointment in general with the visuals, animations and environments, though, involve the camera (or lack thereof) and some misbegotten collision detection. First off, there is no free-form camera. You can’t rotate the camera to check out your environment or get a better view of impending dangers. This is especially noticeable in various areas where enemies are hidden behind rocks, plants or land formations. Secondly, invisible walls that cause a collision incident, as well as it being difficult to judge when to start swinging Totori’s wand to gain the initiative in combat, cause some minor frustration at times.