Article written by Jim Hargreaves.
Published on 04/10/2011 at 09:00 PM.
Developed by Japanese studio Gust, best know for its dedication to the JRPG genre, Atelier Totori: Adventurer of Arland is a direct sequel to last year’s Atelier Rorona and is the second instalment in The Alchemist of Arland series. Picking up the trail five years after the events of the previous game, players now assume the role of Totori Helmold; a young alchemist in training from the small fishing village of Alanya, and one-time student of Rorona Trixell. Being one of the only three Alchemists in existence, Totori decides to embark on an quest in order to find Rorona as well as her lost mother, Gisela, a famed adventurer of Arland who is believed to be dead.
Despite being a direct sequel, you won’t need to have played Atelier Rorona to suss out the game’s narrative, which is probably one of the weaker elements of the game. Atelier Totori is based more on the characters than the actual events in hand, crafting itself around the game design instead of the relevant plot focus, which actually turns out to be a key advantage over other contenders in the genre.
A number of companions are readily available to players, though it's likely you will stick with your two favourites.
The core of the game rests within three paths of progression, combat level, alchemy level, and license rank. The former is self-explanatory, defeating enemies whilst adventuring will reward Totori and her companions with XP, enhancing their attributes and unlocking new skills and passive abilities.
Though there are an abundance of areas to explore, each one is fairly small in size and once explored an info-box becomes available, detailing exactly which enemies and resources can be found. Having biteszie zones drains a lot of the needless peddling that is still present in modern JRPGs; if you have a quest to hunt 3 Barrel Squirrels, you simply exit to the world map, locate a nearby area in which you can find them, and within minutes you’re done.
Instead of having random encounters, mobile nodes are scattered throughout each area which trigger a battle when in touching distance. Combat is always turn-based, and at first, it lacks any sort of variety with an extremely limited pool of abilities and items available, which begin to expand later into the game. Battles can be tough at first and without any way of knowing how tough your opponent is until you are actually face-to-face, it can sometimes be perilous too.
License rank, which ultimately determines your overall progress, works in a unique fashion, awarding progression points for completing in-game achievement such as killing X amount of a certain enemy type or synthesising X individual items. Though it may lack a bit of character, the license system is efficient in outlining how players can reach the next rank, and effectively advance into the next chapter of Atelier Totori. New ranks unlock more areas to explore which of course leads to tougher enemies and more luxurious items.
Though the combat, exploration and questing mechanics are solid enough, Atelier’s focus on item synthesis brings the gameplay into full cycle. From Totori’s workshop, players can create a vast array of items from the raw materials they find when adventuring. Each area on the world map contains two or three categories of “gathering nodes” which you can interact with in order to gain resources. Like combat and travelling between areas, gathering consumes in-game time as does alchemy. As mentioned before, Atelier only has the faintest hint of linearity which is presented via its unique calendar, scripted events and dialogue exchanges triggering after a pre-determined date.
Alchemy may seem like a daunting process at first, but the rewards are invaluable and essential in combat too.
Though they seem to be gradually improving, English dubs for Japanese ports are always going to prove cringe-worthy to a certain degree, regardless of which studio is heading the localisation. Atelier Totori may fall into this trap a few times but for the most part everything falls into place; sure, vocals are exaggerated to reflect the fantasy themes of the game, though they’re consistent and don’t intrude too much on the overall experience. Scripting on the other hand is mostly filler, conversations between characters having little relevance to the plot or character development.
For a localised RPG, Aterlier Totori looks average at best. Environments are varied and colourful though character models lack a certain flare and the game’s reliance on dialogue boxes is off-putting at times. On the other hand, menus are well presented, neatly compacting key information which is easy to find. In terms of bugs and performance issues none were encountered, even during prolonged sessions.
- Accessible, and unlike most RPGs, ideal for short bursts of gameplay.
- Item synthesis compliments the core gameplay, offering plenty of depth.
- Unconventional design, opting for free-flow player progression.
- Doesn’t require experience with prior Atelier titles.
- Soothing soundtrack and some decent voice work.
- First few hours can be tedious.
- Lack of strong narrative.
- Combat system will prove tiresome to begin with.
- The in-game calendar can sometimes feel intrusive on player freedom.
- Visuals are standard for modern JRPGs, sub-par compared to other genres.
JRPGs used to make up a significant portion of my gaming intake but with the newest generation of fast-paced, high-octane adventure titles and shooters, the traditional turn-based time-sinks that kept me hooked are too demanding nowadays. Atelier Totori is a different story however; by allowing players to advance at their own pace and without forcing us down a narrow path, this is the kind of RPG you can crack out for ten minutes, beat a few quests, and still feel a moderate sense of progression.
If Gust had made the narrative more relevant to the gaming masses and upped the bar in terms of visual presentation, this could easily have been one of the best entries the JRPG genre has witnessed in quite some time.