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Review

Review: Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland

Synthesize me.

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.
Without having to constrict itself under the pressure of a narrative core, Atlier substitutes a conventional linear design for something more relaxed, softly nudging players in the right direction though making sure they’re in the driver’s seat at all times. Instead of being forced down a pre-determined path, Atelier Totori simply gives you a world map and a frequently-updated stockpile of quests to work through. On completion, these will yield a variety of rewards, though mainly Cole (in-game currency) and high quality items.

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.
Alchemy itself is conducted exclusively through a handful of menus, each item having a recipe, usually requiring two or three individual material classes. Each ingredient in your inventory has a number of attributes relating to its quality as well as “traits”. Using materials that are of a higher quality increases your chance to successfully synthesising your requested item. Once crafted, you will then have the opportunity to attach any traits extracted from the selected ingredients, added a healthy layer of depth to the system. For instance, if you are synthesising a projectile to be used in combat, you can borrow traits from poisonous components for added effect.

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.

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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.

Score: 7/10

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21 Comments
  1. sabrecheeky
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Absolutely loved Atelier Rorona – A relaxing, funny, blue sky game. Did have this pre-ordered, but it is being released right into a maelstrom of big releases. So difficult buying decisions have to be made, and this lost out (by a tiny margin) to Disgaea.

    I will get it eventually, but I feel bad not being able to support games like this on release.

    Comment posted on 04/10/2011 at 21:50.
  2. a inferior race
    I'm special
    Since: Jul 2009

    Do the quests have a tendancy to repeat themselves? I’m not bothered if they are similar in that I have to go collect some herb and then go collect some flower. However, if it kill 3 goblins and then it creaes another quest which s kill 5 goblins then I think this is a pass for me.

    Comment posted on 04/10/2011 at 21:52.
    • Jim H [Teabags]
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      Quests are pretty much identical, though it doesn’t feel repetitive. It’s up to the player as to which quests they choose.

      Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 08:11.
  3. nofi
    One for all.
    Since: Forever

    Great stuff – sounds like the sort of game I’d love if I had plenty of time.

    Comment posted on 04/10/2011 at 21:58.
    • KeRaSh
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      Same here. I’d love to give this franchise a try but I simply know that I don’t have the time to do it. Maybe someday I will see it on Amazon while browsing around and pick it up for a bargain.

      Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 06:47.
    • Jim H [Teabags]
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      You would think that you haven’t enough time to play Totori, but that’s the beauty of it. I was stuck into Crysis 2, Killzone 3, Resistance 3 and a myriad of other games, yet I could sit down for short bursts and still feel like I’m making good progress.

      Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 08:14.
      • KeRaSh
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        The problem is not that I’m busy playing other games. It’s that I don’t find that much time to play games at all these days. I have quite a few games to catch up and I’m hardly touching them. It’s quite disheartening. I’ve come so far that when I actually have time to play games I sometimes don’t feel like playing them because I know I won’t finish them anytime soon. It’s a vicious circle. I need time off from work so I can get my gaming mojo back!

        Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 09:34.
  4. keaneplay
    Member
    Since: Oct 2010

    Nice review, haven’t really seen much of this game, or any of the previous entries to the series, but I’m now very tempted to pick this up when I can. Just looking at the artwork, makes me want it even more!

    Comment posted on 04/10/2011 at 22:26.
  5. moshi
    Member
    Since: Jun 2009

    Top marks for reviewing a game that isn’t a main title of the week.

    Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 05:20.
    • Jim H [Teabags]
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      That’s pretty much my role in the reviewing team :D

      Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 08:13.
      • The Lone Steven
        Never heard of him.
        Since: May 2010

        I thought your role was to make sure that there is plenty of…*puts on sunglasses* teabags.

        Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 08:30.
      • nofi
        One for all.
        Since: Forever

        Jim prefers the rather more esoteric titles. =)

        Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 08:45.
      • The Lone Steven
        Never heard of him.
        Since: May 2010

        Thought so. And i think he is pretty much safe from the typical “u r baised and were paid by company name here” comment that sometimes comes up whenever someone reviews a big name game. (or it seems that way of late :()

        Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 09:13.
      • moshi
        Member
        Since: Jun 2009

        Well may you continue bringing these unknown or overlooked games to our awareness.

        Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 12:22.
  6. The Lone Steven
    Never heard of him.
    Since: May 2010

    It sounds like a game that i would enjoy. Then again, i am a bit biased towards RPGs. I think i will pick this up when it’s £20. Due to the cossal amount of games that are coming out next month. :-/

    I had no idea that this existed. :O

    Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 08:09.
  7. SpikeyMikey23
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Any tentacle porn in this? Looks like there could be lol. Good read mate.

    Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 09:12.
    • Sympozium
      Member
      Since: Aug 2009

      No, but you may find that in a…hentai themed game

      Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 09:44.
    • Liam
      Member
      Since: Jan 2010

      You have been in the dark corners of the Internet for too long my friend ;-)

      Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 16:51.
  8. MayContainEvil
    Member
    Since: Feb 2011

    Looks cute, seems very anime influenced. I would like to get this but I think I might see if I can track down the first one.

    Comment posted on 05/10/2011 at 14:29.
    • Jim H [Teabags]
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      Side by side, a number of critics have said that Totori is a vast improvement over Rorona so if I were you, I’d probably skip the original and get stuck in ;)

      Comment posted on 06/10/2011 at 18:13.
  9. aerobes
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    Great. That’s another $60 I don’t have that’s already been spent. *sigh*

    Top review, Jim. ;)

    Comment posted on 08/10/2011 at 08:51.

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