Monday, October 3, 2011

Atelier Rorona (PS3) Review

Atelier Rorona
Developer: GUST
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3

The Atelier franchise is the bread and butter of Japanese developer GUST since 1997. With Atelier Totori coming out in the USA last week, this review is a little late to say the least. This GUST franchise is known for its unconventional RPG mechanics that has a strong focus on the creation of items, strong female leads, and multiple endings based on the direction that the player wants. Atelier Rorona is the 17th game in the franchise and it is the first game in the franchise on the high-definition generation. For it's first high-definition release, GUST's Atelier Rorona is a unique game with great graphics, an interesting cast, and a very unconventional happy-go-lucky atmosphere that is missing from most modern games.

Atelier Rorona is about a girl named Rorolina Frixell (Rorona) who is an apprentice to a talented alchemist named Astrid. The problem is that Astrid has a bad personality and her workshop has gained a bad reputation in Arland. After meeting with the royal court Rorona was given the ownership of the shop and she had an ultimatum, she has to fulfill the missions given by the royal court over the time of three years or her shop will be closed. Depending on who the player interacts with and the path they choose in Atelier Rorona they can achieve one of the 14 main endings.

The game is very open-ended compared to many Role-Playing games, the player is given three months to do an objective whether it is to use alchemy to build weapons for the army, to kill a certain amount of wolves who are attacking the farms, and a variety of other objectives. Rorona has three months to fulfill the objectives given by the royal court. In the days before the deadline, the player can do whatever they want, but each action takes time. The creation of items take days, it takes time to move from Arland to the variety of dungeons all over the world. Balancing time with priorities is one of the best aspects of the game. Procrastinators need not apply, doing the objectives last minute could easily result in a game over. The best way to deal with the objectives is to finish it as fast as possible, then to use that free time to explore the outside dungeons and build friendships with the people in Arland. The deadlines are very lenient and there was nary an objective that was difficult to do. The open-ended nature and the easy difficulty curve may make the game hard for people to play if they cannot deal slower-paced storylines.

Atelier Rorona has a variety of gameplay styles, the first one was highlighted in the previous section, which are the variety of objectives with hard deadlines. The second is the famous alchemy system, in Atelier Rorona you as Rorona go into a dungeon and gather a variety of raw materials like steel, plants, fur. These raw materials can be brought together to create items at the cost of time. Depending on the quality of the quality of the raw materials, the end result may be a high quality product or a very poor one. The third part of the gameplay is the relationship aspect that is a key point in determining the ending of Atelier Rorona. A character will have requests throughout the three-year period, and fulfilling the requests raises the friendship level between Rorona and that character. The final part is the adventure aspect, which is when Rorona goes to a dungeon with a couple of friends and fights enemies and explores to gain materials. Near the end of a dungeon is a stronger than a normal bad guy.

Battle systems determine whether a game can be fun or not, and unfortunately it is one of the big weaknesses of Atelier Rorona. There are no random battles in Atelier Rorona, with each of the enemies appearing on screen. It is easy to avoid enemies when you can and it does make the pace of the game better. When a battle is initiated, the game goes into a battle screen. There is no bar for magic, so using any abilities or magic takes HP. It is strange when one of the main healers and one of my favorite characters Lionela would use her HP to heal herself. The battle music moves slow, and is one of the weakest points in the amazing musical score. Battles also move at a fairly slow place compared to many RPG's out there.

Lionela, my favorite character in Rorona
The cast of characters in Atelier Rorona is one of the strongest points in the game. In general, the cast of Atelier Rorona are all likable. Rorona is the lead character, she is a little ditsy and air-headed. Even with her ditsy personality she is hard working and very honest, which makes her very affable. Her best friend is Cordelia, an aristocrat who is lacking in certain assets. She is the token tsundere and her honesty makes her very charming. Astrid is Rorona's teacher, she is aloof, lazy, and likes to pick on Rorona. She is a genius, so her peculiarities can be explained out, but she is a perfect foil to the innocent and bubbly Rorona. Lionela is a puppeteer who is extremely introverted and she is shy around strangers. Just like how Cordelia is the token tsundere, Lionela is the toxen buxom girl, in battle her healing techniques are very....bouncy. Rounding out the cast is Sterk, the royal knight of Arland who judges whether the objectives are completed. He is a charming pretty boy who only wants to see Rorona succeed. Meredith is the main villain, he is not really menacing and he has some of the most idiotic plans to stop Rorona. He also had some of the best laughs in the storyline, since his backfired plans has some of the best reactions.

GUST games are known for their incredible soundtracks and great character designs, and Atelier Rorona is no exception. The soundtrack by Ken Nakagawa is amazing, it is very happy and energetic. The soundtrack is one of my favorite parts of Atelier Rorona. It is so charming and happy that it is the type of soundtrack that can put a smile on your face. Rorona's main theme that plays in her workshop is very charming and it never really gets old. The world theme is a Celtic version of Rorona's theme, and it is wonderful. Mel Kishida is the main character designer for the Arland saga and his character designs are awesome. It has a strong anime theme to it, but it has a nice watercolor design that adds an ethereal feel to the character design. I love the character design, and I would buy a Mel Kishida artbook in a heartbeat since his artstyle is so great.

Atelier Rorona is a great game, the unique pacing is due to its open-ended feel that most games do not have. It combines a variety of gameplay and it works together seamlessly. The amazing and likable cast make the game interesting, and it is easy to have a favorite one. The soundtrack is incredible, I enjoyed the soundtrack so much that I bought the soundtrack for Rorona. GUST also is well known for its great character designers, and finding Mel Kishida for the Arland saga is a great find. The big downside is the slow pace of battles and the weakness of the battle system in general.

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