Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland (PS3)

A little over a year ago, GUST’s Atelier Franchise had its first USA release on the current generation of consoles with Atelier Rorona. It was a return to the roots of the franchise, with a stronger emphasis on alchemy and had less of a focus on adventuring. In my review I praised the delightful soundtrack, fascinating characters, and the jovial environment that is becoming rarer in games. Atelier Totori was released a year after Rorona was released in the United States. The game features upgraded graphics, a stronger focus on adventuring, and refined addictive gameplay that goes above and beyond the previous iteration. Atelier Totori is a wonderful experience that that is one of the best games released this year; it is a gem that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Totori in the Character Art
Taking place 5 years after the events of Atelier Rorona, the game focuses on Rorolina Frixell’s student Tootoria Helmold. Tootoria (better known at Totori) is an introverted and bashful 13 year old girl, after learning alchemy she has started to gain more confidence in herself. She lives with her father and sister in a small fishing town, but wants to become an adventurer to travel the world and find her missing mother. Cecilia Helmold is Totori’s 18 year-old sister who has taken the taken a maternal role when their mother disappeared. Melvia Siebel is Cecilia’s best friend and a world-class adventurer in her own right. She takes Totori under her tutelage to help Totori find her mother. Totori’s instructor is none other than Rorona herself. Five years hasn’t changed Rorona, she traveled the world to find her master, becoming stronger and more experienced. Her adventures around Arland have given her a reputation of being a great alchemist. Totori’s interaction with the people around her helps her in her journey to become a great adventurer and search for her missing mother.

Atelier Totori is an enormous improvement over the original release graphically. A brand new engine was made for Atelier Totori and it is light years ahead of Atelier Rorona in its visuals. The environment has nice subtle details that the original game engine would not otherwise be able to generate. The subtle improvements in the gaming engine improve the immersion when exploring Arland. Of the changes in the graphics, the biggest improvement is in the cell-shaded characters. They are probably some of the best cell-shading I have seen so far this generation. It does the beautiful artwork by Mel Kishida justice, looking almost identical to his artwork. In Atelier Rorona there was a disparity between the great artwork and the in-game graphics, in Atelier Totori it is not the case. GUST’s cell shading in Atelier Totori provides us gamers with some of the most beautiful anime art in a modern videogame; it is a sight to behold.

The Awesome Cell-Shading
The core gameplay that make up the Atelier Franchise has improved from Atelier Rorona to Atelier Totori. The game eschews the heavy deadlines with forced game overs found in the previous iteration. Instead, the user has one big deadline; they need to obtain a certain level in their adventuring license before three years have passed. Each level in the adventuring license are a number, and completing certain adventures and doing certain requests will grant Totori points in her Adventurer license. Upon completion of a license, parts of Arland open up to Totori that has tougher enemies and more unique items to use in alchemy. This open-ended nature of the deadlines creates a great sense of freedom that was not found in the previous game. Depending on one’s preference there could be a strong emphasis on becoming a better adventurer or becoming a better alchemist, but balancing the two will lead to the best endings in the game.

Yeah, her adventuring outfit is a
little showy
Adventuring is a huge part of Atelier Totori, and becoming an effective adventurer is important to succeeding in Atelier Totori. The world of Arland has to be traversed, so movement in the world map will take days to move back and forth. Once at your terminus, you can do either two things, gather items or fight enemies. Each environment in the world of Arland has unique items that Totori can use as base ingredients to alchemize into other items. Gathering of these base ingredients takes time, so every time you gather ingredients a portion of a day is used. Each battle also takes time, so whenever Totori engages in battle, there is a time penalty. At the end of battle the party is given experience points which improve their adventurer levels. Each action takes time, which gives a sense of movement that Atelier Rorona didn’t have. It is a nice touch that does increase the immersion of the game since it forces the player to prioritize.

What makes the Atelier franchise unique is the alchemy section, which is unlike any other game I played. Each item gathered in the world can be used to create other items through alchemy. Totori either buys the items in the store or she gathers them in dungeons outside the town. Once back in Atelier Totori she goes to a big pot and the player is given a list of items that Totori can make via alchemy. Each item is given a level of difficulty, and the completion of creating items give Totori experience to raise her Alchemy Level. Every time that Totori creates an item she is using time, items, and MP, so for every item made there is a tradeoff. Totori gains access to higher level items by reading books that can be found in store all over Arland. The alchemy system is a refinement of Atelier Rorona and it improves the experience overall.

GUST games are known for many things, and having wonderful soundtracks is one of them. Ken Nakagawa and Kazuki Yanagawa work together as Atelier Totori’s dual composers and create a top-tier soundtrack that can stand with the best of them in the gaming world. The opening song for Atelier Totori entitled “Pilgrimage” is a nice unique vocal (and anime opening) that immerses into the world of Atelier Totori. Each of the themes in Atelier Totori fit the environment perfectly. Totori’s hometown has a nice laid back theme with a solo flute dominating the piece, giving a sense of innocence. The adventurer themes are very diverse, some pieces have a heavy flute, and others have a heavy Celtic feeling. They all create a strong sense of adventure that many games cannot really compete with. Totori’s theme that plays in her shop is another wonderful piece that mixes the innocence of Totori and the hard work of an alchemic shop in a perfect aural theme. The game has many musical influences, with a strong Celtic undertone that gives the franchise a unique feeling throughout the game.

I said it before and I will say it again, Atelier Totori is one of my favorite games released this year. It is incredibly addictive and a refinement of a wonderful gaming formula. It has an incredible cast of characters that are extremely likeable and are easy to relate to. The interactions between Totori and them will provide the player with lots of smiles and tears. Gameplay is a massive improvement over Atelier Rorona, lifting the heavy deadlines and giving the player more freedom to explore the world and become the best Alchemist in Arland. The soundtrack is one of the best ones out there, showcasing the incredible talent of GUST composers Ken Nakagawa and Kazuki Yanagawa. The biggest improvement for Atelier Totori is the graphics, it showcases some of the most gorgeous cell shading this generation and is one of the first games that has the beautiful in-game characters match the gorgeous artwork of the original character designer. Not knowing anything about the franchise before it migrated to the PS3, it has quickly become of my favorite franchises, featuring addictive gameplay, incredible graphics, amicable characters and a wonderful soundtrack.

Totori Helmold

Cecilia Helmold


Anonymous said...

It is a great review, I haven't played Atelier Rorona yet and want to buy this game, should I get it?

Rand said...

I think that it is an awesome review, do you do any reviews for american games?