Published on June 21st, 2012 | by Davis Fan1
[Game Review] Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland (PS3)
Summary: In a market of RPGs full of epic quests and dungeons, Atelier Meruru is a gem that will keep players addicted to its development and alchemy for hours on end. As always, the characters and story remains as whimsical as ever, keeping it entertaining without ever bogging it down with overly serious undertones.
The Atelier series has always been somewhat of an oddball compared to most RPGs. There’s no real evil entity trying to rule or destroy the world; the quest itself isn’t all that epic; combat usually takes a backseat to the alchemy. Each one of those individually would make for a rather underwhelming game, but the Atelier series’ combination of the three has always been charming and addictive in its own way. With the final chapter of the Arland series, we get a title that is a bit more ambitious with its additional focus on kingdom development all the while maintaining the charm of the series.
Atelier Meruru follows the title character, a princess in the small kingdom of Arls, which is about to become a part of the Arland republic. Adventurous and ambitious like the series’ previous protagonists, Meruru strives to be more than a simple princess and becomes an alchemist with the help of her teacher Totori and her approval of her father. The approval did not come easy, however, requiring the young princess to develop the kingdom and help its population reach at least 30,000 by her third year as an alchemist. Though Meruru’s goals are notably more ambitious than her predecessors, the story still maintains a focus on the quirky, loveable characters and their relationships. Even the supporting cast will often have interesting stories and leave a lasting impression on players’ minds. At times, this could prove troublesome though, with travel within Arls being slowed to a crawl due to an assault of cutscenes that players in a hurry would only wish are skippable.
The appeal of the game is only enhanced further by the cel shaded graphics, which Gust has seemingly perfected within the last three games, and the character designs. While, in some ways, it’s as though they’re trying to maximize the sex appeal of a 15 year old protagonist, many of the characters are still colorful, unique, and memorable. This holds true whether it’s for the newer characters or returning cast, like Mimi and Gino who have grown into full fledged adventurers since the last game. With very few exceptions, story segments retain the style of the series with expressive character stills coupled by audio. As with any NIS America release, fans will be happy to know that there will be dual audio in both English and Japanese.
Combat may take a backseat to the alchemy in the series, but it is by no means lacking. It remains relatively unchanged as a turn-based RPG, giving the title character and other alchemists the privilege to use spells while others have access to special abilities, assist shielding, and team attacks. The main focus is on alchemy, quests, and kingdom development, and it is as addicting as ever. Neither quests or development have time limits, which will leave players free to decide whether they would like to eliminate all the monsters in an area and kill a mark to aid the kingdom’s development or to satisfy an NPC’s requests for certain items or taking down smaller marks. In addition, many of the new developments also offer perks like lowered pricing at the market and increased quality of scavenged goods, but Meruru will have to keep her popularity and funds up by performing the periodic quest, inviting players to find a balance between the two.
Players may feel pressured to work diligently towards development because of the impending time limit, but time progression in the game is lax enough to provide for a balance of both. Though I had completely neglected to explore an area for two months, I was still able to reach my goal with several months to spare. With all this extra time, it never feels overwhelming to try and reach development or questing goals, but it’s actually quite lax. Players have the time to go and search for quality ingredients for better item outcomes and chance to sit back and churn up whatever concoctions they need for the upcoming battles, even if it would take several weeks at the alchemy workshop and world map. The lack of urgency may feel odd for those who have played Atelier Totori, but it’s certainly welcome.
In a market of RPGs full of epic quests and dungeons, Atelier Meruru is a gem that will keep players addicted to its development and alchemy for hours on end. As always, the characters and story remains as whimsical as ever, keeping it entertaining without ever bogging it down with overly serious undertones. Series faithful will undoubtedly pick this up, but skeptics should give it a try to see if the alchemists can woo them over with more than just their short skirts.
Available on: PS3; Publisher: NIS America; Developer: Gust; Players: 1; Released: May 29, 2012; ESRB: Mature; MSRP: $49.99; Official Site
Note: A retail copy was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher.