Developer: Gust Corporation
Platform: Playstation 3
Release Date: Out now
ESRB: T for Teen
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is the third and final act of the "Arland" Trilogy, and the most recent "Atelier" game to be released outside of Japan. The Atelier series dates back to 1997 with the release of Atelier Marie on the original Sony Playstation in Japan. Since then, the series has received a multitude of sequels sharing familiar, light-hearted themes and a consistently heavy emphasis on item crafting through "alchemy." Atelier Rorona, released in 2009, was the series' first true foray into 3D and was the start of the "Arland" trilogy; a year later, the widely-regarded and much-improved sequel Atelier Totori followed suit. Atelier Meruru hopes to continue this tradition, while also intending to pull the curtain elegantly over the trilogy. The question is, does it do this with sophistication, or does it come off as little more than fanservice?
The player dons the cape of the unfortunately named Merurulince Rede Arls, which everyone wisely abbreviates to "Meruru" throughout the game. Meruru is a young tomboyish princess and aspiring alchemist. Her father, King Dessier, is opposed to the notion of his daughter becoming an alchemist and potentially neglecting her royal duties. So, in order to compromise with his daughter“s wishes, he gives her three years to prove herself as an alchemist and balance her regal obligations to benefit the kingdom. Meruru is tasked to help expand the small kingdom of Arls with the underdeveloped surrounding territory before it merges with Arland, and she must use her new-found passion for alchemy to do it.
All of the necessary context you will need to begin your path of dominion and tyranny
Admittedly, the main narrative doesn't have much of an overarching plot throughout, nor does it really attempt or need to. It does vaguely delve into some deeper backstory elements in the 'good ending' route, but as a whole the game focuses much more on the often-humorous personal exchanges between the cast, rarely taking itself too seriously. This is fine, though a little disappointing after Atelier Totori, which snuck in some surprisingly emotional scenes into the narrative. Regardless, it“s unapologetic about what it is: a game centered heavily on exploration, progression, crafting, and a whole slew of insouciant character interactions.
To no surprise to anyone who has played just about any Gust game... well, ever, this game features a very deep and robust crafting system, a staple for the Atelier series. Everything the player does will more or less play into this facet of the game. This may also be the biggest hurdle for newcomers to get used to because of the heavy focus on it. Like in many games, it's easy to associate crafting with being a chore because it is rarely handled well. This is not the case with Meruru, which gives players plenty of incentive to make just 'one... more.... item...'.
The basics of alchemy/crafting in the game are in the need to gather resources in order to actually create stuff, which plays into the 'adventuring' aspect of the game. Meruru and her choice of two entourages can venture off into new areas to stock up on new items, or brutally slaughter the local wild life. While on paper that might not sound exhilarating, the combat, which is turn-based, is actually surprisingly fun.
General battles are centered around Meruru and the two bodyguards who accompany her. There are two gauges to keep tabs on in the midst of battle, other than the standard health points and magic points common in RPGs: the special and assist gauge. The assist gauge allows an ally to either block a potentially damaging blow directed at Meruru or do a coordinated follow-up attack. Since Meruru herself isn't much of a fighter, she earns her usefulness with her ability to use the items she creates, forged in the workshop beforehand, and is also the only one who can coordinate the special follow-up attacks. It will be up to the player to judge accordingly on how to utilize the assist gauge in battle.
There is also the special gauge, which fills up as an ally is on the offensive. If filled out entirely, it allows for an extremely flashy character signature move for extra damage. If the enemy is on their last legs it leads up to a much more satisfying extended animation. In general, the combat is relatively flashy and fast-paced, in sharp contrast to most turn-based RPGs. This may go to the point where it may be hard to appreciate it, since many fights usually end in a matter of seconds, and, unless the player is facing tougher foes or bosses, they won't get the chance to use many of the tools in their arsenal.
Who's this? Just Sterk, part-time pigeon(and pidgin?)-linguist and full-time knight. Ignore the murderous glow in his eyes and his tendency to slice the moon in half as a finishing special move and he's pretty a cool guy.
After the discovery of new areas, the player will often receive requests to help expand or improve the territory. Meruru's genius butler, Rufus, will provide an outline for how to go about these specific goals. These will range from creating and delivering specific items to butchering certain, usually boss-like, monsters. By completing these objectives, the player can gain popularity, earn development points, stat increases, or even enable one return to the said area and see new routes opened up, gathering different and higher quality items and ingredients in that area. It's rewarding to see what was originally a desolate and rural foundation evolve into a much more habitable and fertile environment through one's efforts.
Adding upon the central theme of the game is the premise of developing in Arls. By gaining Development Points, it allows players to construct new facilities in the kingdom for an assortment of benefits; gaining monthly revenue, new alchemy recipes, increased shop inventory, faster leveling (in alchemy and adventuring), and many other perks to help expand upon the efforts of the already hardworking princess. The way these are handled did initially feel like the player having to regain features they should've had from the get-go in previous games, like restricting the amount of quests one can accept starting out, but it doesn't take too long to realize that that is a short-lived complaint, due to the options it allows as the game progresses.
Alchemy is very much a prevalent role in the the game, as previously mentioned. From quests, development, and adventuring, a lot of the "battles", both figuratively and literally, can be won in the workshop beforehand, and can save the player time if they pay close attention. With aspects like 'traits' and 'quality,' it allows for a very deceptive amount of depth that can dramatically change the properties of pretty much any item. Though, for those who don't want to get "meta" with alchemy, one can certainly get by just by making the base product and using 'what works' for most of the game.
â€œNani ga toreru kana?â€â€¦â€œDekita!â€ â€¦Oh man, what has this series done to me?!
Gust has always had a relatively solid history in the audio portion of their games, from powerful vocal pieces that the Ar Tonelico series has become known for to infectiously catchy tracks that most previous Atelier games have. Because of this, Meruru's soundtrack comes off as a little disappointing, since it plays it relatively safe overall and uses a lot of familiar arrangements from the previous two titles. There is definitely some noteworthy newer compositions though, including the much-improved in-combat music, ranging from sweeping flamenco pieces to intense metal guitar riffs. Some tracks, which usually accompany a scene, have some noticeable loops however; I'm calling out the tutorial theme in particular which was the only one to make me audibly groan.
Atelier Meruru is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to a more technical front; The 3D character models look good and compliment the 2D character portraits that they are based off well, but the environments are the worst offender graphically, remaining very low-quality throughout the game. There is also some noticeable pop-in with the characters models, which can lead to an awkward couple of seconds while waiting for someone to appear. To address the elephant in the room, the art direction overall can also be unappealing, depending on the audience, due to the cutesy anime nature. Thankfully, it is no Hyperdimension Neptunia, which is outright tasteless, but the nit-picky prude in me really wishes some characters would dress would more conservatively.
Too bad! You can“t puppy face your way out of this one!
When all is said and done, Meruru proves that, when looking past the technical flaws or potential qualms with the artistic direction, it remains what is at the core: a very enjoyable game that is full of things to do. Unfortunately, it is also easy to imagine that a lot of the inherent charm can be lost if one foregoes the previous iterations and jumps straight into this one, or if the overall alchemy-heavy nature of the game simply does not click with the player, which is quite possible. For those who can get past that, or those who are willing try something quite different from the norm of what is commonly molded for Japanese role-playing games, Atelier Meruru definitely comes highly recommended.
- Satisfying Conclusion to the Arland Trilogy
- Addicting gameplay structure that allows for a lot of flexibility and replayability.
- Very deep crafting system and fun turn-based combat system.
-Endearing overall nature and doesn't take itself too seriously.
-Overall style and lack of technical finesse in some areas can be off-putting to some.
-Some musical tracks noticeable loops... Tutorial theme being the worst offender.
- Not the best place for newcomers due to some expected familiarity with the series.
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
A very well-crafted role-playing game that remains fun, deep, and addictive throughout and does a great job improving upon the previous games. Assuming one can stomach the cute-nature of the game, it comes highly recommended for fans of the genre who can approach it with an open-mind.