Developer: Gust Corportaion
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Platforms: PS Vita and PS3
Release Date: June 24, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
This review is based on the Vita version of the game
As the resident Atelier series expert here at GP, I“ve been asked multiple times to tell people which recent Atelier games (on PS3 and PS Vita) that they should check out. No matter how many times I“d phrase it, however, I“d have a hard time recommending Atelier Rorona. Why, you ask? Well, the original Atelier Rorona had a lot of problems. Not only in comparison to its sequels, which largely improved upon the gameplay, visuals, and even storytelling/characters, but it was also chock-full of annoying design decisions and it even had significant technical problems as well which made it quite difficult to recommend, even as a prerequisite towards its sequels.
Still, after many sequels with lessons learned, Gust decided to revisit the first PS3 title in the series just four years later and attempted to significantly overhaul it with Atelier Rorona Plus. Does it prove to be a much-needed improvement or is it little more than lip-service?
The title starts off with the young apprentice, Rorona, who takes on the responsibilities of running an alchemy workshop because her master is too lazy to keep it running. Because of this, Rorona is pressured by the royal council and the local townsfolk of Arland to fulfill various tasks for three years, otherwise the workshop will be forced to close down for good. It is a simple setup that more or less dictates the entire flow and has been left largely left untouched from the original release minus a few new character events and endings.
In part and parcel with the setting, Rorona has to wisely manage her time through the use of alchemy while supplementing the means to do it with both light-hearted RPG exploration and combat. Every three months or so, the fan-favorite character knight, Sterk, assigns new objectives to Rorona in which requires her talents in some form. As a bare minimum she needs to complete at least the primary task, but there are other optional objectives to work towards in the meantime for overachievers who want additional rewards.
No part of Atelier Rorona Plus is terribly complex on its own, but it is generally how it is woven together that makes it and the other entries stand from the traditional RPG crowd. For example, its primary focus on alchemy, or rather item crafting, is a crucial component to the structure and has a deceptive amount of depth to it. Rorona may be inherently encouraged to be a hermit to fulfill most tasks despite the game's bursts of exploration to obtain new materials or see new character events, but it manages to avoid the laborious trappings associated with item crafting because of the quick and rewarding nature of it. This also applies to battles and exploration, which generally go by fast as well and helps feed into the simple but effective overall gameplay loop of fulfilling various tasks for the local denizens.
With that said, the original Atelier Rorona was actually quite an unforgiving title at the time. For those who weren't following a guide and maximizing their in-game time, they were under the constant pressure of a bad ending because of its strict deadlines that left little room to do anything else. Thankfully, that has changed as well as many other aspects and it is crazy how many of the minor annoyances and oddities from the original release have been ironed out. Everything from streamlining inventory for turning in quests, being able to skip cutscenes, choosing specific endings, or even simply having an MP bar opposed to HP being the primary resource for combat skills and alchemy. The original game was full of very odd and annoying problems like these, not to mention how it also liked to crash a lot too.
Honestly, I could spend all day talking about mechanics or subtle interface changes and how much better this is compared to the original. At the same time, though, there is the rub, there are a lot of changes and improvements from the original release but very little that is unique from the sequels it mimics. It borrows Atelier Meruru's combat system and gameplay engine, Atelier Escha & Logy's main mission design, and general interface enhancements from recent entries. These are all good aspects on paper, and unquestionably makes for a much better game than the original overall, but for those that actually played those titles (like myself), it noticeably doesn't handle most of those aspects quite as well those other entries.
A lot of Rorona Plus's problems for existing fans is its been there, done that feel of it all. This is primarily because it does not quite have the same finesse/spirit as the games it copies. As mentioned earlier, most of the main campaign has been left unchanged and it only reminded me of how much better character interactions/storytelling are handled in later games like Atelier Totori and Atelier Ayesha. It's the same deal with the gameplay, like how it generally copies Atelier Meruru's combat system for the most part, but isn't as flashy or fun; or even Atelier Escha & Logy's main mission design, but with less incentive or reward. With all of these constant comparisons running through my mind, I wasn't really thinking about how much they have improved this game but rather how much I'd rather play those other sequels, especially with Atelier Meruru Plus and Atelier Escha & Logy fresh in my mind.
In the matter of fairness, what is new beyond interface/mechanical changes is its enhanced visuals/environments and a new post main story chapter. I know what you may be thinking—"The visuals are enhanced?"—and yes, they actually are. It does away with its originally bizarre chibi-ish character models with new models altogether that are more faithful to their in-game portraits. Also, the environments have been expanded, quite literally, from the original release which had very claustrophobic locales. Of course, the blunt truth of it all is that the visuals are still pretty underwhelming, in particular the environments, and even the character models aren't as good as later iterations, but it is a mostly appreciated refinement from its original release.
Perhaps the most substantial addition is the new chapter called "Overtime", which occurs after completing the main story and extends in-game time by one year. The context for it is that the main protagonists from Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru accidentally go back in time and need help from Rorona to get them back to their present. Admittedly, this new chapter is mostly fanservice either for those who have played the later games or so advanced players can go crazy with item crafting in preparation for the tough superbosses/dungeons. In spite of that, it does have some neat new additions like a time capsule mechanic that utilizes save files from previous titles to get new items, and even a few new cutscenes that make the narrative transition between the sequel, Atelier Totori, more cohesive. In all honesty, this mode was probably the most fun part of the entire game since progression is much less funneled than with the main scenario.
For as numerous as the changes that are in this version, Atelier Rorona Plus does not manage to completely escape the groundwork from its original release, for better or worse. It borrows a ton of elements from its sequels, and adds a few neat additions of its own, but rarely achieves complete parity or even tries to creatively surpass its later iterations. As a whole, Atelier Rorona Plus merely cements itself as the least desirable recent entry in the series. It's certainly better than it has ever been, and it works itself up to being decent overall, but the series has simply seen better.
+ Big improvements to the gameplay and interface over the original
+ Huge in-game soundtrack to draw from
+ â€œOvertimeâ€ mode has some neat additions
- In-game visuals are still unimpressive overall
- Combat, alchemy, and gameplay structure still aren“t quite as good as other recent iterations
- Doesn“t do enough of an overhaul for those who have played the original game
Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)
A very significant refinement from the original release, but Atelier Rorona Plus ultimately pales in comparison to its other recent iterations as a game overall.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.