A Grand Portable Journey – Atelier Totori Plus: The Adventurer Of Arland Review
This title was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to just abandon the life you know, and wander the world as an adventurer? I have – quite often, in fact! Unfortunately though, we live in an age where that simply isn’t practical anymore. Luckily, that’s what we have video games for, and boy do we have a good one for the aspiring explorer. Entitled Atelier Totori Plus: The Adventurer of Arland, a port of the original PlayStation 3 title by Gust, has journeyed its way onto your PSVita. What makes this such an excellent escapade, you ask? Well, grab your backpack, stuff it with supplies, and come on a quest with me to find out!
Atelier Totori Plus: The Adventurer of Arland is a sequel to the title Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, and tells the story of a young girl named Totooria Helmold (Totori for short), a resident of a small village called Alanya. Totori’s mother was a world-famous adventurer who mysteriously went missing – and hasn’t been heard from since. One day, the alchemist Rorona (who was the protagonist of the previous title) is found collapsed on Totori’s doorstep, near death from hunger and exhaustion. After taking her in and feeding her, Totori and her sister Ceci learn that Rorona has been traveling the country to teach people alchemy – which has been met with very little success. In fact, it’s not until she attempts to teach Totori that she is fruitful, marking her new student one of only three people capable of alchemy in the entire land. Eventually, this new knowledge leads Totori to want to become an adventurer, in hopes of one day finding her long lost mother. So, Totori and her friend Gino, set out to the capital of Arland to get their Adventuring Licences.
Finding Totori’s mother is the key focus of the narrative, which feels pretty bare compared to other Eastern RPGs. There are no hidden evils attempting to ensnare the world, no political plots hatched in the shadows, and no super-villains looking to rebirth any ancient evils – just Totori living her life as an adventurer and looking for her mother. The occasional fight does still occur though, as monsters are present in the environment. However, these creatures aren’t really central to the plot, and are natural obstacles or wild animals rather than plot devices. Reactions to this are going to be mixed, as on one hand the plot feels sort of empty or pointless, but on the other it’s addictively fun. Although there may not be some huge interwoven story like other RPGs, this adorable, simple tale is like your first breath of spring – amazingly refreshing!
Watching Totori interact with the world and cast (both new and returning) is absolutely charming and is sure to perk up players, and will elicit many smiles and laughter. Unfortunately, scenes in the narrative happen so randomly and infrequently that you’ll wonder if there is any structure to the tale at all. This is boosted by the fact that although the point of the adventure is to find Totori’s mother, you do very little actually searching. Gamers can count the amount of necessary boss battles and fixed plot pieces on their fingers, as gameplay takes most of the screen time in this one. If you’re looking for something with heft in its writing, you’re not going to find it here. However, if a nice, happy, upbeat adventure is something you want or need in your gaming life, this is a wonderful place to find it.
While the story may seem a little thin, it’s boosted by a wealth of addictive gameplay that will suck you in for many hours. One of the central mechanics is Totori’s Adventurer’s Licence, which needs to be upheld after obtaining it. At first, gamers have three years (in-game) until Totori comes under review to make sure she isn’t sitting on her laurels, at which time she needs to be above a certain rank. In order to rank up, gamers need to complete different Discoveries – each one awarding points upon completion. These tasks come in four major forms: Map Completion, Landmark Discovery, Monster Hunt, and Knowledge. Each category contains different tasks to complete, such as finding all the locations in a region, or killing a certain number of enemy types. Once found, your Discovery will award you points which in turn go towards your next rank. Once you get the specified amount to reach your next rank, it’s time to hit up the Adventurer’s Guild in Arland! There, you’ll see all of your Discoveries rack up, and get a new rank for your Licence.
Most of these Discoveries can actually be unlocked by finishing quests, which can be accepted either at the bar in Alanya or at the guild in Arland. Each quest falls under one of three types: Gathering, Hunting, or Synthesis. Gathering quests simply require you to hand over an item that can be found in the environment, Hunting asks you to slay certain monsters, and Synthesis has you create items via Alchemy. Simply kill off the enemies, or collect/create the goods, and bring them back for your reward. The quicker you return, and the better the items you deliver, the better your reward.
Alchemy, as you can probably tell, also plays heavily into the game. Players are able to take various ingredients and mix them together to create something new. There are four categories: Crafting, Equipment, Usable, and Key. Crafting items are used further as ingredients in other recipes, Equipment are wearable weapons and armour, Usable are Tools that can be used in or out of combat (like healing salves or bombs), and Key ingredients can play different roles in storyline plots. To start Alchemy, you first need Recipes, which are learned by buying or earning books. Once you’ve read a book, you’ll always know how to craft the items you’ve read about.
Every Recipe calls for at least two ingredients, which can either be one specific item or any item that falls into a category (like Lumber, Gunpowder, or Herbs). As well, each ingredient has its own quality between 1(low) and 100 (high), and effects (such as lightning enchantments or smelling funny) that contribute to your synthesized item’s overall rank – which ranges from a quality A to a crappy E. Although, just because you use quality ingredients, that doesn’t mean your alchemy will turn out. As you synthesize more and more, you’ll level up Totori’s Alchemy rank, which you’ll need for the harder Recipes – as until you reach higher levels there is a chance you’ll fail and waste your ingredients. Should you succeed, you will be able to add the sub-effects of your ingredients into the final product. This concoction, mixed with the ingredients’ overall quality and your rank makes just about every single item you create unique, with no two outcomes ever being the same!
While combat is definitely a very small aspect of gameplay compared to most JRPGs, it is still important in Atelier Totori. The general layout of battle is quite simple: each character (enemies included) takes a turn to use an action, like attacking or blocking, with the turn order determined by each monster/character’s Speed. Every character can unlock different abilities for use in combat, which can either be passive (like having stats increased when low on health) or usable (such as power attacks) – though usable attacks cost MP to utilize. While this general setup is typical of any RPG, there are a few unique twists found in Atelier Totori. For example, only Alchemist characters can use Items in combat, which in turn shifts a lot of focus to Totori (since she is one of three who can do Alchemy in the entire land). Players need to keep her alive in combat, otherwise they’ll find themselves out of luck for Items. However, the game helps players out a bit with this mechanic. As you have your supporting characters attack or take damage, it will slowly fill up their Assist Gauge – which has three sections. For every piece filled, Totori’s allies can take one of three actions: defend Totori when she is attacked, aid her use of offensive items with a follow-up attack, or assists with certain Special Actions.
Another thing to keep in mind when battling is enemy position. Certain Items and attacks have different areas of effect (AoE), such as a large square, forward line, or even the entire field. These ranges always place the currently selected enemy in the center of it, so you must think about who you will attack first. Say, for example, you have three enemies in a horizontal line. The AoE of the attack you want to use with Totori is a square, and can fit all three in when selecting the middle enemy, but only two when selecting one on the end. It would therefore be foolish to attack the center one first and kill it with single target blows from allies, as then the AoE will no longer include more than one target – instead it would be wise to focus on the ends first. The same can be said when fighting enemies weak/strong against different elements. You don’t want to waste a powerful fire Item on a single enemy who is weak to it, while the others within the AoE are immune to the element. Careful thinking like this is ideal in keeping some battles short, and even surviving others.
Although this game is a lot nicer about death than others, it still exists. When all of your allies and Totori fall in battle, they simply head back to the nearest town. However, the problem is that the players lose several days of time, which can be terribly detrimental if you’re close to a mission expiry or are running out of time to reach a Licence Rank. Taking the time to keep your Items and Tools stocked up will be rewarding, as it will save you days in the long run.
To acquire the many Discoveries necessary for upping your Licence, whether you’re gathering materials or hunting monsters, you’re going to need to travel around the continent. This is done by visiting the World Map, which contains many points to explore and pathways to reach them. Traveling from one point to another takes not only time, but also LP – run out of this and your characters will receive a stat penalty. Attack, Defence, and Speed can be affected, so knowing the most effective way to get to the locations you need to visit will assure that you become a top rank adventurer, and that you don’t waste your time getting beat up by monsters.
Something else that I’m sure you’ve caught onto by now is time, which plays heavily into both gameplay and story. As mentioned above, players have certain timeframes to reach specific adventurer ranks, and every action you take brings you closer to these dates. Whether you’re gathering, fighting, synthesising, or traveling, everything takes a specific number of days to complete. This makes time management an important skill while playing Atelier Totori, as players need to have smart gameplay in order to reach their goals. Balancing everything isn’t as hard as you’d think, but you need to keep your game plan in mind every time you boot it up.
Another interesting feature of Atelier Totori is its visuals, which often cause story scenes to feel like you are reading from a storybook. Your average cutscene shows a short interaction with the 3D character models, before the screen pauses, blurs slightly, and places the text in the bottom middle of the screen, with the characters involved in the scene on either the left or right as 2D anime drawings – similar in fashion to cutscenes in Record of Agarest War. These hand-crafted portraits will change their expressions and body language as well, matching the tone of their respective voice actors. To match this story-time feeling, the in-game character models have been cel-shaded to make them look like 3D cartoon characters. This effect is very nice to behold when mixed with the brilliant costume design, which sees characters donning elegant and lavish outfits, utilising regal cloaks, large bows, and other layer-based ensembles. The only thing that holds back the overall attractive experience is some frame rate issues, where the rate drops suddenly, making play appear as choppy pictures instead of smooth video. Strangely, it seems this issue only occurs when either you’re wandering a town or during cutscenes, as the frame rate in battles always seems fast and fluid.
One thing that is usually touch and go with JRPGs is audio, as titles usually sport bold music and questionable or cheesy voice acting. In terms of Atelier Totori though, both stand up pretty well. Different song types present themselves throughout the game, though most feature melodies on flutes. Some themes are bouncy and childish, while others are pumping and bold. With a slight French sound to it, this is one soundtrack that is going to stick with you and have you humming along. The voice acting is also superb, balancing great performances with that silly, childish tone one hears so often in English-dubbed animes. Thankfully, actors in this game keep their vocal style pinned down, staying under the threshold where it stops being cute and starts being painfully annoying. In most games of this nature there is that one character that makes you want to shove corks in your ears; Atelier Totori’s cast does a beautiful job that fits the game style devilishly well.
When the sun sets and this journey finally comes to an end, gamers will find Atelier Totori Plus: The Adventurer of Arland to be one rewarding experience. With a totally different, casual story, a very deep gameplay, storybook visuals, and pretty music, the game is sure to grow on many gamers. However, the laid back and somewhat realistic story is sure to upset some JRPG fans looking for the chance to save the world from yet another evil, and the laggy frame rate in some places will definitely break the immersion for many. These small flukes aside, Atelier Totori is still one heck of an entertaining journey that you really should take a look at. So what are you waiting for? Get your butt to Arland and start earning your keep, adventurers!
Final Score: 4.5 / 5.0 and the highest adventure rank obtainable.
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