Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland Review
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 3
Young Princess Meruru wants to get away from the confines of her castle walls and see the world; however, her father, the King of Arls, and her constantly-lecturing butler Rufus are having none of it, as a princess has her duties to the kingdom to perform. But when she meets the alchemist, Miss Totori, she decides that she too wants to learn the ways of the art. Miss Totori and Meruru devise a compromise to both fulfill her duties as a princess and apprentice as an alchemist by using alchemy to help the Kingdom of Arls prosper!
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is the third and final of the Atelier series of Japanese-style RPGs developed by Gust. It centers around the adventures of the young, enthusiastic, and often clumsy princess Meruru as she aspires to become a great alchemist like her teacher Totori Helmod (of the previous Atelier game, Atelier Totori: Adventurer of Arland). The game has many elements that will be familiar to fans of JRPGs, but also include some new features that keep the game fresh.
In order to succeed in Atelier Meruru, you not only need to accomplish quests that move you through the story towards the end-game, but you also need to help your kingdom grow and prosper while keeping its citizens happy. These goals are laid out to you fairly early in the game, with milestones such as meeting certain population growth requirements within a given amount of time, and ensuring that the citizens are kept content by completing quests and building the kingdom’s infrastructure (e.g. schools, libraries, farms, etc.) without letting them linger too long. Take too much time to complete your goals, and the citizens will grow unhappy; likewise, miss a population milestone and it’s all over: you’ll have to start from scratch.
It might sound as though you’re having to micro-manage a kingdom SimCity style while adventuring, but this isn’t the case, really. Quests, which can be given to you a number of ways, earn you experience points that level up your character, as well as development points that can be applied to building facilities for the kingdom. These quests can be assigned to you either by your butler and advisor, Rufus, or received in your mailbox as letters from various citizens asking for your help to perform tasks such as monster slaying, delivering supplies, and the like. Whenever you receive a task in your mailbox, you must first consult with Rufus so he can develop a plan of action for you. Rufus also acts as your consultant on using your development points for raising new buildings in the kingdom, so you’re not going out of your way in order to manage the development of Arls, as you’re going through a single point of contact. Get a new quest, see Rufus for an action plan, complete task, see Rufus for rewards/new action plans and growing your kingdom – wash, rinse, and repeat.
Atelier Meruru uses a time-based system where performing different actions such as moving across the world map, gathering items, synthesizing items, and battling enemies costs you a certain amount of time measured in hours and days. Your largest goals, primarily population growth, must be completed within a certain amount of time. For example, one of your earliest goals is to attain a population of 5,000 within a year’s time. This means that you need to maintain a balance of how much time you’re spending farming items or battling monsters with accomplishing quests in order to achieve your goals within the allotted timeframe.
Many of your quests require the use of your alchemy skills to complete. This mechanic, which has followed the Atelier series throughout, requires that you gather ingredients from around your kingdom for recipes to create more complex items such as potions and elixirs, building materials, weapons, and more. These goodies can be collected from the different areas that you’ll visit along the way, and are indicated by draw points visible by an icon showing that there is something of interest there. These draw points are randomized with elements that are indigenous to a specific area; so for instance, one area may have a specific type of mushroom, grass, and seed that lives in that specific part of the world, but when you gather from the draw point, you might only get the mushroom and seed, but not the grass, or any combination thereof.
You’ll find that you’ll have to frequent areas in order to maintain stock of commonly-used ingredients. While farming for materials is not an uncommon thing among RPGs, there is the slight annoyance with Atelier Meruru’s farming system is that once you have farmed all of the draw points in a particular spot, in order to replenish them you have to leave the area for another on the map before returning. This actually costs you about two days’ worth of in-game travel time, which, if you need a large number of items, can rapidly turn into weeks and can hamper your progress on goals and make your citizens unhappy. Another annoyance with gathering ingredients is the fact that there is no “take all” button, requiring you to select each item individually and put it in your basket. This makes the task of gathering items more menial than it has to be, and, when you’re farming a lot of materials, can get rather frustrating.
Fortunately, you’ll acquire some help later in the game through a pair of NPCs known as the Homs. The Homs are homunculi, alchemically created artificial humans that can be sent out to farm ingredients for you, or, if you so wish, be assigned to synthesize items instead. The Homs can take some of the burden of performing more frequent tasks off of your hands, but they do so more slowly than Meruru does, so you won’t be able to solely rely on them to do your work for you.
Gathering ingredients is only half of the equation to synthesizing elements. The other half involves the synthesis itself. As you level up, you’ll learn an ever-expanding set of recipes to create anything from potions, foods, and elixirs to heal yourself and your companions while you’re on your adventures, to everyday items such as planks of wood, blocks of stone, tools, and even weapons. Recipes will call out the different classes of ingredients you need in order to create your items. Sometimes you’ll need to actually synthesize more complex ingredients from the basic elements in order to acquire everything you required to create what you’re looking to make. This is done through a menu system that is fairly intuitive and basic to ensure that the player doesn’t have a lot of trouble figuring out what is needed, although it can be difficult at times to determine what class of ingredient is required if you run into something new, as it’s not always called out without having to look through the help pages in the game.
The quality of the items is determined by the quality of the ingredients that you’re using to create said item. While even poorer quality items can be substituted, they won’t have the same effect as those of good or superior quality. This is especially true when having to synthesize materials to deliver to someone to complete a quest. If you have low quality items, you will need to give them more to satisfy the quest requirements than of high quality goods. So, if you have to make items that require a lot of time and effort to gather the resources for, you’ll want to use the best quality ingredients that you can in order to make as few as possible so as to complete your given quest and save time.
Atelier Meruru’s battle system is a turn-based Time Card system. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, cards on the right side of the screen indicate the order in which all players on the field (both allied and enemy) will be taking their turn. This allows you to easily plan ahead and target enemies in order of who is attacking first. With the right strategy and combination of attacks, you can ensure that you’ll be able to take out your opponents relatively unscathed, or more ideally, without taking damage at all. Battle options vary depending on what characters you have in your party. Each character has the options to perform a basic attack, guard, or retreat. Each class has an additional option that can be offensive, defensive, or both. For example, Warrior class characters will generally have a Skill option that grants you access to more powerful attacks that use MP (Magic Points). Alchemists will generally have access to items that heal allies or do damage to enemies. Additional skillsets can also be available depending on who is in your party.
During battle, Meruru can receive assistance from her party when their assist gauge is full. This allows you to chain attacks together for additional damage. You can also use your members to defend yourself from an attack. Furthermore, depending on what offensive item is used in battle, you can chain attack combos to that as well. For example, Meruru uses a Salute (essentially, a big cannon); you’ll then be prompted to use the left or right shoulder buttons to add one of your allies to the attack. When that ally begins their attack, you can be prompted with whichever shoulder button you didn’t use previously. Once depressed, the second ally will begin their attack.
Like most traditional JRPGs, Atelier Meruru contains a rich and involving story with a number of subplots, both new and old. Many characters from the previous Atelier games return to assist or move the story along, and in turn add to the stories from the previous games. The most notable character returning to the series is Totori, the star of the previous installment, as Meruru’s alchemy teacher; however, other characters will eventually pop in for a quick hello, or may become a new source of tasks for you to take on later in the game.
Along the way, more characters are introduced and plotlines begin to develop in the form of basic cutscenes, featuring stills of the conversing characters, with dialogue streaming on the bottom of the screen and voice acting throughout. You will find it odd that a large number of the scenes feature voice acting, but not all, almost as though Gust or NIS ran out of budget before all of the dialogue could be completed. The only real complaint is that the growing frequency of these scenes, as you move further along in the story, gets to be annoying at times, with two to three scenes occurring almost back-to-back at certain points. While it does plenty to move the plot along, it begins to drag down on the game itself, and you’ll find yourself eventually fast-forwarding through in order to get back to playing. The voice acting that is present, however, is done quite well overall and is supported by solid, and oftentimes witty, writing. The game’s writers did a masterful job of inserting a fair amount of adult humor into the context, but not so overtly that the game would be inappropriate for younger eyes and ears. At times you’ll find yourself doing a double-take and thinking to yourself, “Did they just say what I think they said?”
The cutscenes, as well as the rest of the game, feature some beautiful art. In-game elements are 3D rendered and toon shaded to give Atelier Meruru a real anime look and feel. Bright and vivid colors adorn just about every surface of the game, even in the darker quarters, making Atelier Meruru something pleasant for the eyes to take in. Monsters, at their most menacing, are drawn to look cutesy, and sometimes downright adorable. This adds to part of the comedy that’s sprinkled throughout the game, especially when Meruru exclaims that she’s never seen such a vicious looking creature, only to find that the horrible beast is a bunny rabbit carrying a turnip. Be careful, those bunnies can be quite vicious!
For any fan of JRPGs, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is a fantastic game to sit down with. While your initial playthrough might be frustrating (as you’ll likely fail unless you have a walkthrough next to you), and the cutscenes can sometimes slow down the pace, the game sports quite a bit of replayability and features some memorable characters and moments on the journey. If you’re a fan of the genre, or are looking for a first step into it, Atelier Meruru is most definitely a choice game to grab.
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland receives a 4.0/5.0.
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