Sunday, 15 September 2013

Atelier Meruru:The Apprentice Of Arland

Gamespot Score: 5.0 (Mediocre....WHAT F**KING GIVES!?)  

My Score: 8.5

(+) Pros: - Everything is further improved from "Atelier Totori", - Some great story bits towards the end, - Even more characters, both old and new, more than any of the other games before it, -Time is way less of an issue this time round,  - Best battle system among the 3 games in the series, - UI design has been VASTLY improved, - Less endings but character events have been generalized for convenience, - Best soundtrack in the series, especially the ones used for boss battles.

(-) Cons: - You need to play more than once to have the FULL experience (unlike previous games), - Stupidly easy for the first year or so.

Gameplay time: About 30 hours

The reason why I looked up the "Atelier Arland" series was for "Atelier Totori", so much that I went to get "Atelier Rorona". About the time I got Totori, "Atelier Meruru" was announced, and well, since its a sequel, I got it too. I didn't let the Gamespot score persuade me (what was with that anyway?), and honestly, I'm glad that was the case. I enjoyed the living shit out of "Atelier Meruru", way more than the previous 2 games, yes, even more than "Atelier Totori". I played the game twice (two very THOROUGH playthroughs mind you, not just regular ones), and I never looked back. "Atelier Meruru" is the best game of the "Atelier Arland", and considering that it was the final game in the series, they really went all out.

You play as Merurulince Rede Arls, also known as Meruru, the princess of a kingdom known as Arls. Meruru recently just picked up alchemy, being taught by none other than Totoria Helmond, protagonist of the previous game. Arls is going through a merger stage, where it needs to undergo constant development, so Meruru becoming an alchemist was not part of her father, lord Dessier's plans. He was against her becoming an alchemist, and sketched up a plan for her to follow. If she were to use alchemy to develop Arls into a successful kingdom, she would be allowed to study under Totori as an apprentice. Being the steadfast reckless princess she is, she immediately agrees to it. By playing a part in alchemy, she has to has to develop her kingdom into a strong independent country that can stand to the metropolis that is Arland.

Yes! Banzai!

Like when "Atelier Rorona" transitioned to "Atelier Totori", you can feel a sense of improvement when you transition to "Atelier Meruru". The graphics remain mostly the same however but many other things seem different right off that bat. No more Alanya, no more Arland, Meruru's game takes place in a brand new area known as Arls, the very kingdom she resides in. Arls is a under-developed kingdom, so its different from the busy Arland or the quiet Alanya. The atmosphere is different, and in my opinion, its the best among the three games yet. Battle is further improved, friendship among friends is easier to maintain, there are less restrictions.... everything just seems to be better this time around.

Game flow is surprisingly similar, but priority of things have taken a turn. You still perform quests for popularity, you synthesize stuff for your friends to improve friendship, you move out of town to defeat monsters. However, as you play Meruru, a princess of Arls, and not a regular adventurer (Totori) or an alchemist trying to save her Atelier (Rorona), your primary role of developing a kingdom, feels a lot more different than anything you would have done in previous games. To develop areas, you move to undeveloped land and focus on delivering items that can help out in development. Such include items to cultivate the land, drive away monsters or to clear obstacles. You then use development points earned to build facilities in the mainland for more benefits. In a way, it becomes a little bit like "Sim City", as you have to keep track of population and popularity....

Alchemy 101: How to make a healing salve.

Alchemy still plays as the catalyst that brings everything together, and thus its one of the core gameplay elements that you have to master. Thankfully it remains mostly similar to that of previous games, not much has changed. You mix different ingredients together to create something brand new. Better ingredients spawn better quality of the end products, and you can carry over traits from your ingredients to the end products as well. Its a pretty deep system, but since I have already explained it before in my review for "Atelier Totori", lets just leave it at that. Your items can be registered at Pamela's store for replication, so it takes away some of the repetition of creating essential alchemy items over and over.

As the 3rd and final game in the series, "Atelier Meruru" has more characters that you can interact with than any of the previous games. New characters take the stage, but old characters from both "Atelier Rorona" and "Atelier Totori" also make a comeback, making this current cast of characters quite an interesting mash-up. Everyone getting together always makes for some crazy shenanigans, and these guys stay true to their character, so watching some scenes between them can be rather interesting. More character interaction equals more cut scenes, more friendship events, and overall just more fun! 

Here's Mimi and Gino again, both looking older, but they still haven't matured one bit....

Another piece of good news is that the time management system gets WAY more lenient this time around. In "Atelier Meruru", time is least concerning here when in comparison to the past 2 games. Why? Quests no longer have a time limit, and your time milestones are set within YEARS. What's more, after the first half of the game, time is no longer an issue at all during the second half, so you get to enjoy the game at your own pace, without the bullshit restrictions of the past! However, managing everything between friend requests and reaching the population limit within the entire game's time-span can still be a challenge.

Battle has also been further improved, making it the best out of the 3 games when it comes to combat with our heroines. While you leave Arls to different locations to search for materials or develop areas, Meruru is given the choice to take 2 escorts out of town. These escorts are your party members, and like in previous games, you can't have more than 2 with you at once. Considering who to bring with you can be a daunting task, since each and every party members has their strengths and weaknesses. A cool new add-on is that with the proper developed facilities, you can have all your benched party members gain exp when they aren't in battle.

All hail the Sterk man!

Like in before, Meruru acts as an item user, while your escorts do the fighting. With characters like Totori and Rorona in your party, you get 3 item users, so there's that, but the core concept remains the same. Characters gain skills and super moves as they level up, and they can use these in battle to crush enemies. HP is your health, MP is mana, and LP acts as stamina for your characters to fight. You can follow up with Meruru's attack items for some dynamic combos, so there's that. Also, with more bosses and strong enemies than in previous games, "Atelier Meruru" is the game for battle (at least in the series)! Throw in some epic boss battle tunes and you get some truly epic fights!

Lets talk about something simple for now, the UI. The UI in previous games have been rather...lacking, and to be honest, it still isn't godlike, but its a lot better, ESPECIALLY for battles. Menus are easily more navigate-able, and tool tips are everywhere. It easily makes the game more informative than it needs to be, but it works, and it works well. They've also slightly toned down the number of endings available, for good purpose. In previous games, each character had a specific ending, now they just included these so called character "endings" into their core events. This is easily more convenient as one, we can see all character endings in a single go, and two, its less endings to sit through the credits for.

Behold the gigantic tree monster....
Admittedly, the game is too easy, especially for the first year or so. For veterans, this game will be a breeze. There are times where you realize that there is nothing for you to do, that means that you've progressed too quickly for the game. I've run into this many times into the game UNTIL after the halfway point before things get busy again. Another thing that bugs me is that I have to play the game through twice to see everything. In previous games I've been trying to get full complete single playthroughs (succeeded on those), but in this game, your first playthrough is technically for naught as you can't get a few of the endings (the true ending included). 

As the final game of the series, I think "Atelier Meruru" does a fantastic job closing the book. I'm not even going to rant about the Gamespot score (because its obviously ridiculous on how they arrived to that conclusion), but I'd say that the "Atelier Arland" series was an amazing one for me. I enjoyed myself through every single bit of it, and watching these characters grow was really a great experience. I was fortunate enough to experience the full journey of alchemy with Rorona, Totori and Meruru, something I never did before with the franchise (I never player "Atelier Iris", but played "Atelier Iris 2 & 3". I played "Mana Khemia", but not "Mana Khemia 2"). Well, I'm glad that I did.

Happy gaming!