Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland review
A One-Of-It's-Kind JRPG
- Deep (and addictive) crafting system which rewards those who show true devotion towards it
- Fun characters
- Returning characters are sure to please any fan
- Neck-deep character sub-plots
- Laid back slice-of-life story helps set the stage for the characters
- New development aspect adds to the already deep game
- Battles never get old
- All party members are viable, even at end-game
- An abundance of anime-style graphical cuteness
- Multiple endings and many different ways to play = Lots of replay value!
- Great OST
- Fairly hit-or-miss localization
- Fixed time limit may add unease to the experience
- An abundance of anime-style graphical cuteness...
- Story doesn't get very epic under most ending circumstances and feels fairly slow at times
The thirteenth installment in the Atelier series and the last but not least of the Arland trilogy doesn't fail to deliver.
Atelier Meruru stars the sunny and energetic princess Merurulince Rede Arls, Meruru for short, of course. The main, overarching plot revolves around her misadventures in which she makes use of alchemy to help the kingdom of Arls reach prosperity. She is mentored by previous heroine, Totori (which is sure to please any fan of the previous two installments). Meruru meets many other recurring faces throughout the story, each with their own new stories to tell.
I would go crazy too if everyone called Meruru by her full name.
Most of the game's minor, character focused scenes take place with character cut-outs. All of the actual cutscenes use the in-game engine.
The story is primarily slice-of-life. If you do not know what this is (shame on you!) it is basically much more relaxed and casual way of looking at a character's life; most of their actions revolve around their own and their friend's personal issues and how they get resolved in the end. The story can get fairly epic and fantasy-like at some points, but the real strength of the game's storytelling comes from Meruru's interactions with her fellow party members. Some scenes can make a big impact on the viewer because of this. Although I'm not proud to admit it, I started to well up at a scene or two. If you're looking for a sweeping, exciting fantasy story you might not find that here, but if you want a more casual and laid-back story you'll be able to enjoy this game to the fullest.
Like previous installments, all of the major characters have their own friendship level. Upgrading this level (to a maximum of a hundred) enhances their ability in battle (which I will explain later) and allows you to see more of their scenes. These scenes will only appear once certain prerequisites are fulfilled, either by crafting/finding the character an item, raising their friendship level and much more. The scenes help flesh out the characters more, as the main story doesn't really fill in the gaps of their backstories very much. Trophies and gallery illustrations are awarded for each character whose scenes have all been viewed, giving any trophy/collectable hoarder something to strive for.
Even if you missed out on the previous games, it's fairly easy to understand what is happening thanks to a prologue on the main screen which outlines the main events of the previous games. Of course, the best way to experience the game is to have played the previous two installments, but it doesn't detract from the overall experience otherwise.
Most of the Atelier series fame comes from the deep crafting system. Every item, whether it was synthesized or not, has traits and a quality level. These item characteristics almost always transfer into what they're being turned into (after all, the basic laws of chemistry state that what you end with will always be what you start with, but let's not get too nerdy about this). This means you can continuously craft certain ingredients to create your perfect item or weapon. Almost everything in this game (excluding field materials) can be crafted; whether it be a stat-enhancing accessory, an ingot used for creating a weapon, or a pie. Yes, you can make pies in this game! If that is not a valid selling point for a game, then you have clearly not right in the head. Every item you craft costs you some of Meruru's MP, and if you try to craft something without sufficient MP... Well, let's just say a nuclear explosion isn't even as horrid as a fate as to what will occur afterwards.
Item quality level and the traits the item have are clearly visible. Items with a quality of 1 are the worst and the ones with a quality of 120 are the best.
Most of the game's gathering occurs outside Arls' walls, on fields. The world map is fairly large, with over thirty gathering spots in total. It will cost you in-game days to traverse across the expansive map. Planning ahead instead of aimlessly wandering the world map is a must in this game. This may get complicated and off putting for most, but thankfully you have the means as to gathering (and synthesizing) items without even having to get off your princessly behind to do it yourself later on in the game.
The game's battle system has been improved. This game introduces a timeline bar to battle. Each action your party members do will affect how far their turn goes down the timeline, with some moves taking away more time than most. Some special MP moves on some characters can move enemies further down the line, as well. This adds a lot of depth to the combat aspect of the game. Certain buildings can be constructed to increase XP gain in battle. Each character apart from Meruru learns a super-move at around level 35, and it can be performed by filling up a guage to the left of the character's portrait in battle. XP is automatically shared between your allies as long as you have the buildings that allow you to do so.
The new timeline bar can be viewed to the right side of the screen.
A big part of battles is the assist feature. Every character has a little bar to the right of their portrait in battle. When this bar fills, they can do one assist action. There are two assist actions; one for offense and one for defense. If Meruru lobs an attack item at the enemy, your other party members can follow up the attack as long as they have the meter to do so. Simply press the button prompt for the character to perform it. The same applies to an assist guard. If an enemy is about to attack Meruru, any of the other two party members can guard the incoming attack with added defense. A major part of battle is deciding whether to use your assist points on offense or defense. When you level up your party member's friendship level, their assist meter fills up at a quicker rate.
Meruru is the most offense proficient alchemist in the Arland trilogy. The passive abilities she earns by leveling up promote the use of attack items. Only alchemist type characters can use items (i.e. Meruru and Totori). Preparing these attack items to the fullest can lead to a huge damage count, and this, in turn, makes both the battle and crafting system go perfectly hand-in-hand. The only way to craft weapons and armor to synthesize the materials into ingots or thread, too.
The new development aspect pits the player against different tasks. These tasks vary; they can be as simple as 'Defeat five Bugs' or as daunting and complicated as 'Synthesize 5 Witch Salves w/ Inflict Sleep.' If you do not fulfill the requirements of a crafting task, you will have to craft a lot more of the item, which will leave a lasting impact on the amount of in-game time you have left. You can either craft 5 of an item with the trait or 50 of the item without it; it's your call. Completing these development quests nets you development points. The main goal of the game is to raise Arls' population, and you can create buildings with these development points to help aid the population growth. Some buildings will also help character growth as well; building an Academy, for example, makes alchemy easier by reducing the cost of MP an item requires. Most of the income comes from separate gathering/kill x amount of y quests in the tavern, so finding a good balance between development and tavern quests is essential for success.
Spend your development points wisely; you certainly won't have enough to buy everything in a single playthrough unless you are the god of multi-tasking.
You will need to take every action into account before you put it into motion; there is a fixed time limit for the game. You're free to do whatever you like until the deadlines and depending on how you go about throughout the game, you'll end up with a different ending. The time limit may dishearten you and make the game feel much more tense than you would think, but New Game+ and multiple endings help relieve it and add a lot of replay value into the game.
The game's graphics are typical anime-style fare; opinions may vary about it. The graphics are still a large improvement over the previous games. In Atelier Rorona, the character models were fairly unproportioned in comparison to character age and artwork but in Meruru they get it just right. The style of the graphics really match the light tone of the game, but once again, the cutesy anime-style might not be your cup of tea.
There is really no need to explain this image. It is fairly self-explanatory.
The soundtrack is great. That's all I have to say about it.
Okay, okay, I'll explain further. The light-hearted tunes the game has to offer match the more relaxed theme of the game. A lot of the tracks revolve around a single tune (which is fairly common now; a la Persona), but they never really get old. I found myself the victim of humming and 'la-ing' incessantly to the soundtrack even after hearing the same tunes over and over again. There are a few 'meh' tracks in the OST, but the good tracks simply outweigh the bad ones.
The localization (i.e. English voice acting and translation) is either hit-or-miss.They really scratched up Meruru's english voice; it isn't as exciting and energetic as the japanese voice is. There are a few stand-outs despite the overall job of the english voice acting, though. Thankfully you can switch voice language whenever you like. The translation has few engrish lines are present here-and-there, but most if not almost all of the lines are completely coherent and flow correctly.
The game is fairly tame in comparison to much more hardcore JRPGs, but there are a few end-game bosses that need an insane amount of preparation to defeat. Both the casual and hardcore crowd will find something in this game.
This game is near perfection. I had very few complaints about this game, but I still find that this could shape up to be one of the best JRPGs on the PS3 to this date. Give this game a whirl if it appeals to your niche; you won't regret it!
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