Atelier games slot into the “cute girls doing cute things” genre of Japanese storytelling. Here we learn alchemy, fight squishy monsters, and help the locals. With lots of titles in the franchise, it can be hard to know which to play first. Trying to lessen the difficulty of that choice is this reincarnation of an older collection, the Atelier Arland Series Deluxe Pack.
The Atelier Arland trio started life in 2009 with Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland. Not long after we got two sequels, Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland and Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland. They’ve certainly been given a lot of love over the years. Enhanced Plus versions of each game added events, dungeons, and costumes, as well as a bundle on PlayStation 3 being released a few years back.
So, what about the Deluxe Pack, then? Well, they’re pretty much just ports of the Plus editions, with cleaner visuals and most of the DLC thrown in, although, Atelier Rorona fans should note that extra content from the 3DS version is not included. Meanwhile, Atelier Meruru enthusiasts get two new events and an end credits scene. As a nice touch, it’s possible to buy these titles separately, or in the discounted Deluxe Pack bundle. There’s no need to go through them all if only one catches your eye.
Anyway, the Atelier Arland games focus on Rorona, Totori, and Meruru – each becoming the teacher of the next. Rorona is simply trying to keep her alchemy shop from being shut down. Totori aims to be a top-tier adventurer in order to search for her lost mother. Finally, Meruru is a princess looking to raise the prosperity in her kingdom through alchemy. I really appreciate how these games don’t force you to play in order to enjoy the stories or mechanics, though doing so definitely gives an appreciation of how the world and characters develop over time.
The core gameplay remains the same, no matter which you play. Start by exploring the world, gathering ingredients, and fighting monsters. The map consists of tiny areas to traverse, the amount of which increases throughout the playthrough. Combat is turn-based, with the main character being weak compared to her skilled teammates. She does have use of whatever’s in her basket though, such as bombs, and healing equipment. Also, enemies make a fart sound when they die. It’s not important, I’m just immature enough to notice, find it funny, and point it out here. You’re welcome.
Gathered materials can then be synthesized together through alchemy. These help in combat as well as items required for fulfilling story and side-quests. Depending on the quality and traits of the original items, the final product can change in usefulness. For example, two level C materials that have separate trails of extra HP and Fire resistance could result in a B level product with both traits. That’s as in-depth as crafting gets in the Atelier Arland games. As a result, the Arland series one of the easier entry points, due to future titles making alchemy more complicated to master.
A slightly more unique feature is the time limits. While present in other titles, Arland’s implementation is thought to provide the most challenge. Everything you do takes up precious amounts of time, from crafting and exploring to regaining lost health. Fail deadlines and it’s all over, for the protagonists and you. The mechanic comes with less freedom, but the pressure also gives much more focus to the gameplay.
Atelier Rorona actually serves as a good first entry for coping with the time limits. Constant deadlines make things manageable while having the advantage of being a good distraction from the general lack of depth. There are also some nice benefits to completing side quests, including weapons and stat boosts. Beware the fixed camera, though. It’s a feature of all three Atelier Arland games but is most notable in the first one you play. Trying to explore 3D environments that contain wandering monsters feels rather stinted until you get used to it.
Meanwhile, Atelier Totori doesn’t give multiple mini-deadlines, but three whole years to get good. There’s more room to do what you want here. However, you’re kind of left to float around in limbo until the story kicks in. My main grievance, however, comes from the menus. They take a step back from the clarity of Atelier Rorona, giving less information and, at times, cramming everything together so it’s difficult to read. I can’t help but wonder why these weren’t changed for the DX version to give new players a smoother experience.
Atelier Meruru takes the best bits from the previous games. The focus is on building facilities for the kingdom that happen to give you helpful extras, such as non-party members still gaining exp. Sure there are deadlines to hit, but this time I did quests because I wanted to, not just because the game said I had to. Note that I did encounter a few graphical issues, though. Just the occasional screen flicker, and enemy glitching against stuff. It’s still a little disappointing to see in the re-release of an enhanced version.
When it comes down to it, Atelier Arland Series Deluxe Pack simply contains ports with updated graphics. There’s little here for returning players, while those new to the franchise would be better starting with recent titles thanks to more in-depth content and less niggly issues – such as the fixed camera.
That’s not to say that the collection isn’t worth playing. It certainly gave me my Atelier fix while waiting for the next game, with whimsical characters and stories that I’ve come to know and love. So if you enjoy the series and haven’t gotten around to this group of games yet, Atelier Arland Series Deluxe Pack makes for as good an excuse as any to get back into the alchemy groove.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A review copy was provided to us by Koei Tecmo.
Atelier Arland Series Deluxe Pack is the ultimate way to experience these Atelier titles, even if there isn’t much here to entice returning players.