This has been an incredible year for Atelier fans. A few months after the arrival of Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World, fans can now throw themselves back into this charming world with Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, which has much more in common with the mainline series than Nelke, which seemed more concerned with world management than the usual alchemical-related adventures. And here’s the best part: If you’ve never played a single entry in the long-running series, Atelier Lulua offers perhaps the best point of entry for newcomers, though the reasons for its approachability may cause hardcore fans to throw up their hands in frustration (I’ll touch on that more in a bit). While it doesn’t necessarily do anything revolutionary with the formula the series has followed for years, Scion of Arland offers up a charming, laid-back adventure that acts as a perfect palate cleanser between more demanding JRPGs.
Although I’d read about the Atelier series in passing over the years, I didn’t feel the urge to jump into the franchise until the games started arriving on the PlayStation 4. My knee-jerk reaction to the art style and gameplay, however, caused me to stay far, far away until someone told me that I needed to swallow my misguided machismo and sink my teeth in what would ultimately become a very satisfying experience, namely Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book. Trying to accurately explain why this game managed to hook me proves difficult, so I’ll say this: Atelier Sophie is just tons of fun. If you can look beyond the anime-infused characters, the deeply goofy story, and an art style that makes you feel as though you’re playing with your sister’s paper doll collection, you’ll discover a game that’s both rewarding and satisfying in equal measure. Sure, it’s almost simple to a fault, but that’s part of the appeal. Fortunately, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland doesn’t stray too far from what makes the series work so well, though the game’s simplification of said formula could alienate some fans.
Atelier Lulua picks up after the conclusion of Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, though you don’t necessarily need to complete that title to enjoy Scion of Arland. That said, you will appreciate some of the lore, relationships, and references if you swing back to previous Arland installments, which recently arrived in a “remastered” edition on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Players assume the role of apprentice alchemist Elmerulia Frixell (aka Lulua), whose mother featured in the aforementioned Arland games. Although she’s a pretty solid alchemist in her own right, Lulua wants to surpass the skills of her teacher, as well as her mom, a world-renowned alchemist known for her ability to slap together some pretty nifty recipes. Naturally, Lulua wants to escape this shadow and venture out on her own, and she begins to do so with the help of a magical book called “Alchemyriddle” (aka Riddle), which provides her with some convenient assistance whenever it helps push the story forward. Confused yet? Don’t be. The narrative isn’t nearly as complicated as I’m making it sound.
Scion of Arland unfolds in a very episodic nature. Each chapter presents a series of challenges that Lulua and her companions need to overcome, most of which involve deciphering clues to recipes found in the mysterious Alchemyriddle. The book will provide some vague (but simple) hints to the places you need to visit, resulting in a scavenger hunt-style adventure that’s sandwiched between heading back to the atelier wagon to craft items you’ll need for your adventures and smacking around various monsters and villains in industry-standard turn-based combat. Nothing in the game feels overly complex, and you’ll soon find yourself mastering the loop as you blast through puzzles, enemies, and story beats to push Lulua toward her final goal. While Atelier Lulua doesn’t throw any serious challenges at you, the game provides a suitable level of pure, uncut fun, which allows you to forgive it for becoming an absolute cakewalk once you’ve hit a certain level. Again, the game wants you to have a more laid-back experience, as opposed to punishing you with crippling combat and puzzles.
By the third chapter, chances are that you will know whether you’re in this for the proverbial long haul. Because as much fun as those first three chapters might initially feel, the gameplay does grow a little stale, and those hoping for some added late-game mechanics will walk away with a serious case of disappointment. Personally, I didn’t mind the fact that the game essentially peaks long before the story comes to a close; doing side quests, grinding for levels, and heading into the final battles with a seriously overpowered squadron always feels great to me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good challenge (though my blood pressure might disagree with that bold statement), I like the feeling that my heroes have battled through an endless array of monsters and villains to come out as full-on badasses capable of laying waste to whatever nefarious creature lurks at the climax. It’s why I spent hours grinding in Persona 3, and it’s why I spent way too much time screaming toward the highest levels before finishing Dragon Quest XI’s endgame content. I just like the rush it provides.
Now, this is where things get a little dicey for long-time fans. If you’d hoped that Atelier Lulua continued in the series’ grand tradition of time limits, you’re in for yet another overwhelming deluge of crushing disappointment. Scion of Arland does away with time limits entirely; you can spend as many hours roaming the landscape in search of ingredients as you like without an ounce of worry. This greatly contributes to the game’s laid-back atmosphere, as you’ll never have to concern yourself with keeping track of how long it will take to craft a whole mess of bombs and/or medicine to use in combat. In fact, I’m not entirely sure why Scion of Arland keeps track of time to begin with, as it adds nothing whatsoever to the story or the gameplay. Is it nice to know that it takes Lulua and her merry band of anime tropes days to run from one part of the map to another? Meh, not really. If nothing else, it makes you realize how silly it is to spend two months between accepting a mission and completing it. I’m sure some of those adorable NPCs didn’t appreciate that I took several long weeks to complete some arbitrary task they’d given me, but I suppose that’s what you get when you allow an alchemist to wander around the countryside without limit.
Fortunately, none of these little nits I feel like picking really detract from Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland and its unstoppable ability to provide light-hearted shenanigans in a colorful, anime-soaked universe. Hell, I even kept returning to various towns and shops to check out various cut scenes involving Lulua and her buddies, and even the cheesiest moments felt genuinely entertaining. Minus the lack of time constraint and the addition of a fresh coat of paint, Atelier Lulua doesn’t stray too far from the formula fans have come to expect from the series, and in many ways, that’s perfectly okay. While I’d usually chastise a game for merely resting on its laurels by sticking to the same script time and time again, I really don’t think Gust and Koei Tecmo need to change things up too much just for the sake of reinvention. If Scion of Arland proves nothing else, it’s that some franchises truly hit their stride a long time ago, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sticking with what works as long as fans are happy with the final product. Atelier, please don’t ever change — unless you happen upon a stronger recipe.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A review copy was provided to us by Koei Tecmo.