The world of Japanese RPGs can appear impenetrable to the uninitiated, with there often seeming to be so many games getting released that one would have to make it their full-time job just to keep up with them all – and that’s not even including the multitude of games that don’t see a release in the West! If one does plan on getting into the Japanese RPG scene though, there are far worse places to start than Atelier Rorona Plus. Atelier Rorona Plus is a remake of the 2010 Atelier Rorona, and the fact that such a recent game warrants a remake (and that the remake was thought worth releasing over here) is a testament to its high regard among fans of the genre. Although I had not played the original, some of the complaints commonly levelled at it included sometimes confusing gameplay and a strong emphasis on luck – Plus address these issues while also sprucing up the graphics and adding in extra content. Atelier Rorona is part of the extensive Atelier series of games (according to everyone’s favourite online encyclopaedia, currently up to a whopping 16 games – not including side games and remakes!), most of which fall directly into the niche of “cute anime girls do cute alchemic things” – one needs no knowledge of the other games in the series to appreciate Atelier Rorona.
Atelier Rorona Plus is set in the mystical world of Arland, and the player takes on the role of a cure girl named Rorona who is forced by her lazy boss to take over the alchemy workshop she works in. One of the stand-out features of this game is its beautiful artstyle. While those vehemently opposed to doe-eyed anime girls aren’t likely to be converted, those who already enjoy (or at least tolerate) the anime style are going to be very impressed here. While some Japanese RPGs deliberately opt for a more zany cartoony style, such as Mugen Souls Z, Atelier Rorona Plus feels more like a work of art. The fully animated anime opening sets the tone of the game as cute and relaxing, with no focus on any kind of battles but instead opting to depict pretty girls surrounded by alchemic vials. The game’s soundtrack is very appropriate to its atmosphere, with relaxing flute tracks played while Rorona and her friends chat or when you’re pottering around. During more intense moments (such as in battle) it does swell into more exciting fantasy music, though it never becomes too serious (you won’t be finding any One-Winged Angel pieces here!).
Typical to the Japanese RPG, there are frequent visual novel-type segments of extended dialogue, but the attractive character sprites, likeable characters, mild but enjoyable humour, and quality voice acting and stop these from becoming a bore. On the subject of voice acting, the game offers the much-coveted option of choice between a Japanese and English-language dub, allowing both Japonophiles and dub fans to have their preferred alternative. The gameplay involves walking around the map, talking to other characters and collecting ingredients to use in your alchemy. The interesting aspect of Atelier Rorona Plus is its synthesis system, through which you use alchemic powers to fuse ingredients together to create items – these items might be required for the fulfilment of quests, or can be used as ingredients to do further synthesizing. This synthesizing is surprisingly addictive and you’re sure to find yourself spending inordinate amounts of time working out the best way to combine different items. Battling occurs when you’re out in the field collecting the ingredients needed for synthesis and is the usual RPG fare, with not much distinguishing it from the standard want you to check things like this to make sure no reviewers say “the battling is amazing” because then it might sound weird if your review says it’s just standard – doubt there will be anything though. Unlike in most RPGs, however, the penalty for losing battles is not death and a game over, but merely that the characters run out of energy and are forced to return to town to sleep off their fatigue. What is an enjoyable part of the battles in Atelier Rorona Plus is that you can choose from an increasing range of characters (more becoming available as you progress through the game) to hire to join you out in the field, allowing the player to focus on their particular favourites.
While newbs to the Japanese RPG scene shouldn’t be put off from playing Atelier Rorona Plus, it is those who already know and love this type of game that will get the most out of it. While no elements of the gameplay are likely to blow you away in terms of originality, it does what it does well, and the relaxing but engaging unfolding of the story will keep you coming back. I know that the game has successfully converted me, and I’ll doubtless be buying more games in the Atelier series in the future!
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