(www.nisamerica.com/games/atelier-totori/)Rated T for Teens by ESRB. The most cherished series by Gust and NIS is back again, and only after one short year. Atelier Totori is a direct sequel to last year’s Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, here with another dose of anime personality and more cauldrons stirring. And for fans of developer Gust, 2011 is quite a blessed year, having Atelier Totori only months after Ar Tonelico Qoga. As for fans of RPG in general, having Atelier series’ choices and options should be a welcomed alternative to single-tracked world saving.
This Atelier is yet another personal story, to be explored and experienced in Totori’s shoes. Totori, who is a young girl like all other Atelier series’ protagonists, has her own unique flavor as a heroine. Although Totori’s personality doesn’t stand out like characters often found in anime or like the leads in Gust’s other works, her strong resolve leads the game all the way through regardless of the path she ends up on. Totori uses alchemy as a tool to help achieve her dream – finding her missing mother as an adventurer.
Although all the character stories are optional and the player may take Totori wherever they like, the characters’ genuine drive and desire are reason enough to help them along their goals. Through the 5 years in-game time allotted by the game, Totori also matures as she becomes experienced in adventuring. This growing up theme was also apparent in Atelier Rorona, and Rorona the character maybe a bit of a let down for those who liked her in her own game as she regressed a little since then.
While the visuals come from a combination of cel-shaded models, hand-drawn character portrays and background – rare sight on the PS3 – everything is notably crisper than last year’s Atelier Rorona. Yet, it maintains the cutesy looks the series often recognized for, even with the characters having slightly more realistic proportions in their 3D models than the average cartoon or anime character. This cuteness is reflected in many of its designs, for example, even the mean-looking and quiet swordsman has a bow on the back of his black trench coat. On the other hand, the characters portrays make the dialogue reading more pleasant with their numerous expressions, especially since the English voice over is limited.
Gust’s sound team once again created another excellent soundtrack. Atelier Totori’s music has the simplistically pleasant and melodic qualities like Atelier Rorona’s soundtrack by Ken Nakagawa. But with Kazuki Yanagawa (also credited in Ar tonelico Qoga), the two composers for this soundtrack bring a lot more energy into the music so even the simplest activity like grass picking is accompanied by a little bit of cleverness. More importantly, the numerous arrangements and unique tracks for all the different areas of the game is the reason that makes revisits appreciated.
The battle music follow a different direction, most go through stages of varying number of instruments but the intensity is always consistently high. Despite the battles are kept relatively simple, the level of cinematic quality of the music alone will drive the battle and clearly indicate the difficulty of that fight. For those with ears for good music, tracking down the optional bosses to listen and unlock their unique track is a simple must.
Like Atelier Rorona, Atelier Totori comes with both English and Japanese voice acting, a much appreciated gesture for the fans. While the English voice over doesn’t cover many of the minor dialogues, the Japanese voices do and it’s worthwhile just to hear the shopkeepers talk.
It might take a tranquil mind to truly enjo y the charm of a true Atelier game, as it is again centered on item gathering and making rather than combat and violence. In fact, combat has gotten as simple as it can be – just the basics of any turn-based RPG battles. Besides the few non-upgradable skills and leveling, the combat capability of Totori’s party is solely dependant upon the player’s prowess with alchemy as the best items, weapons, armors, and accessories are all made by item synthesis.
Alchemy is the meat of the game, and it is still far more in-depth than anything else to be found on a console system. Learning to do it is rather simple, as it is just choosing a few items and getting a product out of it. Making a good item, however, is another story. Each ingredient comes with a quality score as well as traits. The quality score of the final product affects its overall effectiveness, while the traits can add invaluable auxiliary effects. With well over 150 traits available, putting together a great utility item is just as entertaining as seeing it in action. Besides, it is beyond rewarding to use a recovery item that not only heals both hp and mp but also bestow multiple buffs, and it’s only possible due to the player’s efforts. There is one minor problem though: the explanation of the traits is only available after item synthesis and in the game’s library, and so there’s no way to tell what all the traits do while looking at the item or its ingredients.
But of course, alchemy isn’t just for making tools of war even if it is a good idea to outfit Totori and friends. Story progression is driven by a point system. In order for Totori to gain higher adventurer ranking and reach new areas, she must complete tasks listed in her adventurer license. There are all sorts of tasks listed in the license and so the player has a range of choices as to which areas to spend more time on. However, a majority of the first half is still spent running simple quests, like fetching or making a particular item, or killing several monsters.
Although unique compared in-genre as well as between genres, Atelier Totori comes with no mindblowing surprises for those who had played Atelier Rorona or any of the alchemy-heavy Atelier games. But it stands well on its own, with polished alchemy system and inventory search, light but genuine story that can strike a heartfelt smile or tear, and short simple battles that don’t distract from item gathering and alchemy.
The game clocks in at around 40-50 hours, which is a fairly typical length for an RPG. But there is a lot more to do beyond satisfying the basic requirement for one ending. For example, getting friendly with other companions and seeing the endings associated with them. For a good test of alchemy skills, there are difficult optional bosses that will require extra preparations.