Backlog Review: Atelier Totori
Playing new games is overrated. Here’s a review of something I played semi-recently instead. Check it out. Or don’t. Read on to find out.
As much as I want to, I can’t play every game series. That’s the harsh reality of my life. So it goes. Every so often I’ll see internet-goers talking about a series I’ve never played and take notice, make a mental note to look into it, and go about my business. Certain niches of the internet are quite fond of the Atelier games, a series I was completely unfamiliar with. So next time I browsed a game store and saw Atelier Rorona (and later Totori) for $20, I figured “what the hell?” and went for it. After sitting in my pile of “Games to Play Next” for a few months, I finally dove into the Atelier series.
The focal point of the Atelier games is its Alchemy system: craft items by combining other items. It’s a bit more involved than that, but that’s the gist of it. Each game weaves alchemy into its storyline in different ways, whether it’s reinvigorating the economy of Arland and saving your workshop, becoming an great adventurer, or developing the kingdom further. Atelier Totori uses the adventurer excuse. Totori is a young girl who aspires to search for her missing mother, a world famous adventurer, by becoming one herself. Along the way she meets new friends, leaves her tiny, rural hometown, and sets out on her own journey. It’s kind of like a coming-of-age story, just more lighthearted and less dramatic than I’m used to seeing, but that’s definitely not a bad thing.
Where Atelier Totori really shines is in the freedom it gives the player. The only main goals of the game are to rank up your adventurer’s license and to discover the whereabouts of Totori’s mother, how you go about doing that is completely up to you. Adventurer points can come from synthesizing certain alchemy items, defeating monsters and bosses, exploring the world and finding new locations and landmarks, or just completing quests from the adventurer’s guild (which are all varied as well). You have periods of months or years to reach said goals, so there’s a lot of time to experiment. If your alchemy level is higher than your adventurer (battle) level, then take advantage of that by crafting perfect bombs and higher-level weapons and armor to compensate. If you’re more focused on grinding out your character’s stats, choose a party that complements that. If you’re hell-bent on reaching every mark on the map, conjure up some items that make travel faster and more efficient. The game provides you with every opportunity to play it the way you prefer rather than railroading you from one plot even to another. In fact, due to the light (read: mostly absent except at key points) central plot, it falls on the characters to pick up the slack. The more time you spend with each character, the more they’ll come into play in the main story, and you’ll probably get an ending based on who you bonded with the most. The abundance of side content and options presented to you does a great job of making you feel accomplished no matter which path you take, and the game still feels coherent and doesn’t fall apart or ignore your achievements in favor of it’s own “actual” story or anything like that.
Of course, it can’t all be gravy. Atelier Totori comes with a few issues, though some may not bother you. The first (non-)issue is the tone. It’s bubbly and light, with many of the characters being pre-teen/teenage girls, going about their adventures in a light-hearted fashion. Don’t go into the game expecting some grimdark save-the-world stuff (though, it actually does peak its head in at the end in a minor way, it’s just not all that prevalent). It does what it does well, and I felt attached to the characters, especially Totori and Mimi. But if you’re the kind of person who’s afraid their self-image will crumble if they asked a Gamestop clerk to ring this game up, then maybe it’s not the game for you (or you could order it online). It is, after all, a niche game series in an already increasingly niche genre.
The combat can also be tedious after a while. You use Totori plus two companions of your choice. Only Totori (or another alchemist) can use items, while the others get more special attacks and can help guard/follow-up attack with Totori. That’s about it. It works, but it’s not breaking any new ground. I preferred the exploration and alchemy side of the game, and only went on a boss rush near the end when I had all the overpowered items and equipment. My last complaint is the time it takes to traverse the world map. Before you get certain upgrades, spending half a month travelling to the outskirts of the region to farm that one item you need seems like a total pain. Later on you get helpers to send on odd jobs and equipment to mitigate wasted travel days, but it takes a while to attain these assets. As for the soundtrack blurb, it’s pretty good. I like the appropriately bright and cheerful tunes.
If you’d like to get into the Atelier series, there are differing opinions on how to start. You could play Atelier Rorona, the first PS3 release, to start this “Arland” series at the beginning. The game is good, but lacks many of the worthwhile changes that Totori brought to the series. I started with Rorona and had fun, but you can certainly just jump in with Atelier Totori (the second PS3 game) as well. Atelier Meruru is the third game, and in the three (in-game) years I’ve played so far, it does an even better job of offering the player the freedom to complete the tasks in their own manner. There are older games in the series, but I have not played them, so I offer no advice there. Atelier Totori, and what I’ve played of the series overall, was a very pleasant surprise. Just be aware of not being able to stop playing until that next goal, and the next, and the next; it’s one of those games.
+ Alchemy system is well-done, weaves into the other aspects of the game
+ Very open-ended, lets you tackle the game however you like
+ Hard to put down
+ Cute as hell
– Battle system can become boring if you don’t exploit it later on
– May receive weird looks from friends if they see you playing it (can be ignored easily)
I’d recommend this to: JRPG fans, anime-ish game fans, and especially fans of both. To those who don’t fit into either category, not so much.
Rating: Very Good