Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland is the latest (and 18th) game in the Atelier/Mana Khemia. You may not realize the series is that extensive as North America has only received seven games in the series so far: Atelier Iris 1-3, Atelier Annie, and Mana Khemia 1 and 2. As you can see from our reviews, our staff here at Diehard GameFAN seems to love the Atelier series as a whole. However, this newest entry into the franchise really turns things on its head. Nippon Ichi was kind enough to send me a beta preview copy of the game and after playing with it for a few hours, I’m really looking forward to the finished product.
The first real difference comes as soon as you boot up the game. Atelier Rorona is the first game in the series to appear on a current-gen console, and as such, it’s the first in high definition. You instantly notice a change in graphics in nearly every way. For example, the backgrounds have gone from pre-rendered drawings to ones that are reminiscent of the cell-shade craze that hit around the end of the Dreamcast’s life cycle. Now that doesn’t mean that the game looks like a Dreamcast title, but rather it is an evolution of cell-shading graphics into a high definition format. It’s all very pretty with my only complaint being that, in this preview copy, characters look pasted on top of the backgrounds like an old Colorforms set. Man, I just really dated myself, didn’t I?
Speaking of the graphics, look at those character models. Atelier Rorona has finally made the jump from 2-D sprite images to fully rendered 3-D character models. Now I’ll admit I still love 2-D games, in fact even more so than the average game, but after seventeen previous titles using the same graphic style, it’s nice to see Gust finally take some chance and let the series change instead of growing stagnant.
I was also really impressed with the audio aspects of the game. Nippon Ichi usually does a really nice job with their voice casting, and this is no exception. I can’t honestly give a full appraisal on the voice acting as this preview copy only had a sample of the English acting. Like the in-game text, this hasn’t been fully localized so parts of the game were still in Japanese, hence why I’m the one doing the preview. I really liked the music and because the game is on a blu-ray disc, the game should have ample room for both language options, pleasing gamers who are fanatical about one language or the other being in their games.
Gameplay felt very similar to both the Atelier and Mana Khemia games. Remember how Mana Khemia was divided into school terms and you had to get so many credits to move on or you took remedial classes? Well here you have twelve tasks you have to complete. Each task takes three months of in-game time. If you fail, it’s back to a previously saved game to try again. Because these quests are pretty expansive, you might want to make numerous saves – just in case your most recent save is tied to a permanently dire situation. Of course I am probably just scarred by a little too much A Boy and His Blob as a child. Stupid lack of beans!
There are a whopping fourteen plot lines and a whopping thirty endings to the game. So to see all the possibilities, you’re going to have to play through the game several times. This makes the game great for a budget-conscious gamers as you’ll definitely be getting your money’s worth out of this without feeling like you’ve been there, done that before.
The battle system is still pretty much the same as it has always been. It’s turn based combat mixed with the ability to use alchemical items that you synthesized in your cauldron at home. If you’ve ever played a turn based RPG in your life, than you’ll know 95% of the game mechanics for combat without even turning on the game. Nippon Ichi reports there are approximately one hundred items that can be made, so that alone will probably be a time sink. You can use items to heal, attack or as story points, such as getting rid of a giant boulder that blocks your path.
Overall, Atelier Rorona looks like it will be a nice addition to any RPG fan’s PS3 library. It has a MSRP of $59.99 and approximate release date of September 28th. Remember there is also going to be a premium edition that comes with a hard cover art book. I haven’t seen anywhere that is actually allowing you to pre-order the premium edition yet, but keep your eyes peeled. We’ll have a review of Atelier Rorona up around the release date, so check back here at Diehard GameFAN for that. In the mean time, feel free to look at our gigantic gallery of screenshots.