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Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland: Three Parts Alchemist
Company: NIS America

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is the third game in the "Arland Trilogy," capping off the three-alchemist deep adventure started in Atelier Rorona. The newest alchemist in the coven of Atelier alchemists is Meruru, a princess who seeks to improve her backwater kingdom of Arl through the power of Alchemy.

Atelier Meruru doesn't abandon the series' core time-sensitive, alchemy mechanics. As with the previous two games, much of the game revolves around ferreting out resources for alchemy recipes, all the while making the most of a limited timeframe. While the latest game does little to alter the formula, like Atelier Totori, it manages to tighten up aspects that, for whatever reason, didn't work. Atelier Totori cut down on its predecessor's near draconian time limits, introducing a greater sense of exploration and player freedom.

Though not a big a tweak, Atelier Meruru puts the finishing touches on the series' alchemy mechanic. Though this may be a side-effect of playing numerous Atelier games over the last few years, I had no problem diving right into the system and creating all sorts of objects from the start. Most of this has to do with the interface, which is much easier to navigate. Again, the changes aren't massive, but it was a little easier to quickly tap through menus and find relevant alchemy data quickly.

Combat has seen similar upgrades. Fights are still turn-based, with enemies showing up on the map screen, ready for a quick "bop" in the head from Meruru's staff (offering her party a noticeable initiative advantage). Once combat starts, you are guided by the new "Time Card" system. A series of cards along the right side of the screen shows the battle's turn order, which can shift around based on character abilities or other status afflictions. While not exactly "new" to JRPGs, it adds a new strategic bit to what was a rather flat combat system.

Changes aren't incredibly noticeable during the first few hours, but it becomes a factor once you start to face down larger foes. Not that Atelier Meruru is dependant on its combat system; it is still a minor component in the grand scheme of things, but considering your motley crew of not-quite-ready-for-combat party members (apprentice knights, royal attendants, alchemists...), you'll want to make sure you don't have to repeat battles. Like nearly everything you do in Atelier Meruru, battles take up valuable time and losing one can cut out a huge chunk of time.

Atelier Meruru adds a brand new Development System to the game's list of tweaks and changes. Further pushing the "-Ville" comparisons I've made about the game's previous two entries, Atelier Meruru adds the ability to develop both the kingdom's infrastructure and surrounding areas. Over the course of the game, you'll earn chances to build structures, such as weapons shops, in the kingdom, helping to improve the kingdom's population and opening new tasks for Meruru to complete.

Some jobs will also require Meruru to head into the wilds of Arl and alter its surrounding geography. An early example of this involves expanding the amount of farmland available to the kingdom in order to support growing population numbers. This requires Meruru and crew to head into the forest and clear it of trees and monsters. The system isn't incredibly deep, though it does give you something bigger to work towards. Improvements to the kingdom can also lead to better alchemy ingredients, allowing you to create better items and improve your popularity with the populace.

While I still have a ways to go (and few thousand more items to craft), Atelier Meruru is, so far, proving to be a great follow-up to what has been a enjoyable series of games. Stay tuned for the full review coming soon.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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