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Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland
Score: 86%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Gust
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
As a long-time veteran of the series, I had a good idea of what I was getting into when I started Atelier Rorona: Alchemist of Arland. True to the series' roots, Atelier Rorona places a heavy emphasis on item crafting. If you use it, there's a good chance you'll have to make it. I didn't expect, however, to become so caught up in crafting that I'd end up missing out on things like meals, sleep and well... read on.

As the first game in the series to get the "next gen" (can we even say that anymore??) trreatment, Atelier Rorona hits the PS3 with a nice visual boost. Sprites have been ditched in favor of polygons, yet the series' art-style is left intact. Bright colors, anime-inspired character designs... it's all here and looks great. I'd even go so far as to place Atelier Rorona in the same category as Namco's Eternal Sonata. Though Atelier Rorona lacks some polish (particularly in environmental design - areas seem bland) and the former's use of special effects, overall, everything works in the game's favor.

Music is as upbeat as the visuals are bright. Bright, cheery... If you've played a JRPG in the last few years, you already have a great idea of what Atelier Rorona offers on the audio side. For those who haven't, don't expect a sweeping John Williams score or super-annoying "anime" soundtrack. Atelier Rorona instead finds something that, like the visuals, works in the game's favor.

Previously, I compared Atelier Rorona: Alchemist of Arland to Facebook games, those addictive social time-wasters we've all at one time or another been sucked into. Once again, if Atelier Rorona was a Facebook game, it would quickly rocket to the top of the site's "Most Played" list.

Story provides more of a backdrop for Atelier Rorona than a pure driving force. Following the discovery of machines, the burg of Arland flourished into a thriving populace. Once the machines were in, alchemy was out. Rorona is the last active alchemist in Arland and someone wants her out, prompting the king to issue a three month challenge to Rorona - craft items to the kingdom's exact specifications or lose the shop.

Though the story provides a bit of a push, most of the forward momentum is player-driven. Getting back to Facebook game comparisons, everything is based on managing your time, money and hitpoints (HP). You have three months in-game time to craft a certain number of items, though most of the time you'll have to follow long strings of crafted items just to get the necessary components.

Crafting items is fairly straightforward and easy to manage. Just choose items from a list and hit the "create" button. Sorting though recipes is, however, a bit of a pain. It's just hard to know what you need to create certain items, or even where to find them. During the first mission, I went nuts trying to figure out where I could find a certain ingredient, only to find it for sale next door. Bad on me for not checking, but it would have been nice to at least know the item's classification so I would know to look in the Weapon Shop.

For the most part, Atelier Rorona is mainly a game of scheduling and resource management. At the start of each month period, you're given a set of items you must craft. Most items require components that you'll either have to create or find outside town. In order to craft an item, you first need to get the recipe, which can be purchased from shops in town. To do this, you'll need to craft items for people in town, which will eat away at the resources.

Atellier Rorona: Alchemist of Arland is a surprisingly fast-paced game. Though not slow, NIS-published RPGs are typically a tutorial and story-filled slow burn early on, only to explode at the mid-way point. Atelier Rorona features its fair share of story scenes and tutorials, though it manages to push through them quickly.

I was particularly impressed with the tutorials. They're short, but offer just enough information to get you going. Once you get started, you can either figure things out for yourself (which is entirely possible), or delve into the in-game help files for a longer explanation. I can't emphasize how much I liked this and hope to see it in future releases.

Though not a major component, combat and dungeon crawling is a major play element. All enemies are visible in the dungeon and easy to sidestep if you don't feel like fighting. However, doing so will put you at a major disadvantage. You obviously won't level and earn more HP, but some enemies drop major components.

Early into the game, your choice of companions is extremely limited. Your best friend will come along for battle, as will your waiter at the local restaurant, though the two aren't formidable companions. They're good in a fight, but won't last long. As soon as the knight becomes available, use him whenever possible. Combat becomes a joke once he starts one-hitting most enemies. Battles get harder later into the game, but use and abuse the knight for as long as you can.

Game Mechanics:
As to the mechanics of combat, it's the standard menu-driven, turn-based stuff we've been playing since the first Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy. Still, Atellier Rorona: Alchemist of Arland drops a few twists into combat and party management to keep things interesting.

First off, you need to hire party members before leaving the city. This, of course, takes money. I know I said to abuse the knight's power, though doing so comes with a hefty price tag - at least compared to other party members. It's completely possible to not have the money to bring people along. However, all party members have an affinity towards Rorona. Complete their tasks to their satisfaction and they'll lower their prices and even fight a little harder for you in battle.

If you couldn't tell already, party management puts more strain on your crafting schedule. Do you create something for the king, or spend time to get a powerful party member to like you? It's a great dynamic and, unless you find a way to completely "game" the system, creates a lot of tension.

HP management is just as important in combat as it is in crafting. Special moves deplete HP, forcing you to decide between abusing special moves and having to rest once you get back to town (or using resources and time to craft health items) or stick to normal attacks and risk losing. Again, it's a fun bit of tension and adds to the number of decisions you're forced to make.

It's taxing and repetition does set in, but Atellier Rorona: Alchemist of Arland is rewarding once you manage to find the right balance. Once you hit your groove, there's a really good chance you won't want to stop. It's not for everyone, but worth a look if you want something different, or just like collecting and creating.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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