Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland PS3 Review
Publisher: NIS America Developer: Gust Genre: RPG Players: 1 Age Rating: 12+
Other console/handheld formats: N/A
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is the thirteenth instalment of Gust’s Atelier series and the third and final in the Arland trilogy. Like Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori before it, the story isn’t your typical JRPG world saving fare, but is instead refreshingly a more personal character focused narrative.
The heroine this time around is Princess Mururulince Rede Arls (but mostly known as Meruru, which is a real mercy for both tongues and keyboards) who would rather be doing alchemy than her royal duties, much to her father, the King’s dismay. She soon encourages his Highness that she can help to develop the small kingdom of Arls before it merges with Arland with her alchemy skills, however. The two come to a compromise, with the King granting Meruru three years to develop Arls and reach a certain population target, and if she fails, she has to give up her beloved alchemy for good.
Meruru has so much of an upbeat personality, that’s it’s hard not to like her. The surrounding cast has many faces that will be familiar and pleasing to those that have played the past two entries in the series. Previous heroines Rorona and Totori are present as is the likes of Sterk the stoic warrior (who can also communicate with a pigeon, which is just wonderfully silly), Pamela the ghostly shopkeeper (who amusingly enjoys scaring the living daylights out of people) and Hagal the jovial blacksmith.
The story itself isn’t dramatic, nor is it particularly emotive, but is simply brimming with personality and a wonderful sense of oddball Japanese humour, whilst the rather sparingly used voice acting is largely reasonably executed. You’ll either be charmed by how saccharine sweet the overall tone of the game is or left violently sick – you have been warned.
Visually, the colourful art style is pleasant and even the sometimes sluggish framerate does little to take away from this. Gust’s excellent sound team, meanwhile, have once again delivered a great soundtrack, which further accentuates the personality of the game.
Gameplay involves the usual delightful and compulsive concoction of alchemy, fighting, exploration and time management, but Meruru’s quest to develop the Kingdom of Arl’s has brought a new development mechanic to the series, which I’ll delve into a bit later on.
As with all games in the Arland trilogy, alchemy is the primary focus of the game. It works like this; you’ll first need ingredients, which can either be purchased or, more excitingly, found outside of town. Back at your workshop, ingredients can then be combined to produce new items. Adding complexity to the system is the fact that different ingredients will grant contrasting effects to the final item. It’s a very accessible process but is also, at the same time, so ocean deep and compulsive that you can literally spend hours exploring the system to make the perfect items. Players of past entries in the series will appreciate the more streamlined nature of the system that makes it a bit less laborious than it could be in the past.
Combat, meanwhile, remains rudimentary but robustly executed. Meruru can be joined by two other characters whilst fighting, who can jump in to protect her from harm. Meruru and her fellow alchemists Rorona and Totori are the only ones that can use items. There’s a chaining system, which after Meruru uses an item, allows the other two combatants to follow up with attacks of their own.
The time limit will undoubtedly be an annoyance for those that want to do things at their own leisure, but it’s quite generous and the structure is pleasingly freeform, granting you flexibility of how you go about playing the game. There are multiple endings and seeing everything the game has to offer will take you more than 100 hours, which is immense longevity.
The development system sees you earning development points through the development of areas and the completion of certain tasks such as defeating bosses or crafting certain items. Development points can be spent on upgrading the Kingdom which not only increases the population but also offers other benefits, for instance, opening up paths on the world map offering you further opportunities for exploration, increasing the amount of products sold in stores, and you’ll also be granted passive bonuses such as earning additional XP from fighting or increasing the speed of item synthesis. Developing areas will see them visually transform, which is pleasant and you’ll also be granted the opportunity to gather higher quality items, which is a lovely reward for your efforts.
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland has all the charm and depth that the series has become synonymous for among its small but passionate fanbase. Its new features mesh well with the old, crafting a wonderful send-off for the trilogy and one that is certainly not going to be for a broad audience but should be an utter delight for fans.