The Atelier series has always been an oddball in the JRPG genre. While most games focus on saving the world from the likes of egotistical madmen, Atelier games focus on more personal stories. In that vein, Atelier Meruru follows in the footsteps of Rorona and Totori by focusing on the story of a single alchemist; in this case, Merurulince Rede Arls, Princess of Arls.
Like Rorona and Totori before her, Meruru takes up the mantle of the alchemist for a personal reason. Initially, it’s as stupid as her being bored with being a princess and rebelling a bit against the constraints she’s under in that role. Soon enough, she realizes that she could use alchemy to help her kingdom, and from then on, you’re under a time constraint just as in the previous games. You’ll be given just a few years to improve the kingdom of Arls, but unlike in the past, not everything you can do works toward that end. Exploring, collecting items and fighting don’t directly affect the growth of the kingdom, but they are necessary to gain the required experience and crafting items you’ll need. As you go, you’ll be able to build or improve upon various buildings that not only increase the population of Arls, but also make the world map itself come alive and expand. It’s great fun watching what you do actually impact the game world.
The gameplay is almost exactly the same as in previous games, aside from kingdom building, and has essentially 3 aspects. First? Exploring and collecting items for crafting. Traveling to various locations for ingredients takes away game time, as does harvesting the items themselves. It feels like it takes up more than it should, but it’s necessary. Without ingredients, you can’t craft anything, and all the time in the world is meaningless then. Next is the combat. The combat is turn-based and is fairly standard, except that only Meruru can use items. Everyone else has to rely on their attacks and skills. There’s nothing innately wrong with the combat, but it’s not something that Meruru really needs. It’d be just as interesting a game if there were no combat.
Lastly, you have the crafting, which is the real focus of the game. Pretty much every useful item in the game is crafted, but you’ll need lots of practice and experience to make the more advanced items. Higher quality ingredients leads to higher quality items, often with a variety of additional attributes, while trying to make advanced items before you have the experience will often lead to a failed item, wasting your hard earned ingredients.
The graphics are very sharply drawn and detailed, adding greatly to the charm of the game. Meruru has some of the best cel-shaded graphics I’ve seen in a game. Unfortunately, the voice acting doesn’t seem to have the quality and effort put into it that Totori did.
Atelier Meruru is the last title in the Alchemist of Arland trilogy, and it finishes the series on a high note. It won’t appeal to everyone, but those who want a light-hearted take on the standard RPG will find it a very enjoyable adventure.
Pros: sharp, detailed graphics; kingdom building and crafting are fun
Cons: voice acting isn’t very good; poor item management in the inventory