The Atelier series first gained a cult following here in the States with Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana on the PS2. Six games later (including Mana Khemia 1 & 2), we have Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland. This game, like the Atelier games before it, features a heavy emphasis on alchemy. This game is less about exploring a traditional RPG game setting (although there is some of that) and more about character interactions, creating things through alchemy, and completing jobs in a timely fashion.
Atelier Rorona starts off with young Rorolina Frixell (Rorona for short), the apprentice of a master alchemist named Astrid in the land of Arland. They own a little alchemy shop that is soon passed down to Rorona. Also, one day, a knight of Arland, shows up to tell Rorona that the shop will be closed unless she can complete twelve assignments for the King. The story is fairly basic and there are no big surprises: the villains are obvious and the heroes are generally likeable.
The characters are very charming though, and they all stand out from your typical Japanese RPG tropes. Rorona herself is definitely an unlikely lead character, but she manages to play her role just fine. While the characters themselves are good, the English voice acting is not always as enjoyable. Some VAs are flat-out unbearable, while others are pretty nice. Luckily, the game provides the option to turn on the original Japanese voice acting, which is nice to see.
Aside from some problems with the voice acting, Atelier Rorona’s presentation is great. The game looks very gorgeous with a nice art style, and the music ranges from relaxing to incredibly catchy. The game can also be rather funny, which ties into the very charming cast of characters mentioned above. Despite the forgettable story, this game has a lot going for it.
The gameplay itself can be very hit or miss. At times, I found it quite addictive, playing for hours in a single sitting. Other times, I couldn’t wait to get back to the save point to stop after a frustrating hour of tedious grinding and annoying quests. The times when it works, which is generally during the very intuitive alchemy sections or the character interactions, you can easily see yourself looking past the flaws. But on the other hand, you will often find yourself bored of some of the things you need to do.
There is plenty to do in the game, so there is a nice variety available. Aside from the alchemy and social aspects mentioned above, you also can accept quests to gather certain items to help raise money and your popularity in the town (which brings in more quests, characters, and money in the long run). These quests are separate from the main assignments and are a lot easier to do, if not a bit more tedious.
Some of these quests involve creating things with alchemy (or just buying/gathering a certain number of items). Sometimes you need to go out of the city to explore and gather new materials, which is where the game falls into the traditional turn-based RPG gameplay style. You have a party of three characters (whom you can invite or remove from your party at any time) to go with you to defeat monsters and gather items. It can be fun, but you often find yourself exploring many of the same areas and fighting many of the same monsters. It can get pretty dull very quickly.
The last thing worth mentioning is that everything in the game is timed. Each assignment has to be completed on time, as do each quest. At first you will feel compelled to try and do every quest possible, but after a while you learn that you need to do only the ones you can in a timely matter while also trying to finish the major assignments. It gives you plenty to do at the very least. It’s a shame most of the quests repeat themselves very often.
This game definitely stands out from a lot of others, but sometimes the distinctness of it can lead to tedium. It is, at its best, incredibly charming and humorous with some very addictive gameplay elements, but a lot of that is bogged down by some very boring quests and plenty of unnecessary grinding. Still, it’s a solid game that has a lot to offer. If you’re looking for a lengthy adventure with something new to offer, or you are a fan of the series, Atelier Rorona might be the game for you.
Pros: Gorgeous presentation with enjoyable music; very charming characters; addictive gameplay with plenty to do
Cons: Some of the English VA is awful; item gathering and quest completing can get tedious pretty quickly