Many of you readers may recall my infatuation last year with a certain portable title by the name of Atelier Annie. Sure, the game had its flaws, but something about the race against the clock kept me glued to my DS screen for hours on end, as I spent most of my time trying to perfect my recipes and keep the townsfolk from throwing tomatoes at my atelier. This time, rather than be glued to a portable, NIS America has decided to keep me fastened to my couch with its release of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland.
" Although the game has some limitations, mainly the finite inventory, Atelier Rorona is an absolute blast to play. "
Poor, poor, Rorona. Life is challenging when you're just a shy gal who's used to being in her master's shadow &mdash and liking it. Unlike Annie's gold digger personality, Rorona is the polar opposite; shy, disciplined, and just a touch dippy. Rorona means well with every action she performs and beams with determination and positivity. Rorona's story begins as she is greeted by a knight of Arland, Sterkenburg. Sterk is looking for Rorona's master, Astrid, and is baffled when greeted by this cheerful pupil instead. He brings a warning that Astrid's atelier has been ordered shut down by the king, because of lack of business. Sterk states further that if Astrid and Rorona wish to keep the atelier running, they must complete twelve assignments given by the king within three years or risk foreclosure.
Astrid, who is completely apathetic to the situation, decides that it is up to her apprentice Rorona to save the workshop. Rorona, who has been Astrid's apprentice since her parents were saved by the nonchalant alchemist, reluctantly accepts her new task, and comes to realize that she must get over her fear of venturing outside of the castle walls. Although she's not entirely confident in her skills, Rorona's positivity is infectious, and is the driving force of entertainment throughout the game's story. Rorona has a whacky group of companions that she can hire throughout the game when she goes off to search for alchemy ingredients. From Cordelia, the snobby rich girl who is far nicer than she lets on, to Sterk, the always-angry looking knight who actually has a heart of gold. There are lots of companions to hire, each adding a distinct flair to the story, making it a laugh-out-loud experience.
Much like Atelier Annie, Rorona is all about resource and time management. Players have a total of three years to complete twelve assignments, and each project has a specified length of time in which it must be accomplished. Time is a precious commodity, as every action performed takes a certain number of days to complete. The only circumstance where time stays still is when Rorona travels within the town accepting jobs and buying ingredients. Creating new items from recipes takes a specific amount of time, so it's important to pay close attention to deadlines provided within the requests. Failure to complete tasks provided by friends and the townspeople lowers Rorona's reputation, while not completing an assignment to its full potential leads to a game over.
Spending time in the atelier creating items is obviously the main driving force of the game. Besides taking up a chunk of time, whenever Rorona fuses items together, it also claims some of her hit points (HP). HP is very important to monitor in the alchemy process, the number of HP Rorona loses is dependent upon the number of items she creates. However, the more items created, the more experience she gains as an alchemist. Certain items can only be created if Rorona's alchemy level meets the criteria of the recipe. It is possible to fuse items at a lower level, but the success rate will not be as high. If you spend days creating items, HP will diminish, so it's important that Rorona takes a few days to regain her stamina by resting.
Venturing into dungeons also has its share of importance in Rorona in order to get the best ingredients possible. However, Rorona's basket can only carry a maximum of sixty items, meaning that players will be unable to traverse through dungeons for as long as they want without having to discard loot along the way. This aspect, unfortunately, causes time to be wasted, meaning players will often have to make extra dungeon trips to get what is needed, losing irreplaceable time in the process. However, back at the atelier, players can store up to 999 items in a container, meaning if you fill your basket and head back to the atelier, you can dump all your items into the container for easy access when performing alchemy. Still, having a finite amount of items that can be carried through dungeons makes for far more backtracking than ideal.
Unlike Atelier Annie, combat attempts to play a more important role, as Rorona must fight her way through enemies in order to collect ingredients for her many assignments. While the game uses a traditional turn-based combat system, every action performed costs HP. This means that in order to perform special skills, characters lose HP. Characters will also lose HP when attacked by the enemy, so it's important to monitor every character's HP at all times. Enemies are visible onscreen, thankfully making it easier to avoid combat if the party is low on HP, though some encounters are mandatory.
So far I have managed to complete the first three assignments without too much trouble. Although the game has some limitations, mainly the finite inventory, Atelier Rorona is an absolute blast to play. The characters are charming, the story is engaging, and creating items is immensely addictive. For those who are looking to scratch the Atelier itch, and have been waiting for a new installment since Annie, look no further: Rorona delivers. There's so much to do in the game that it can't all be done in one playthrough, but part of the fun is seeing how much one can accomplish. After all, time is money, and while you're at it, check back with RPGamer for our full review coming within the next few weeks to see just how well Rorona fares before her September 28th release date.