Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland Review (PS3)

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  1. Chaos Raiden

    Chaos Raiden Avid Gamer & Reviewer

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    Story

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    Meruru is a princess of far away kingdom who wants to be an alchemist.

    This story is rather simple. Meruru is the princess of Arls Kingdom, and wants to be an alchemist after meeting another alchemist by the name of Totori. However, her father, the ruler of the kingdom doesn't allow her to be an alchemist, without fulfilling her royal tasks. In order for her to be an alchemist, she needs to gather 30,000 population in the kingdom by completing development tasks within three years.

    The storyline is rather simple, and feel lighthearted. Many of the game's cutscenes are carried out like visual novel game cutscenes, with a variety of character portraits portraying their emotions differently during conversations. I felt that this game's nature is aimed mainly towards hardcore Japanese game fans, since there are number of fanservices that only Japanese game fans are familiar with, such as hot springs scenes and stuff. This game also has multiple endings, which can be obtained differently in various factors, such as characters' Friendship Levels, Population amount, etc. You can only get one Ending in one playthrough, but you can always reload a save and try playing a different route to obtain a different Ending. There are several types of Endings, such as True Ending, Normal Endings, and Bad Ending. True Ending and Bad Ending only has one, whereas there are multiple of Normal Endings. Oftenly, the Endings requirement are not tough, but can only be completed within certain timeframe.

    I felt that the storyline is averagely good. It is not bad, but not exactly mindblowing. Perhaps because of the game's overall lighthearted storyline and adventure, it is not meant to be taken seriously. Some of the characters from Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori reprise their roles in this game, such as Rorona, Totori, Sterk, etc.

    Many of the characters in this game are interesting, such as Meruru, Sterk, Rufus, Lias, Keina, and etc. Meruru is a cheerful, energetic and peppy princess who is stubborn in doing something, Sterk is a former knight who is serious and wants to preserve his knighthood by protecting Meruru, and Keina is a loyal childhood friend of Meruru. Many of the character's have their own side-stories to be unfold in the game by increasing their Friendship levels and completed certain conditions. This game also features some fan services scenes in the game, thus makes this game not suitable for underage gamers.

    Gameplay

    i) Exploration and Progression Section

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    Explore new areas to develop areas and gather materials.

    Like many other RPG games, this game has a World Map for you to explore. You can travel to many other Gathering Areas for synthesising materials for development, expand development for already developed areas. However, travelling to other areas takes days, and it should be accounted since there is a time limit in playing the game. Fighting enemies and gathering materials in those ares will consume time. The pink gauge represents a time bar where if the bar is fully depleted, one day will pass. Travelling to outside areas consume time and LP. If your LP is high, you will have stats bonus in battle. Otherwise, you will have stats penalty in battle if you have low LP. Time management is crucial in exploring and gathering materials in the game. Tra

    To progress in the game, you need to attain a certain number of Population in a certain time limit. To achive the desired number of Population, you need to develop your Kingdom by clearing areas of wild monsters, as well as developing outside areas by synthesising development items, such as windmills, hoes, etc. By finished developing areas, you will obtain Development Points (DP). DP is used to create new bulidings in the Kingdom to get more Population. The buildings require some time to build after spending your DP, and each of it has their bonuses to you, such as increased EXP, generate income, etc.

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    Spend DP to build new buildings to get more Population and get variety of bonuses such as bonus EXP.

    In order to get new Development Quests, you need to get Letters in front of your Workshop and present it to Rufus. To get new Letters, you need to develop new areas by clearing areas from wild monsters or completing other objectives in an area.

    Since the game has a time limit for you to achieve a certain number of Population, you need to develop your kingdom as much as possible since the game's time passes really fast, and you might even spend more than a few months in one hour real playing time. The game can end in many ways, such as not achieving the desired population in time, or completing further Development Quests.

    Another thing that effects the game's progression and Ending is Popularity. Like the name suggests, Popularity is Meruru's popularity with the citizen of the kingdom, and affects the increase or decrease rate of Population. Popularity can be increased by completing Development Quests, Quests, and Friend Requests.

    If you managed to complete your first main objective by achieving the desired Population on time, you will get a time extension for more Endings. Your playthrough may lasts between three years (in-game time) to six years, depending on how far you developed your kingdom with the Population count. Like I said before, time management is crucial in playing this game.

    ii) Synthesising/Crafting Section

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    Alchemy is the main gameplay feature in the game.

    Since the game features alchemy as the main gameplay feature in the game, it deserves it's own section. As an alchemist, Meruru needs to synthesis items for combat, development, etc. In order to do so, you need materials to synthesis those items. Materials can be obtained in outdoor gathering areas, fighting monsters, or buying them from vendors.

    Each material is unique, with their own Rank, Effects, and Traits. Rank determines the quality of the materials, Effects are the effect that a material has, and Traits are the passive bonuses that can be carried over to the synthesised items. Each synthesis requires different amount and types of materials, such as a Healing Salve requires one Magical Grass.

    By synthesising new items with different materials, you can imbue the Traits from the materials to the items, such as ATK +5 trait. To successfully carry over, you need to spend Cost of the item to get that particular Trait. For example, since ATK +5 trait has a Cost of 3, and the Ingot (synthesised item) has a Cost of 10, the Ingot can carry over the ATK +5 trait. It also works the other way around, which if the materials' Traits Costs are higher than the finished item's Cost, it won't be carried over.

    Certain Traits can be combined into making a new one, which can be useful to make powerful accessories, armours or weapons. For example, by combining from previous materials, a new Trait called can be carried over to the finished item.

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    Although the materials are same, their Effects, Rank and Rank may be different with each other.

    Effects are varied depending on the final Rank of the synthesised items. The higher the Rank of the synthesised item, the better the Effect of an item will be. In order to do so, you need to use many high quality materials to synthesis good quality items, such as Rank S and Rank A.

    Meruru has her own Alchemy level, which can be leveled up by successfully synthesising items. If your Alchemy level is lower a synthesised item's level, there is a chance for you to fail the synthesis process. The higher your Alchemy level, the higher chances for you to synthesis an item successfully.

    Synthesising an item will consume time and MP (Magic Points), such as synthesising an Ingot takes a day and 10 MP. Synthesising more than one items will of course takes more time and MP to complete. If your MP is low, you won't be able to synthesis items successfully. You can rest few days to replenish your HP, MP, and LP as well as your party members. Other than development items, you can also synthesis a variety of items, such as accessories, healing items, weapon materials, etc.

    You also need to synthesis a variety of items for Development Quests, with specified conditions such as specified Rank and specified Traits to fulfill it. For example, Quest A requires 10 Dense Woods without specifications, but you can submit only 5 Dense Woods if it has the specified Traits or Ranks. Early Development Quests do not have much specifics on items needed to complete, but later Development Quests have specifics that can only be done by synthesis items with proper materials.

    You can keep your Items in your Basket, but it is limited and can only keep a certain number of Items. You can deposit/store them to your Container so that you can keep gathering materials, and only bring needed items for combat and exploration.

    iii) Combat Section

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    Battles are fought by making contact with enemies on screen.

    The combat system is turn-based. Where each party members have their own turns, and enemies as well. Of course, your turn will come up faster if that character's Speed is high, and vice versa. Each party member have their own skills and unique abilities, such as Skills and Items. Unlike other party members in the game, Meruru cannot use any Skills. On the other hand, many of the party members such as Sterk and Lias cannot use any Items. Meruru can use Items to compensate her lack of offense and defense techniques. By using Items, Meruru can get her own turn faster than other party members.

    All characters have few similar commands, such as Attack, Guard, and Flee. Except for Meruru, other party members have access to Super Moves, which can deal huge damage on enemies. Each character's attacks or Skills are unique, such as an attack that lowers an enemy's defense, attack groups of enemies together, or attack enemies in horizontal line or vertical line formation.

    At first, you will have only two party members. As the time passes and when you have completed certain conditions, you will get more party members. Experiment each party members to their fullest to know which party members are best used in different conditions.

    Winning battles are easy, which is to defeat all enemies in battle. Lower leveled enemies are weak, and higher leveled enemies are stronger. Each enemy have their own weak point, such as weakness against fire and etc. Exploit enemy weaknesses to have easier battles.

    You will fight some bosses while playing the game. As many other RPG fans know, bosses are cream of the crop of monsters in RPG games. Bosses are tougher than normal enemies, and require certain strategy to beat them effectively. Making useful healing items such as Drachen Elixirs with useful Traits as well as powerful offensive items such as Meteor are good example in beating powerful bosses. Since bosses have larger HP count than regular enemies, boss battles oftenly last
    longer than normal enemies battle.

    Winning battles will reward you EXP for leveling up, materials for synthesisation, and money. By leveling up your characters, their stats will increase, and will learn new Skills as well as their own unique Super Move once they are leveled high enough. Some materials cannot be obtained by gathering in gathering areas, so fighting them is the only way to get it. Battles are not the main source of money, and money can be obtained by completing Requests.

    iv) Quests and Shops Section

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    Quests and Friend Requests are your main source of income.

    Quests are requests given by Filly (the Quest giver). Oftenly, her Quests require you to deliver certain items to her, or to defeat certain enemies to get money. There is no time limit for Quests, and you can do them at your own pleasure. After certain day passes, her Quests list will replenish for you to do them again. If you give her high grade materials such as Class A or Class S, you will get higher bonus on money reward. Completing Quests and Friend Requests will increase your Popularity, which in turn increases the rate of Population increment over time.

    There is an other type of Quests called Friend Requests. Friend Requests require you to synthesis items for them, such as Bombs, Homemade Pie, etc. By completing their Friend Requests, their Friendship Level will increase and money. If you give high grade items for Friend Requests, you will obtain bonus such as increased money reward and higher increase of Friendship Level. You won't be able to progress your friends' side-stories or obtain certain Endings if their Friendship Level is not high enough, so do as many as Friend Requests you can to get better Endings.

    You can use your money to buy materials or items for your synthesis. There are few types of shops in the game, such as Weapons Shop, Items Shop, Materials Shop, and Wholesale Shop. If you want to save time from gathering materials outside, you can buy materials from the vendors to synthesis items quickly.

    iv) Conclusion

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    Overall great gameplay.

    I like the gameplay of this game. Easy, simple, and accessible. The time limit feature of the game is similar to Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, where you have a time limit to play the game. Unlike other RPG games, time management is needed to manage your time in fighting, synthessising, and exploring.

    Graphics

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    Colourful and unique visual style and graphics.

    The graphics are significantly unique, with nice cel-shaded visuals that complement each character's visual nicely, and reflects the anime-style characters nicely. I like the graphics, and thankfully, there isn't much technical issues that I encountered while playing the game.

    Sound

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    Average voice acting and pleasantly nice soundtrack.

    The English voice acting is just average. Some voice works fine, some don't. The few characters' voice actings that I like are Meruru, Sterk, Rufus, Lias, Mimi, Gio, and Totori. Few character voices that I dislike are Peter (one of the worst voice acting I heard in a game), Keina, and Gino. If you dislike the English voice acting, you can switch the language spoken by the characters in the game from English to Japanese. However, I felt that the Japanese voice acting is average as well, and I prefer listening to English voices because that is a language that I can understand.

    The music also reflects the peppy, energetic, and happy atmospehere in the game, with nice pleasant themes in the World Map, synthesising music, etc. Battle themes ranged from flamenco to rock. I also like many of the game's vocal songs, such as Cloudy, Cadena, and Metro since they are pleasant to hear. I like the game's soundtrack, and felt accessible to the game itself.


    Replay Value

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    Good replay value, if you want to obtain all Endings and fully explore the game.

    Since your playthrough can end quickly or later depending on how well you done in the game, you can save your completion file for New Game Plus. Unlike many other games' New Game Plus mode, nothing will be carried over except the weapons, armours, and accessories that you equipped on your party members during your previous playthrough. You can use this chance to obtain new Endings by exploring other areas that you haven't explored or develop areas that you haven't done before.

    Conclusion

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    A pretty good and accessible RPG, with some minor issues.

    Overall, I like this game's simple and accessible RPG element, but I believed that a number of cutscenes or dialogues in this game are unsuitable for underage gamers, despite it's Teen rating. Also, a number of the female characters in the game are oversexualised in a way. However, you can choose to ignore those and just enjoy the game for itself. This game is sequel of Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland and Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland. From what I have seen in these three games, I felt that Atelier Meruru is the most charming, fun and pleasantly looking game, mainly because of it's fun gameplay system. I highly recommend this game to hardcore RPG gamers who likes Japanese RPGs, or gamers who are looking forward to fun RPG games. However, I believe that the time limit and management aspect won't appeal to many people, since you can't just wander around to play and grind stuffs easily without concerning about time. I however, thinks this is a part of the game's challenge and charm.

    Score

    Story - 7
    Gameplay - 10
    Graphics - 9
    Sound - 7

    Final Score: 33/40 or 8.3/10

    Pros

    - Simple and happy storyline for those who wants a change from serious storyline.
    - Deep, excellent and fun synthesesing system.
    - Simple and effective combat.
    - Good and likable characters.
    - Has multiple endings.
    - Nice cel-shaded visuals for characters and environment.
    - Catchy music.
    - Has both English and Japanese voices.
    - Accessible gameplay.
    - Good replay value.

    Cons

    - Main storyline lacks impact to make it more interesting, despite it's multiple endings.
    - A playthrough does not last long enough for an average RPG game.
    - Average voice acting, with some good voice acting and bad voice actings mixed in.
    - Oversexualised female characters for their young age.
    - Japanese humour and fanservices can be unfamiliar to average players.
    - Some fanservice scenes are not suitable for underage players.
    - Time limit management may not appeal to everyone.

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