Atelier Rorona may not be the huge budget JRPG that everyone waits and craves but like everything from Gust it has a certain charm of its own that can’t be found anywhere else in the industry. After the success of Atelier Rorona in Japan Gust has gone on to make two more games in the series titled Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru. Thanks to NISA we here in the West are finally going to get a chance to play Atelier Totori, and from what I’ve played it’s a marked improvement.
The demo started me out in what seemed to be a small town outside of the main kingdom of Arland that was the setting of the last game. I walked around with Totori for a bit and marveled at the visuals. Sure they aren’t anything technically impressive and the animation for Totori’s running looked a bit off, but something about the Atelier series almost hand drawn look really is pleasing to me particularly in the still shots. After finding a barrel that apparently dispenses free stinky fish to anyone that can find a use for them I started the actual storyline. As an alchemist in training Totori isn’t going to get her quests from the government themselves but instead goes the more classic route of getting quests from the owner of a tavern. Voice acting isn’t used constantly but what was there worked well, out of the three voices I heard the only semi-annoying one was a young adventurer named Gino but I think I could probably get used to it in time.
After accepting the dangerous and ludicrous task of going out to gather some simple materials at a nearby field I set out into the world. The world map functions similar to how it does in the first game but has a much nicer style to it, like walking around an actual drawn map. As expected time management is a huge part of the Atelier series. Not only does it take in game time to walk around the world map like the first game, but there is also a meter while exploring that slowly decreases and takes a day every time it empties. Exploring, gathering, and even battles take up precious time so although Atelier Totori gives you 5 years instead of Rorona’s 3 you’ll still need a day planner and a secretary if you want to complete everything in the game. The Representative I talked to mentioned that because the world map is larger and areas end up further away the play time of Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori end up similar even after the huge difference in in-game time.
Wandering around the plains is not without its dangers and I soon came upon a vicious rabbit that attacked me without mercy. The first thing I noticed was that battle animations were vastly improved. Instead of having characters lunge forward through the air as if possessed they run forward to do their attack. This may seem minor to some but it really helps the game’s general feeling of polish. Elements from the first game’s battle system have been largely replaced by a much simpler system of a support and super bar that build up throughout the fight. Support can be used to have one character protect another when they are about to be attacked (particularly helpful for keeping alive the more physically weak characters like Totori herself) while the super bar is used for super attacks (no big surprise there). Some may not like the change but I prefer it to the more confusing system from Rorona.
Upon the completion of my rabbit massacre and a bit of gathering I came to a sign that apparently banned anyone who wasn’t an adventurer from going any further into the forest (probably to protect the natural wildlife more so than the little kids who can easily kill all the rabbits around) and Gino said that he’d be back after getting his adventurer license. This was about where I had to call it quits and move on to another demo. Obviously I can’t tell much of anything about the story from a ten to twenty minute demo but the representatives from NISA told me that they felt the storyline to Totori was much more focused and wasn’t quite as dependent on side questing in order to get a meaningful storyline out of it. Along with improved visuals Atelier Totori also has an even deeper item synthesis system that promises to eat up all your time. I hope everyone who bought the first game continues to support the series with Atelier Totori when it comes out this September and I look forward to NISA’s surprise announcement of Atelier Meruru’s localization sometime in Summer 2012.