Gust has seen a great deal of success with the Atelier series throughout the years. 2009 saw the coming of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, the first game to deviate from the visual form that the series saw for so long. With Rorona, we were introduced to a new world of 3D computer-generated models instead of 2D sprites. Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland continues this tradition with an even fresher face and new mechanics.
It’s easy to dismiss Totori as another JRPG in a genre that has seen so many “me too” titles. But players who glazed over Atelier Rorona may want to stay a while for this entry. Taking place five years after the events of Rorona, the focus shifts to our 13-year-old protagonist and Rorona’s apprentice, Totooria Helmold (nicknamed “Totori,” as the game’s title implies). Alanya (a small village outside of the much larger city of Arland) is where your adventure will begin.
In the passage of time between Rorona and Totori, the local government has devised a system of licenses to be given to hardy people known as “Adventurers.” Totori’s mother was one of the first Adventurers and never came back from one of her outings, thus breaking the collective heart of Totori, her father, and her sister Cecilia (“Ceci”). So, Totori wants to become an Adventurer to go out and find her mother, because she knows that she is still alive.
…And that’s it. That’s as big as the story ever gets. It’s almost a breath of fresh air, actually—Totori and company never have to dethrone a tyrannical king or save the world from some prevalent evil. Despite the fantastical creatures and the pervasive inclusion of alchemy, the story is grounded in a sort of reality that is unrealized in a lot of current games, making it an almost personal experience between the player and Totori’s quest to reunite with her mother.
Regardless, the story and how big or small isn’t the focus here—alchemy is your closest friend and the heart of the gameplay, but unlike Rorona where alchemy seemed to be the only thing to be done, Totori perfectly marries adventuring and alchemy, creating a good balance and putting a heavy emphasis on time management.
Time is everything in Atelier Totori. Travelling to locations takes a certain amount of days, crafting different items will shorten your calendar as well, battling takes time out of your day, as well as gathering items from certain areas, and yes, even sleeping will knock off a good chunk of time if you do it too long. Finding symmetry between all these to complete your tasks is an art form, but within the first few hours of the game, you’ll find yourself table-flippingly frustrated at your ineptitude and inability to piece things together with your alchemy and overall management of the different aspects.
But then it all clicks. Everything comes together—you’re completing your errands, fighting battles, keeping your HP and MP in check, going to new destinations and exploring beyond your normal bounds—you actually know what you’re doing, and then it becomes the most addictive fun you’ve ever had. The game, in essence, is a series of fetch quests which involve either gathering ingredients, crafting items to be delivered or defeating monsters, but each new area unlocks new possibilities and you just have to try them all.
As such, you’ll strive to become a better and more qualified Adventurer, finding new tasks to complete to raise your rank. Attaining Adventurer points to raise your rank can be done by exploring new areas, crafting brand new items with alchemy, defeating new enemies or a certain amount of old enemies, as well as other such actions. The game encourages exploration to the highest degree, and to keep playing, you have to keep going and getting better.
You have a time limit of three in-game years to reach a high rank as an Adventurer or else you will have your license revoked and the game ends badly. Should you succeed, the game’s total time comes to about five years to achieve several endings for your menagerie of collected characters and, of course, Totori herself.
Though the time constraints are in place, as the game goes on you’ll be able to craft items to shorten your travel time or time spent collecting items, and “slave labor” comes in the form of the adorable homunculi known as “Chims” who will help perform tasks in exchange for delicious treats. These boons will further help you manage a tight schedule and give you more opportunities to explore the game’s world and delve deeper into the mechanics of the alchemy system.
Atelier Totori‘s visual presentation is beautiful, to say the least. Colorful characters, diverse environments, a wide array of creatures to interact with in battle and outside—the game has the eye candy to keep you coming back time after time. Though the cutscenes could’ve easily been done with the cel-shaded 3D models, Gust have instead opted for 2D character portrait conversations while having a 3D image blurred in the background. This isn’t bothersome one way or another, but seems like kind of a “lazy” way to circumvent animating duties. The character portraits are nice, however, and the game’s artwork in general is superb.
In contrast, the audial aspect of the game could’ve used some work. The voice work is subpar to say the least—while Totori’s voice actress seems spot-on, the rest of the cast feels generally uninspired to be playing their roles. This doesn’t change during the transition from English to Japanese, mind you, as neither set of vocal work seems wholly appropriate for the characters. In addition, the music needed a little more “oomph.” Not necessarily bad in itself, the music feels lacking in originality, being standard fare for JRPGs and never really doing anything to “wow” the player. As captivating as the gameplay is, the soundtrack should have done the same.
And taking a backseat to pretty much everything having to do with time management, item creation and alchemy in general is battling the world’s creatures. The battle system for Atelier Totori, while downplayed to a great degree, says loudly and proudly, “Hey, guys! The turn-based battle system isn’t dead!” This isn’t a convoluted active time turn-based system where a bar will fill up and you or the enemy will get to attack—this is full-fledged “I will sit here patiently until you smack me in the face with your weapon until it my turn to retaliate.” It’s that turn-based.
It’s a welcome relief that battle takes a secondary position in an RPG, when it very often ends up being the focus (read: all the time). Some players will not enjoy this take and will readily cast aside Atelier Totori as something beneath them. Players who have enjoyed previous Atelier efforts will want to give this a chance, because despite the drawbacks in voice acting and music, the game itself is as refined as they come. Those looking for something a bit different in the genre will embrace the “do as you please” aesthetic the game brings, being as leisurely or as busy as one chooses.
For more information on how we review games check out our criteria here. A copy of this game was provided to The Paranoid Gamer by the publisher for review purposes.