I have a philosophy about games—in order to be a well-rounded healthy video game player, you should occasionally try a game that’s normally outside of your tastes. You may not like it, but you may be surprised and discover a whole new series you would have missed. And that’s why I decided to give ultra-girly game Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland a go. Or at least that's what I'm telling people.
The Apprentice of Arland is the thirteenth game in the Atelier series. This game focuses on a headstrong princess named Meruru, who decides to forgo a life of luxury to become an alchemist. Her father has given her three years to do it, and grow the population of the kingdom with alchemy! Can she do it? That’s up to you!
In order to grow her kingdom, Meruru must complete tasks like clearing out monsters, creating items and giving them to subjects in need, and more. With each task completed, you’re awarded points. These points are used to build or upgrade stuff in your kingdom like a marketplace, library, lodging, etc. Each new addition increases the population, helping you towards your goal. Unfortunately, you can’t visit these places directly, but you can see them on the world map and as your kingdom fills out, there’s a real sense of accomplishment.
The story is told with brief scenes of characters interacting with each other. The characters are all based on JRPG archetypes, so you can guess what to expect. That being said, I found myself chuckling occasionally, and some of them grew on me over time. Like I said, these scenes are usually brief, and they’re peppered between bouts of fighting and alchemy, which helps break up the gameplay.
Combat is really simple and unfortunately, far too easy. And that’s the main flaw with the game. There’s rarely any feeling of threat or danger during fights. But at least the battles are cute, and so are many of the monsters! If you love beating up little bunnies, this is your game! Also, Meruru has a variety of cutie-pie attacks that help make combat more entertaining. My favorite is when she pulls out a stick of dynamite, twirls, and yells, “Suck on this!” then chucks it at the enemies. Always cracks me up!
Alchemy plays a huge part of the game and is actually pretty fun. Materials can be gathered in the numerous battle areas on the world map and combined to make all manner of items for use in battle or quests. As you progress through the game, you can gather higher quality materials to make stronger items. Each material has specific traits that carry over into the items you create. While the process is fairly simple (mix items in a giant pot according to recipe!), I’m sure some gamers nerd-out hard on all the possible combinations.
I don’t think most reviewers focus on music much, but to me it’s one of the most important elements of the game. It can greatly improve the overall experience, or detract from it. And the music in Atelier Meruru: Appretice of Arland is exceptional. In fact, it’s one of the best things about the game. It’s light, airy, and fun, matching the game perfectly. And although this is a fantasy game, there are some really tripped-out songs bordering on electronica that you wouldn’t expect to hear, yet don’t seem out of place.
Now, as for how this game stacks up against the other Atelier games, I couldn’t tell you. It could be one of the best, or worst for all I know (but I doubt it). I can only tell you my experience, and that was a great one. I played the game way more than I expected to and found myself inexplicably drawn to it. And that is the sign of a good game.
Hint: Don’t worry about being able to pronounce the game’s name. Just say it really fast and nobody will notice (I hope).
by Urian Brown