Like a wine getting sweeter with age, or a pasta dish served a few days after being fully cooked, the Atelier games get better with time. You’ll have to forgive my analogies; I just had a delicious Italian dinner. Ahem. If the three games of the Arland trilogy were to be compared to item synthesis, which is the core of anything related to Atelier, then the break down would be as follows: Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland was an item synthesis gone awry which resulted in an explosion. Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland was a success, but the item didn’t have the best qualities. Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland created the best item with the best ranking and best traits. Yes ladies and germs, this is the best of the three Atelier titles that takes place in Arland. If you liked following Totori on her quest to find her mom, then you’ll love taking control of Princess Meruru and making her kingdom prosper. Is there still a time limit? Yes. Are there some difficulties with creating items needed for the kingdom? Yes. Do you hate it when you watch interviews and the interviewee asks the questions themselves and then answers them? Yes, me too, so I apologize. The bottom line is that Atelier Meruru is an excellent title that, despite some issues with the music and a few annoying characters (Rorona), is worth checking out and the best way to bid farewell to Arland.
Arls Kingdom is a frontier land with limitless potential. Unfortunately, the king has other affairs to deal with and the princess, Merurulince Rede Arls, would rather enjoy the life of an alchemist as opposed to learning the ways of etiquette. The alchemist Totori has taken it upon herself to begin spreading the word of alchemy and takes Meruru on as her eager apprentice. Meruru has a brilliant idea to develop Arls through the power of alchemy. With the guidance of Totori, the castle butler Rufus and a bunch of friends both old and new, Meruru needs to gain new citizens and develop her kingdom into a thriving nation. A bunch of your favorite characters from the Arland trilogy have returned such as Mimi, Sterk and Esty. New characters like Keina and Lias also join Meruru. The overall story is simple, but like most Atelier games, it’s the characters that drive the game. As the leading lady, Meruru is a pleasure to watch grow into a prominent alchemist. She can be a bit stubborn and spoiled, but it’s apparent she means well and wants her kingdom and its subjects to live a happy life.
Once again, we are given an important task and a set amount of time to get it done. Unlike the previous two games, the time limit feels much, MUCH less taxing than usual. The best part of this game’s overall mission is how fulfilling it is. As you complete various missions, you earn development points which can be used to build new structures for Arls. Missions are fulfilled with either alchemy (covered later) or by beating up some monsters (also covered later). When you complete a structure, you obtain bonuses. It’s a simple system, but very effective and watching your kingdom grow before your eyes is rewarding. As you continue to develop, you will continue to build friendships with your party members. This will unlock events which will lead to items, money and even a trophy or two. Once again, there are various endings you can obtain depending on how well you do overall. Unlike Rorona and Totori, you need to play the game more than once in order to unlock certain things. Thus, it is highly recommended to enjoy the game at your own pace on your first play and then focus on getting as much stuff done as possible on your second, third and other subsequent files.
So, as mentioned and as expected, alchemy plays a major role in Atelier Meruru. You will uncover, acquire and learn a plethora of recipes to create items for healing, attacking, weapons, armor and on and on and on. Ingredients are found in shops and at gathering points in dungeons. By mixing and matching certain qualities and traits, you can create some excellent items. A cool feature in Meruru is unlocking new traits that add extra power to your items. To unlock these traits, you’ll have to play around with the currently existing ones. It’s a highly addictive, “just one more” type of system that has always been a staple of anything Atelier. For some reason, it feels even more polished in Meruru than it did in previous installments. The same can be said about combat, which plays a major role in Meruru as well. While turn-based and a bit basic at first, you will unlock new features as you get further in the game. Assist attacks, items that have their own turns and some of the flashiest special moves I have seen in quite some time show that the folks at Gust decided to make combat more interesting than before. It is also slightly more challenging, due to certain boss battles being brutal and requiring a bit more strategy than simply attacking and healing.
There are two final things to point out before I start sounding like a Meruru fanboy (which I may OR may not be…but if I were I would be damn proud of it). I have to say how astonished and confused I am that, despite Rorona and Totori being gorgeous looking games, the developers managed to make Meruru look even better. This is the most beautiful game in the series, and one of the most beautiful games I have had the opportunity to play in quite some time. This is another one of those games where you need to stop what you are doing, keep Meruru still and look at the surroundings. Watch as the ground she stands on gets smashed under her feet, as a river rolls by and as clouds soar in the horizon. The multiple dungeons such as a volcano, a natural spring, a living forest and mine that sparkles with gem-stones are all sights to behold. Character art is even more stunning than before. Like I said, I’m not sure how they do it. All of that said, it’s a real shame that the music is such a disappointment. Aside from a couple of fun boss battle themes, the music isn’t as “hum-along” worthy as it was in Totori. Seeing as you will spend most of your time in the workshop, you would hope that it would sound more fun. The voice acting is fine, and can be in either English or Japanese.
I won’t end on a low note (LAWL MUSIC PUN) and say that I highly recommend Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland to everyone who enjoys a good RPG. If the music is the game’s lowest point, it should go without saying that this is the best Atelier available and the best way to say farewell to Arland. Meruru is a great leading lady, and the characters that join her all develop well over the course of the game. There are multiple endings to see, which means there are plenty of trophies to collect if you are a fellow trophy hunter. Unlike the previous entries, this game is much more forgiving when it comes to getting these endings and events. All in all, this is the total package and a grand way to wave goodbye to the world and characters of Arland. Item creation is just as strong as ever, and the battle system got kicked up a notch. What more could you ask for? Start developing the hell out of Arls Kingdom and enjoy watching it grow into a prosperous nation.