“Gust/Koei’s ever-present Atelier franchise gets another taste of the Switch treatment. And last generation’s trio of Arland games are here in one snug package, offering Switch gamers a fantastic entry point (it’s also seeing PS4 and PC releases, I hasten to add).”
This three-part series of reviews concludes, with Atelier Meruru.
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland DX
Those who read my reviews of Rorona and Totori will know that, for as much as I loved Totori, Rorona is the one to beat. I’m delighted to emphatically state that all the shortcuts and quality of life touches missing from Totori, return with a vengeance. Meruru is everything a good sequel should be, taking the best cues from both. And I love it.
Merurulince Rede Arls (Meruru for short) is a no-nonsense princess, a touch immature, but likeable. Living in the little kingdom of Arls she’s tied to the usual royal expectations of regal duties. It’s not Meruru’s bag, she’s more the ‘sod that’, sneak-out-of-the-window-and-adventure type. You know; the best type. Meruru does however, know the importance of taking the citizen’s happiness seriously.
Coming into frequent contact with the town’s famous alchemist, Totooria Helmond (Totori), Meruru’s interest in alchemy sky-rockets. Eventually, after a bit of teenage drama, Meruru manages to convince her easily-swayed father, Lord Dessier, that she should study alchemy. Damn right, she can, old man. The snide codger does, however, whack a condition on it: use your alchemy to help develop the kingdom as the population grows; and do it within three years. Sounds like doing your job for you, Dessi. Typical.
We’re back to the mission-structure style of Atelier Rorona, in which royal butler Rufus dishes out time-restricted tasks which largely follow the usual structure but with the welcome addition of town development. It’s largely non-intrusive but shakes up the progression formula a tad. Main quests now awards point which are spent to add new development projects to support the needs of the growing population. Most are consequential and open anything from extra financial support to statistical boosting opportunities. Side quests (the usual deliver x item or defeat x), keep your revenue stream healthy and popularity up. I found it easy to understand and it never felt like an extra burden, more a fun addition. What’s more, it’s nice to see the facilities pop up on the world map screen.
Mixing it Up
Party building follows the same method as both Arland games, with new faces mixed with the old guard. You’re free to choose who to take once you’ve triggered their respective events, and there’s a healthy amount of character-specific dialogue for everyone involved.
Battles follow suit with the other games so, you know, read my other reviews (here and here, you’re welcome). Meruru adopts the Rorona DX style of assist attacks, allowing for a chain of alchemy item attack, assist attack, another assist attack and a special item, providing the assist gauges are build up during the course of the battle. If you’re familiar with the rest of the series, the range of alchemic goodies on offer will once again be mostly familiar, though there’s nothing here to put off newcomers, as long as you’re prepared to spend as few hours getting your head around the systems.
Packed with contact, Atelier Meruru has multiple endings via the usual relationship building and event-triggering methods, as well as a host of unlockable art, costumes and extras. What’s more, DX has a couple of additional scenarios linking with scenes from Atelier Rorona.
The soundtrack is, once again brilliant overall, though comes with a caveat; a small number of the tracks sound a bit… Yoshi. I know this sub-series oozes a cutesy charm and the soundtrack has always played up to that theme, however there’s just one or two choices which took it too far, sounding more nursery, than quaint. That said, there’s plenty elsewhere, with rocking battle themes, serene exploration numbers and another catchy tune for your atelier hub.
Voice acting is again of excellent quality, providing you’re an anime fan and Meruru offers both Japanese and English voice tracks.
I’m Atelier a Story but you Ain’t Gonna Like It
Graphically it’s hard to argue there’s much of an improvement over Totori DX; everything is as lush and colourful as ever, though image quality isn’t fantastic on the Switch’s screen. The artwork once again is in a league of its own, though and overall UI presentation is fantastic. Meruru doesn’t open with a flashy anime cutscene this time around but everything else makes the cut.
Well this all sounds like series gold-standard stuff, right? Well for the Arland series, is certainly is. However, there’s one unavoidable issue which, depending on preferences, may or may not bother you, and it pertains to performance. When traversing through towns, buildings and during battle, the framerate generally holds steady. That’s why, on entering a field area, it’s utterly jarring to come across a very poor frame-pacing issue. Given the areas aren’t particularly dense in detail, this feels like it’s purely a victim of a limited-budget port-process. Let’s not forgot this is an enhanced port of a rerelease of a 2011 game and there’s still a lot to be said for the stylistic choices that have aged so well.
Details, details. For me, this didn’t muddy the enjoyment of the final chapter in the Arland series at all and this final outing, is almost better than Rorona DX. Wait, you’re telling me another Arland game’s coming out? Get out! I’m hibernating until it arrives.
Overall Score: 8/10
Format: PS4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC
Price: £79.99 (three game bundle) / £34.99 each (UK eShop)
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Europe
Developer Gust Co. / Koei Tecmo Games
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 04/12/2018 (UK eShop)
Review copy provided by publisher