Atelier Totori Playtest: Living The Life Of Another Alchemist In Arland

By Melinda . July 8, 2010 . 3:00pm

imageSo, for those who didn’t get the chance to watch our livestream, or can’t spare the bandwidth or the time to rewatch over 70 hours and counting of Atelier Totori: The Alchemist of Arland 2 movies, all done in the space of a week, what is it that brings me to keep playing a game about a young alchemist who wants to find her mother?

 

Where do we start, apart from the cast themselves, for the introduction?

 

There’s no pressing need to save the world… which is the first thing that struck me as I watched the introduction anime sequence. The characters are there, and they’re doing things which seem part of their day to day lives. Totori is practising alchemy, and accidentally blowing up her atelier, Gino doing some shopping, Mark tinkering with toys, and of course, Rorona and Sterk doing what they both do best. There’s no sense of urgency, no sense of the world coming to its impending doom. Death isn’t a driving force, neither is any sort of force, either in the direction you must take, or in how you must take it. In Atelier Totori, you decide how best to get to the destination you like.

 

The tutorial will guide you through the basics of the game, which include gathering items, beating up monsters and synthesizing, but once the tutorial ends, you’re let off your training wheels and off to explore the world.  It seems somewhat overwhelming to be suddenly told ‘Well, that’s the basics, now see you later’ in most situations, but surprisingly, once Atelier Totori starts proper, I just found myself thinking ‘So now, what do I want to do today?’ just like Totori will ask herself so often.

 

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If I wanted Totori to make some powerful explosive, which I did, I’d want to find a good place to gather materials and make it. To harvest good materials, I needed to access said materials by being high enough rank, and once so, being able to survive the monsters that prowl the distance between here and there. For me to be high enough rank, I needed to earn points to rank up at the adventurer’s guild, which means doing jobs for various people. Leaving town means gaining experience to fight better, finding materials to craft better weapons and items to help me on the field. It’s like a great circle of life, where one thing will simply lead to another. Pick a path, and who knows where you’ll end up?

 

This design also made decisions feel very natural. Once you figure out what you wanted to do, you could pick your path and do what you think was necessary to get there. When I wasn’t sure what to do next, there was always something I could do, even if it was to take a walk with a very big explosive down puni alley just to watch slimes blow up.

 

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But as with all life, you’ll fall and stumble along the way, and this is where the charm of Atelier Totori lies. You’ll be rewarded for doing all sorts of things: making an item for the first time, beating up a certain type of monster a set number of times, completing so many requests, or even having a synthesis blow up in your face or running away from monsters often enough.  Atelier Totori rewards you for trying things on a whim, exploring, and just having fun. You don’t know what’s around that corner? Go take a look. See that big dragon parked over there? Give it a shot, if you dare. Failure’s an option, and it doesn’t hurt that much, it’s like, well, alchemy. Put shiny stuff together and see what happens. It’s a mini achievement system, and quite a few of them will grant bonuses like hit point or attack bonuses, which means it’s actually worth your time in game to try your best to achieve them. I wasn’t sure why, but the fact Atelier Totori actually gave me a small reward when a synthesis blew up in my face three times with a hit point bonus was funny, and somehow quite apt. Depending when you fail, you may even see a cutscene of what happens when you fail too. Ceste la vie, Totori?

 

During your travels, you’ll also find the world will around you also moves. You’ll run across other characters in Atelier Totori who are just living their lives too. The artwork in this regard shines, because Totori and everyone she interacts with are beautifully detailed and very expressive. Even if your Japanese isn’t very good, the amount of emotion and information they’ll provide visually can usually give you a good idea about the sort of person they are and what they want. Atelier Totori has no dead moments, since the voice acting and the music seal the deal. Each scene has its score picked perfectly, and hearing certain themes set the mood. The voice acting is melodramatic and stereotypical at times, but it fits the cast so well, because it emphasizes they’re actual people, as opposed to plot devices or just a boring NPC.

 

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Totori is just a shy girl with a quiet determination. Rorona’s still as ditzy as ever with some strange habits and doting adoration for her student, and Sterk is still his calm self. Mark’s everything you’d expect out of a mad scientist, although he really does know what he’s doing (honest!). Gino’s the sort of kid you’d sometimes want to pull by the ear and go ‘Oi, don’t go charging at that dragon’, and Mimi’s a small girl with a big blade, and a bigger chip on her shoulder… who struggles to express what she really means. Anyone who’s anyone within the world of Arland has a presence, and they matter. They live, with their own lives, and virtually every line of text is voiced which emphasizes the fact they’re somehow alive. They’ll have moments with Totori, as well as each other, and it’s not like every moment is a stoic one.

 

A lot of them are really light, and it’s refreshing to laugh in a game so much. The world doesn’t need to be saved unless you want to gallivant out there, so it’s nice to get glimpses in the characters’ lives in the meantime. Watching Mark turn the carriage into what we dubbed the rocket coach is worth a giggle, finding out that Haggel still has the absurdly ridiculous afro hat from Rorona’s days as a student is a shocker, and watching Rorona do some stalking behind a barrel when Totori and Sterk meet up to head out of town without her is just adorable, if somewhat disturbing, but the moment’s just there. I wouldn’t worry though, because it’s just as disturbingly amusing when we find out that Sterk has his pigeon spy network working for him, although I couldn’t help wonder to myself, just like Totori asks at one point, when the heck did Sterk learn to speak pigeon, and more importantly, since when did pigeons have the manners to knock on the door before entering a house?

 

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The fact they’ll get drunk with each other, get angry, be overjoyed, disappointed, upset and dumbfounded means that they’re people. I can’t see them as NPCs, as opposed to real people, living in the world of Arland.

 

I could reach out and grab a Chimu cause they’re so cute before telling it to make me some pie, or pat Cudelia on the head, call her short then run faster than she can rip off my arm. Filly is the sort of girl who just needs a hug because she’s following in her big sister’s footsteps and struggling a bit, and I know never, ever, ever to go drinking with Tifana. And each time, I can go through Atelier Totori, try something a little different, and perhaps some things will unfold differently. I might learn that charging a gryphon without some sort of item may be a bad idea, adventuring with someone else more may show a new perspective, or I might find myself wandering down paths I didn’t think of earlier and find out something I didn’t know the first time.

 

Atelier Totori is another look at the world of Arland and expanded it beyond Rorona, its prequel, and provided a fresh new prespective, from a new character. Given how much life Arland has, the world offers enough motivation to try and find the myriad of different endings, depending what you, the player, wants to do, and when you do it. The ‘new game + system means you can start anew with some bonuses, as you try doing things a little differently the next time around. As as a true sequel, and just like Atelier Rorona, each time you play Atelier Totori, trying something different may lead you to a different place, just like real life, really.

 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see what happens when you put these two fire stones together with some neutraliser and a fuse…

 

(Yes, I’m still playing about 8 to 10 hours a day)


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  • JTX09

    Eight to ten hours!? Melinda, calm yourself!

    =P

    • http://www.siliconera.com Melinda

      Well, let’s do some math… I got the game the day after its release, the 25th of June…

      … I’ve done a hundred hours easily. And I’m still going actually. I’m on the prowl for my third playthrough in 2 weeks. Granted, since then I’ve found two endings – One of the Character specific endings, as well as the normal ending, and I’m going all out for the final ending now, and I’m almost done…

      And this is with me pulling a full time job too. It’s a lot of fun.

      • http://soundcloud.com/tet-chan TetsuyaHikari

        Wow, haha. You’re really making me consider this. I’ve been itching for a new J-RPG to play recently and this one doesn’t involve saving the world?!J-RPG + not saving the world = mind blownI wonder if I should wait to play the localized version of Rorona though.

        • http://www.siliconera.com Melinda

          For those who haven’t played the mainline Atelier series (That’s probably most of you, since the only offering that’s ever showed up with a similar gameplay style was Atelier Annie on the DS) it’d probably be best to start with Atelier Rorona in English.

          There’s a couple of specific reasons for it, apart from the fact that the game is all voiced, and there’s a lot of text too if you can’t read Japanese and don’t have help.

          Atelier Totori is a direct sequel to Rorona – some time’s passed since the end of Rorona. I won’t spoil which game ending Totori bases itself off.

          People grow up (Well, sort of in some cases) and you get to see them from new perspectives. It’s a lot of fun seeing or hearing how certain characters turned out after the end of the game.

          Still no world to save since Rorona. Well, unless you really, really want to…

          For people who watch the stream, they’d probably noticed that there’s periods where I spent a lot of time trying to comb my entire inventory trying to find various properties so I could make some… interestingly overpowered items. Like 3+ hours.

          The reason I spent a good amount of time is because I have to decipher the Kanji (I can’t read Japanese with any sort of fluency) and work on things I learnt in Rorona, and in the Atelier series as a whole, to make sure what I had was right.

          There’s a significant amount of depth in the crafting system, which can have you trying to get somewhat creative. Bear in mind, that although you can make things perform better, you can also make things perform a lot WORSE too depending on the properties used.

          An example may be you can make a healing salve that heals for quite a bit, provides a defense up bonus, gives a little MP back and has more uses than the standard salve.

          Or if you’re particularly silly, you can make a bomb which will have a higher chance to critical, attack down any targets it hits, do more damage if there’s more targets in its blast radius, and will automatically retaliate at whatever hit them if someone who can use an item is hit and has than 20% of their HP and are still alive after the hit.

          Of course, not all items can carry all properties, and not all items can accommodate all properties, so the fun can be in figuring out a way to get a square key into a triangular keyhole. But when you figure out the route that you want…

          Let’s put it this way. In a game where having 300+ HP is nearly impossible, and fighting anything with over 10000HP means you’re in for a hard fight, doing high three digit damage is absurd enough. Doing a clean 2500 or more?

          Atelier Rorona is a lot nicer than Totori in crafting though – it’s a significantly easier title, so if you’re not that familiar with the system, Rorona is definitely the place to start. Rorona, being the simpler system, is significantly easier to master though.

  • Letiumtide

    I really hope this gets localized. I cant wait for Rorona.

  • SeventhEvening

    Ah, this sounds awesome. I really want this game.

    I’m definitely getting Rorona as soon as it’s out.

  • Ereek

    As you say, the absolute best part about the Atelier titles is the development seemingly “insignificant” characters receive. Even shopkeepers have more personality and backstory than actual playable characters in some games.

    • Xien12

      Which generation are we talking about here?

      • http://www.siliconera.com Melinda

        Well, I’d argue that the original Atelier Marie (Yes, the very first Atelier, all the way back in the mid 1990s) has a lot more life than a lot of RPGs I’ve played even today – And that was done literally on a shoestring budget, and the game’s over 15 years old.

        It was the game that turned Gust from ‘about to declare bankruptcy’ into ‘financially viable’ and after Judie (Codename A5), a lot of Japanese people sort of were hoping for a return to the ‘classical’ Atelier open ended style, which resumed with Annie on the DS, then with Rorona (Codename A11) and now Totori (A12) on the PS3.

        I still can’t really name a game off the top of my head (that’s not another Gust title) where you’ll spend a lot of time with the NPCs to learn about them as people, to the point where they’re really, really memorable…

        • Xien12

          Wait, what? Argue what? The question was aimed at Ereek, but ok. Anyway, yeah, I definitely agree with you. It’s quite a shame the first couple games never made it to the states. They were really great.

          • http://www.siliconera.com Melinda

            Sorry, been busy dealing with some more stuff, if I sounded a bit obscure or impolite, it’s because I was busy writing about the Activision announcement to a legal team.

            Curiously, which ‘first’ game are you referring to? The US first game’s Iris 1, so I’m curious.

      • Ereek

        Apologies for the late reply.

        Well, my favorite in the series are Viorate/Violet and Marie, but I haven’t played Judie, Rorona, Liese, or Totori yet. That should probably tell you something, yes?

        • http://www.siliconera.com Melinda

          You played the newest one on the DS? (Lina I think?) It’s the one I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on.

          Judie’s remake is fun, although I REALLY, REALLY do not advise Lise – the game’s buggy enough to corrupt saves, among other things. I should know, because I have the game on my shelf.

          The fact Lise shows up in Annie’s probably a good thing given that.

          • Ereek

            Oh, yes, I forgot to mention I haven’t played Lina yet either. From what I’ve been told it’s very good and an improvement over Annie in many ways. Didn’t Gust re-release a fixed version of Lise? I thought I remember them reprinting it.

            Recently I’ve not been importing the titles because NISA brings them over. If NISA chooses not to bring over Lina and Judie I’ll probably buy them when I take another business trip. I do, non-game, translations from Japanese to English (and vice-versa) for my job daily and I play games to relax and take my mind off of work, so I prefer the games to be in English when possible.

    • animaster

      That’s what I felt when I played Atelier Iris series (especially the first one) on PS2. One of the shopkeeper there (I forgot her name) was quite shy and did not talk much at first; but as we dig deeper into the story, more cutscenes about her were shown up and we learned about her past. IMO, that kind of moments are priceless in RPGs.

      • Ereek

        The shopkeeper you’re talking about is Viola. She’s most people’s favorite character in that game, including mine. Even the other girl, the one who works at the bakery, was well developed. I like Atelier Iris 1 because it still has enough elements of the older games while also taking the series in a new direction.

        • animaster

          Ah yes, Viola. She is one of my fave character in Atelier Iris series as well.It was fun to see a new cutscene when we entered the shop after finishing a quest or synthesizing new items.I’m glad that Gust still retain this kind of character interaction in their newer Ateliers. I don’t own a PS3 yet, but I’ll surely get Atelier Rorona and Totori when I purchase one later. Keep up the good work, Gust!

    • http://www.younganimal.com/berserk Mr_Qoo

      This simple comment might get me to pull ALL the Atelier titles out of my “storage” and give them a shot. Never got a chance but with development like that it sounds right up my alley. =)

      • Ereek

        Oops, late reply!Well, in English Atelier Iris 1 and Annie are the ones who most have that development. I know the character development in Atelier Iris 1 is what attached a friend of mine to the series; now he buys every title. Iris 2 has it to a lesser extent and Iris 3 is pretty much a different game all together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hsing-Chen/43905471 Hsing Chen

    At mk2, my favorite Japanese (fan) game review site. Totori no Atelier is the #1 PS3 game in terms of numerical average.

    http://www.psmk2.net/title.php?title=598

    And not to go off topic, but Xenoblade is the highest ranked Wii game.
    http://wiimk2.net/title.php?title=757

    I find it interesting because both games came out around the same time.

  • http://pto.yetikitn.com MelodyKitn

    I’ve noticed the Atelier series before, but am only now inquiring about which of the series (if any) are available here in EU. If anyone knows the titles for’m and which system they’re available for off the top of their head, I’d be reeaaally grateful!

  • Kris

    It almost sounds like a gorgeous, alchemy-focused version of Harvest Moon.
    In other words, this needs to be in English NOW!

  • fuzzy_hobo

    The Atelier series never interested me before, but the live stream and extensive coverage on Atelier Totori convinced me to give the series a shot. I’ll try Rorona when it’s released stateside. Plus the art is drop dead gorgeous.

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