Atelier Meruru Playtest: Build A Kingdom At Your Own Pace

By Laura . April 30, 2012 . 5:00pm

Merurulince Rede Arls is the princess of the tiny nation of Arls, a very small country with barely a thousand people. She loves alchemy to bits, but unfortunately, teaching her is somewhere near the bottom of the kingdom’s priority list. Luckily for her, though, one of the people invited to Arls to help develop the nation is master alchemist, Totori, and Meruru now spends her days sneaking out of the castle to take alchemy lessons from her. What she lacks in talent she makes up for in pure enthusiasm.

 

This brings her father, the King, and her caretaker and butler, Rufus, much exasperation, and eventually they reach a compromise. If she can use her alchemy for the good of the country (which she was planning on doing anyway) and can raise the population of the nation up to 30,000 by the third year, then she can continue on with her alchemy. Otherwise, then she will have to take up other studies and give up her dream to be an alchemist.

 

Helping her along the way is a slew of characters old and new to the Arland series. Returning characters include Sterkenberg, the stoic knight; Gino, Totori’s childhood friend; and, of course, Rorona and Totori. In fact, the number of returning characters completely dwarfs the number of new characters introduced in Atelier Meruru, so fans of the Arland series will be very happy. It’s very likely they’ll see their favorite character return.

 

Things start off slow-yet-hectic at first. There are so many things to do and so many things to make, and yet it seems like all of that has little impact on the population count. However, once the game gains momentum, the initial objective gets easier and easier and you can find yourself enjoying other aspects of the game without having to keep an eye on immigration.

 

This was a wonderful discovery for me because Atelier Meruru has the habit of making me feel like the White Rabbit. Look at the time! Look at the time! “There’s this quest, and then I have to collect those items, and forge that thing … Oh, and don’t forget to defeat that monster while I’m in the area! Oh no, more time’s passed! I have to remember to check the stores and buy the restocked items, and then there are the new quests to take care of!”

 

I don’t believe I’ve ever had so much fun micro-managing what, up close, seems like simply bite-sized, household chores. One after another, though, I found myself spending hours on this game without even noticing. (Ironic, because I’m so careful with time in the game.)

 

First things first. This is an Atelier game, so of course there’s alchemy. Step one, collect raw materials from maps, monsters, and stores. Once you have the right items, you can make any item you want, so long as Meruru’s learned the recipe. Alchemy is as easy as selecting what you want to make from a menu and clicking “Choose this” a few times. There are only two important factors to keep an eye on.

 

The first is MP. Meruru has quite a bit of MP, and synthesizing items doesn’t consume much, but once she runs out, the chances of her successfully creating something plummets. It’s always better to take a few days’ rest rather than gamble on her success. Resting is also the only way to recover your HP, since her HP stays low once you return to the kingdom.

 

The second is item traits and quality. Many recipes only specify what they want vaguely – “something liquid” or “something combustible.” However, different items have different properties, and of course, the rarer the better. If you’re only planning on giving the items away, then the traits serve little purpose. However, if you’re actually making bombs or healing salves that you’ll use during better, having a trait that will increase its effect or increase its number of uses can be extremely helpful. This is also especially important when making weapons and armor.

 

As you can see, there’s quite a bit to alchemy, despite how easy it is. The wonder of Atelier Meruru is that you can finish everything without paying attention to details of the game; however, if you do take the time to look at the traits and quality, then you can see another layer to the game.

 

Actually creating the item is the easy part, though. Before you do this, Meruru has to go adventure in the big world around her and find ingredients first. From the world map, you can choose to go to several places that are unlocked as you complete more quests. The areas are very small—and when I say small, I mean very, very small. I recall a few maps where Meruru could run across the entire field in 10 steps, if unhindered.

 

Each area has its own raw materials, so sometimes you may find yourself hopping from place to place to get something. In addition, battles are another way to collect raw materials. Enemies appear onscreen and it’s always up to you whether you want to fight them or avoid them. However, battles take up very little in-game time, so there’s no real penalty for choosing to fight.

 

Fights are turn-based, with turn order appearing on a bar to the right of the screen. Meruru can take up to two party members with her, and each person you can choose has their own specialties. For example, Meruru’s bodyguard, Lias, has area-damaging attacks (regular attacks, not skills) that are very handy for finishing a battle quickly. Gino has slightly lower attack, but the fact that he recovers some HP at the start of his turn automatically makes a hard character to take down.

 

There are so many characters in this game that seem extremely fun to play with, personality-wise and gameplay-wise. If only Meruru could call upon more than two of them at a time…

 

Interestingly, only the alchemist characters can use items; as such, they are simultaneously the big guns and the healers. Because of this, it is very important to protect them, especially Meruru, so the other characters can actually guard Meruru from enemy attacks. Party-damaging attack? No problem! Meruru will be protected from all harm by the other two characters. In addition, Meruru initiate combo attacks that hit for extra damage.

 

Both of these actions require a gauge that fills up as you inflict and cause damage, so some strategy is involved in battles. Overall, though, the fights are fun and, if it’s a boss battle, challenging. The game encourages you to fight on your own terms, too, since it provides you with a Flee command that almost always works.

 

Choosing your fights is especially important in a few areas of the game. I’ve said that most places are extremely small; however, there are some multi-screen dungeons that hark back to older RPGs. These places are enormous, crawling with powerful monsters, and filled with rare items; and at the end, there is almost always a boss waiting.

 

This isn’t to say you’re not rewarded for defeating every enemy you see, though. Oftentimes, Rufus will actually assign you a Development Quest (quests that move the “story” forward) that involves clearing out the area. Development Quests not only provide a boost in the population and open new areas to explore. They also give you Development Points, which you can then use to build facilities—the primary way to get people to come to your kingdom.

 

In addition to development quests, there are also optional quests you can accept at the Tavern. This is your primary income, since battling actually gets you little to no money. These quests invariably involve “get me this item” or “defeat X of this monster,” but usually the requirement is so simple you can find yourself racking up a few thousand within three minutes (real-world time). Completing quests also increases Meruru’s popularity, which increases the number of people who come in automatically every year just because they’ve heard about the wonderful, altruistic princess.

 

I’ve mentioned time again and again up to this point. I believe that time is one of the most important factors in Atelier Meruru. Everything takes up time – from synthesizing items to traveling on the world map to gathering items. About the only action that doesn’t is traveling within your own kingdom.

 

In a game that actually runs on a time limit (three years, initially), this can be rather daunting. This means that, unlike most games, you can’t go out and grind —or, the Atelier equivalent, run around collecting materials and synthesizing—to your heart’s content because time will pass. If too much time passes without Meruru actually accomplishing anything, her popularity drops. Before you know it, her time limit’s up and the game’s over.

 

All right, so it’s not quite that scary. As I eased into the game, the flow of time became more natural. At first, it was really hard for me to watch four days go by traveling to an area, another four exploring the area, and yet another four as I made my way back to the Kingdom. Later, as I accepted more quests, I managed them so that I can spend ten days traveling to one area, complete a whole slew of quests, and then make it back. The time restraint isn’t meant to be ‘restricting,’ but rather a means to make you be more efficient in your adventuring.

 

Everything in Atelier Meruru goes at your pace—the battles, the synthesis, even the progression of the story. In fact, I found the game amazing for its complete lack of structure. There are no real story points. Instead, as Meruru travels through her Kingdom from one area to the next, you’ll sometimes come across character development scenes between her and another character. Development Points are about as close to an actual “plot” as the game gets. Atelier Meruru certainly manages to achieve the perfect balance between freedom and efficiency. Perhaps this is another aspect of Meruru’s training as a princess?

 

Food for Thought:

 

1. The art is amazing. The style in Atelier Meruru is such that it seems like a manga came to life. The 3D doesn’t clash with the 2D-esque designs, and all of it is so sharp and clear. Occasionally, the game will also have a scene drawn out, visual novel style.

 

2. Every three months, Filly (from Atelier Totori) will post up a bulletin of Meruru’s progress. It’s actually very helpful since it tells you the Kingdom’s current population and Meruru’s popularity; however, its main attraction are its articles, which change depending on your actions. One time, when I was hunting Puni (a type of monster) for some raw material, an article came up proclaiming Meruru the bully of all Puni.

 

3. There are 10 different endings in the game. I’m not very clear about how to get them, but one thing’s for sure. This game’s not lacking replay value. Plus, Meruru’s charming and there’s so many interesting characters to play around with.

 

4. Who else returns from the other Arland series of games? From Rorona, there’s Rorona, Astrid and her two Homs, Sterkenberg, Gio, Esty, Hagel, and Pamela. From Totori, there’s Totori, Mimi, Gino, Filly, and Peter. Phew.

 

5. The game features an extremely heavy emphasis on the characters. Dialogue will change depending on who you take out of the kingdom with you. Sometimes, you’ll view small snippits of (voiced) dialogue between the characters while out journeying. As you walk from the Workshop to the Castle Gate, you may be stopped by another character for some conversation.


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  • Achrmaeiad

    This game can’t come soon enough.

    That and my “Barrel!” shirt :D

  • http://twitter.com/bakayozora 肉@バカ夜空

    The 22nd can’t come soon enough.

  • http://bmgf.bulbagarden.net/members/55321.html FinalArcadia

    Ah, that was a great playtest! It’s somehow got me even MORE anxious for May 22nd! And with all those endings, it sure will keep me busy over the summer. I still have to get two more endings on Totori…

    So Tantris really doesn’t show up, huh… That’s disappointing. But the sheer amount of other returning characters is so great, that it sort of makes up for that, LOL.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/SMXEA3KKIKST3G74OURM5KCGFI Charles

    Too bad Cory and Iksel don’t show up. I would have liked to have seen their reaction to New Rorona.

    • Nemesis_Dawn

      Well, that’s a disappointing spoiler. I had purposely avoided the list of returning characters above because I wanted to be surprised by the storyline.

      • http://terracannon876.livejournal.com Laura

        I apologize.  I didn’t think it would be a spoiler.  You meet a lot of them very early on (within the first 2-3 hours), so I hadn’t considered it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Fitzpatrick-Phillips/1786364591 Fitzpatrick Phillips

    You guys got it already? So lucky

    • KuroiKen

      And I got it nearly a year ago, when it came out in japanese. A good game, but too easy. If you didn’t like Rorona or Totori for all anal restrections they both had – you’ll easily like Meruru. 
      Finished it like 4 times, btw.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Fitzpatrick-Phillips/1786364591 Fitzpatrick Phillips

        I’m a GUST fan so I’ve played and love pretty much everything thats been localized thus far. Japanese wasn’t good enough back with Meruru’s release but I’m totally importing Ayesha!

        • KuroiKen

          Sadly, I’m probably not importing any Atelier games after Meruru, if what they’re doing to Aasha no Atelier will continue. I myself am REALLY against too much 3D in Gust games. Seriously, I love 2D arts, I love it in 2D.
          Hope Aasha sells not so good, or something happens for them to return to the former Atelier style.

          • http://www.facebook.com/nekocielXD Neko Ciel

            that depends on the respond of the majority of the fans ( personally 2D or 3D as long as its from gust its a must get >.<)

          • KuroiKen

            Well, Japan, by majority, usually adored 2D, so I really hope that Gust returns to games with 2D graphics on the first place, and 3D on the second.

          • Nemesis_Dawn

            I think that ship has sailed a long, long time ago. They’ve created a wonderful artstyle in their 3D games that I hope continues to evolve and improve with each game. I can’t wait for Ayesha to come to the West, because it looks absolutely stunning, as does this.

            Ayesha selling poorly will just reflect badly on Gust as a whole, not on 3D games from them. You’re very unlikely to see a return to 2D from them.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Fitzpatrick-Phillips/1786364591 Fitzpatrick Phillips

            The age of 2D is all but dead, my friend. Especially when i comes to JRPGs. Its just too much for companies to dish out beautifully drawn fully HD sprites with god tier animation, especially when games dont sell as much as they used to. Plus, GUST is slowly getting the hang of their 3D models and are looking even more beautiful every time.

  • ゆい

    This game and Ayesha(If I can’t wait for an English localization, it depends.) will keep me busy during the summer! :3

    • CirnoLakes

       Indeed. Definitely the sort of games I’ve been looking forward to lately.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aqua-King/100000845943368 Aqua King

    Does this mean they removed the annoying ‘timer’ quests for the main story? That makes me very happy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000172099718 Dominic Hunter

    I want this very badly.

  • Wackoramaco87

    I’m so excited to play this, and finally have the whole trilogy! (Can’t wait to re-play them all XD) Was there any DLC for this? 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wayne-LaBranch/100002132711844 Wayne LaBranch

      i remember some DLC characters but not sure who

      • Nitraion

        it’s pamela and meruru butler and one person again that i don’t know
        don’t worry its not as bad as capcom’s

        • Wackoramaco87

          Thanks a lot! It’s nice that the DLC is not completely necessary to fully enjoy the game. =)

  • SuperSailorV

    If someone with no experience with the Atelier series wants to get into it on current gen consoles (PS3), where would they begin?

    • Wackoramaco87

      I would probably recommend this trilogy, starting with Atelier Rorona. You probably could start with Totori- but it’s rather nice to see the returning characters and see the changes in the games. IIRC, the trilogy is closer to the original Ateliers, versus what many might have started with (Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia).

  • Nitraion

    Okay,,, i’m ready to platinum this game… :3
    But Did you guys play japanese version or something?
    because i’m sure the release date in 22 may

    • PoweredByHentai

      They got review copies.

      • Nitraion

        aww i want my copies to… :3

  • hadjimurad

    well done on the playtest, laura. reading it reminded me of my experience with atelier annie (which i loved and my first game in the series). going to start the arland series this summer; can’t wait.

  • http://twitter.com/harmony102 Harmony Zantt

    I haven’t played a turn based rpg in a while, I might consider getting this.

  • http://twitter.com/RawrofJustice 765Pro | Rawr

    The art knocks me out of my chair every time. <3

  • WingsOfEternity

    I played Atelier Annie on the DS and I could not really get into it, it felt more like some Harvest Moon-esque game rather than a JRPG and there didn’t really seem to be a storyline. Are the PS3 Atelier entries a lot better?

    • http://www.facebook.com/nekocielXD Neko Ciel

      for me the ps3 atelier games are a lot better , i also played atelier annie before and meh i dont like it -___- (thats just me though since im a fan of atelier games and mana khemia games >.<

    • SeventhEvening

      There’s more story in the PS3 titles and they are a lot better. They’re more “RPG” than Harvest Moon, but there isn’t an epic quest to save the world or huge boss fights. The Atelier games are usually pretty low key with a huge emphasis on characters and item creation. I love them, but it depends on what you’re looking for.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Ruiz/100000640263916 Christopher Ruiz

    ah… ah, this is so cute!! I haven’t been a fan of the uber kawaii anime style in a long time (but believe me, when I was younger I was obsessed, and I still love Sailormoon), but I am completely charmed by this graphical style. I love RPGs too, so I just might have to get this! But my problem is I haven’t played any other Arland (or any Atelier game, for that matter), and I don’t really want to spend money on any of them except this one… would that hinder my experience? Is prior knowledge of the other games needed to fully enjoy Meruru? 

    • SeventhEvening

      Why in the world would you be completely unwilling to buy the other games in the series? The other Arland titles are also great games and have the same beautiful art. I don’t have Meruru yet, but if the other titles are any indication, you would be able to play Meruru without problems, but you would definitely enjoy it more if you knew all the characters already. 

      You can get Rorona for around 30 dollars (a little more if you want the artbook) and it is a great game with fantastic characters, and virtually everything said in the playtest (aside from the character cameos) is true for that title too. If you were determined to blow through the game, you could probably finish it in about 20 hours, but if you’re a completionist, you could spend hundreds of hours into it. I’d really recommend starting there. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Ruiz/100000640263916 Christopher Ruiz

        It’s not really so much “completely unwilling” as it is “completely broke college student” lol

        EDIT: But I’ll look into getting the previous two titles on the cheap. I mostly just want Meruru because I think the title character is way too adoraboo, lol, but I’ll try the other two out as well. :)

  • Zeidge

    Unable. To. Wait. But. Must.

    Pre-ordered this the second it was available.

  • http://strictlyapathy.comoj.com/ SoulArbiter

    Oh God! Just release for PAL territories already. I want you to take my money, all for this!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Altin-Bujupaj/1157167838 Altin Bujupaj

    This game seems to proclaim to be better than Totori – which was better than Rorona. They really try to put further effort into what they have achieved with Totori – near Perfection :D

    I guess I see why I preorderd this game from NISA since they announced it :D

  • SirRichard

    I’m going to give the series a shot with this one; the art’s always caught my eye, and this one launches on the day of my last A-Level, so what better way to kick off the summer? 

    If I like it, probably going to go for Totori as well, though Rorona seems a lost cause; it goes for £40-£60 new on Amazon, one git’s even trying to pull £100 for it!

  • Placido

     Gino~~~!!! Ah, he looks awesome. XD

  • Visa Vang

    Totori didn’t grow at all… Melon…

  • http://twitter.com/KeionKirby Hoshi星

    I still haven’t pre-ordered it on Nisa store…They changed their shipping method in Canada…Why must I pay twice the shipping rate if I ordered the game twice. It didn’t happen when I ordered two Neptunia mk2.

    Anyway, I need this to complete the trilogy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andreas-Hamasaki/100003765535958 Andreas Hamasaki

    Atelier Meruru is a -must have RPG-. Besides Atelier Ayesha one of my favorites this year.

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