Do I have what it takes to be an alchemist? To find out, I tried Atelier Rorona Plus, a re-release of the original game from 2010. This new Plus version significantly changes all of the character models to be more in line with how the series has progressed visually. It also adds more playable characters and optional bosses, and even changes some established game mechanics around such as skills being tied to magic points rather than health.
At its core, though, Atelier Rorona Plus should be familiar to the initiated: A ditzy young girl named Rorona has to run an alchemy workshop for three years in order to prevent it from shutting down. To do this, she has to synthesize items with alchemy to fulfill the kingdom’s requests and become a successful alchemist.
Meeting these demands takes time, as creating new items with alchemy or going outside to find ingredients will knock days off of an in-game timer. The pressure of having a timer forces you to consider your decisions, but you’re actually given more than enough time to complete the main objectives. The lax limit is helpful, because you can quickly lose a lot of days on your quest to save the workshop.
Synthesizing items with alchemy is the core of Atelier Rorona, but there really isn’t much to it. Making an item requires the recipe, which you get from finding books, and ingredients, which you get from stores or by exploring outside the town. The menus are smartly designed, allowing you to quickly sort items by useful criteria, displaying required ingredients, and create large numbers of items.
The second biggest component to the game is Rorona’s excursions outside, where she must pick up materials while picking fights with the wildlife. Not because they’re in her way or particularly hostile, however. Enemies are actually fairly easy to avoid; your main motivation for violence is unique item drops the enemies may be carrying in their pockets…or insides.
Rorona Plus isn’t really about the combat, but the mechanics behind it are surprisingly satisfying. All encounters are turn-based, with the order you and the enemies go shown on the right side of the screen. Speed stats and certain attacks will affect when the next turn comes up, allowing for strategies that let you manipulate the order, allowing for a bevy of attacks from your side if you play your cards right.
Battles also allow all the characters shine, every party member has unique animations that really bring out their personality. Rorona’s animations are awkward and clumsy, while her chef friend Iskel will use comically oversized frying pans to smack his foes. Some of my favorite attacks actually belong to one of the Plus exclusive characters, Esty, whose animations can only be described as maximum overkill for the poor wildlife on the receiving end of her blades.
Fights are fast, frequent, and simple but full of hidden depth. Unfortunately, very few enemy encounters require you to dig that deep. There are some optional bosses that provide a greater challenge than the usual fare of enemies, but I wish there was more content. As it is now, the battles feel like wasted potential, which is a shame because they were my favorite way to pass extra time on the calendar.
Before you know it, months will pass by in a blink as you continue to work towards your goals. Meeting the bare minimum requirements of your assignment will get you by, but the further you go beyond, the better the ending you get at the end of the game. On top of the main assignment, you’re also given a handful of smaller tasks like defeating boss monsters or synthesizing specific items.
This concept gets taken even further with more optional tasks given to you by the population of Arland, who will have new requests to fulfill on a daily basis. Completing this optional content is the real meat of the game, as I found completing the tasks assigned by Sterk to be easy to fulfill to the maximum very quickly. Regularly meeting the demands of the people increases your popularity, which affects the ending.
A steady supply of tasks ensures that you never feel like you’re wasting your time or wandering about aimlessly. Even random visits outside to fight monsters prove fruitful, as you never know when you’re going to need a specific item for a request or synthesis. While Rorona Plus works on a time limit, it’s less about restricting your options and more about encouraging you to explore, experiment, and finally optimize based on your discoveries.
As life goes on in Arland, more people will inhabit the town and open up new opportunities for Rorona. While Rorona begins the game keeping the workshop afloat almost entirely by herself, she eventually gets subordinates, new party members, shops and her merchandise sold across the entire town. Streams of new mechanics spring forth at a regular pace, keeping the experience fresh while challenging those who have mastered the basics.
Like Rorona herself, the other inhabitants of Arland are simple but endearing. Event scenes are littered across the calendar, introducing you to the bizarre cast of characters. While watching the events is mandatory, they never go on overly long and the characters are charming enough to be likable. Even the town itself begins to warm up to Rorona, as the more you optional tasks you complete the more the random NPCs around town will acknowledge your existence.
Watching both Rorona and the town of Arland develop alongside each other ended up being a surprising highlight of the game. Rorona’s story is small in scale, but it complements the scope of the game nicely. There’s no excessive dialogue, no shocking plot twists, and Rorona does not use the power of love to turn into a giant mecha in order to save the world. The plot unfolds exactly how it needs to, being simple enough to follow while endearing enough to keep your interest.
Atelier Rorona Plus makes a strong case for being an alchemist. As a newcomer, the new Plus release is a great introduction to the practice, being simple enough to grasp while allowing a ton of room for growth. If you’re a veteran, it really depends on how eager you are to play through the game again, as most of the new content appears to be near the end or beyond in a second playthrough, with few enhancements sprinkled into the actual brunt of the game.
Food for Thought:
1. I have no idea what the PS3 version is like, but the Vita release of Rorona Plus does not run very well. Just about every area in town or the outside areas will incur some form of stuttering or sudden pop-in of characters. It’s not irredeemable because the game doesn’t require much in terms of precision or reactions, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.
2. A huge chunk of the Plus-exclusive content is stuffed towards the back end of the game, with the highlights being a playable Totori and Meruru from later games in the series and optional super bosses. My favorite immediately accessible feature is the ability to customize the music that plays in-game; you pick music from every Atelier game that has come before and after Rorona, including some other Japanese spin-offs I’ve never heard about.
3. Rorona Plus also has some neat connections to the other Vita Atelier releases. I actually own Totori Plus (but have barely touched it) so I unlocked some costumes for Rorona Plus. On top of unlockable content, there’s also a “time capsule” feature that lets you bury items in Rorona Plus and use them in the chronologically later Atelier games.
4. If you tap the back Vita touch screen while Rorona is standing still, she does some weird stuff like impromptu celebrations. It’s a pretty cute little Easter egg, as well as good material for taking screenshots.