Atelier Totori Plus is… relaxing. And that’s somewhat strange to me. I’m typically most drawn to games that are somewhat demanding of their players, or force you to suffer a bit before you enjoy them, but Atelier Totori Plus didn’t do that. Instead it just let me take things at my own pace, slowly endearing its world and characters to me.
Atelier Totori Plus centers around Totooria "Totori" Helmold, a young girl with a cursory knowledge of alchemy. Despite the fact that a sizable percentage of her syntheses explode in her face, because she’s one of only three alchemists in the world, she has quite a reputation. Outside of people wanting her to create them things, however, she wants to become a great adventurer like (and hopefully to find) her missing mother.
However, the steps towards becoming a great adventurer sort of go hand-in-hand with becoming a great alchemist. After finding her way from her rural hometown Alanya to the bustling city Arland (both are in the country of Arland, so it’s a tad confusing at first), she’s given an adventurer license and told to… take care of monster-slaying, material-gathering, and item-synthesizing quests, which Totori notes is very similar to what she did before becoming an adventurer. As she does so, she’s joined by an assortment of friends and fellow adventurers, is visited in her workshop by a number of strange people, and gets to know the shopkeepers and townspeople around her.
That’s basically the game in a nutshell. You take missions, go out to find the items or monsters that you need, and get to know people as you explore. All the while, you’re building up points to rank up as an adventurer. If you need to synthesize something, you might have to find an alchemy book or do a few other syntheses to level up your alchemy beforehand. Even with time ticking along as I did these missions (stopping to harvest marked materials takes half of an entire day!), I never really found myself overly stressed or faced with challenges that seemed initially insurmountable. I was always comfortable.
Even combat is pretty laid back. Totori is joined by two other adventurers at any time. Totori is basically in charge of item usage, healing or otherwise (you practically need to have a few weaponized items when you go exploring, since Totori’s standard attacks do very little damage). She’s rather weak on her own, which is why it’s handy that your other two characters are effectively her bodyguards. In addition to being able to dish out more damage item-free, if one of your enemies is directing an attack at Totori and you have enough of a quickly refilling gauge filled up, you can call your assistants to hop in front of her and block the attack. Should you have Totori use an offensive item (such as an AOE explosive), they can use that gauge to do follow-up attacks instead of blocking. It’s a nice little risk and reward system nested within standard turn-based combat. Like the mission structure of the game, it’s comfortable and enjoyable.
However, while I was relaxed, the game never really felt like it was playing itself. Progression felt determined by where I explored and what I was synthesizing.
At one point, I wandered into an area that I hadn’t visited before to find some harvestable rocks. After gathering them, I’d realize that they could be synthesized into bombs with the book I’d purchased a few months beforehand. If I had Totori use those bombs I could defeat more powerful monsters more quickly and explore more places to get more alchemical components, which would allow me to complete more missions and rank up as an adventurer, as well as have more bonding moments with my increasing number of party members.
Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical when I first started playing Atelier Totori Plus. When I saw the way that Totori ran and how she was constantly portrayed as airheaded and inept, I was a bit worried that that would be the extent of her personality. While there’s definitely an occasionally overwhelming focus on cute girls doing cute things, I found myself growing fond of the characters and the world they inhabited. For instance, one of my favorite characters was the weaponsmith Hagel Boldness. Aside from having one of the greatest last names of all time, his hidden desire to have amazing hair and tendency to call everyone younger than him kiddo immediately drew my interest. In a lot of other RPGs, the weapon shop guy would be a menu or a picture, but every time a cutscene was triggered upon entering his shop, it put a smile on my face.
While I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy the characters as much as I did, they added to the relaxing nature of the game. I found myself losing hours to the game just to see what they’d be doing next. Totori’s dad, Guid seems to simply fade in and out of existence, always surprising his daughters whenever he comments on one of their conversations. They have no idea how he manages to disappear so easily. One of your party members, Mimi Houllier von Schwarzlang, has a very acrid personality at first, but Totori’s kindness starts to win her over… unfortunately, because of the way that Mimi typically acts, Totori doesn’t notice her attempts at friendship, which just makes Mimi madder. Written out like this, it sounds incredibly quaint, but since you’re constantly interacting with different characters and learning about them, it feels like you’re part of a community. It’s a nice feeling, one that I don’t get from a lot of games.
While Atelier Totori Plus is basically what you’d get if you tried to design the opposite of an action game like Devil May Cry 3, I can’t help but like it. Even though I was initially hesitant, I was drawn in by Arland and its citizenry. It’s not what I’m used to, but it’s a great game to unwind with at the end of a busy day.
Food for Thought:
1. Atelier Totori Plus is a good fit for a portable system. It’s the kind of game that works quite well in short bursts, and I don’t think I would have enjoyed it quite as much on a console.
2. While the game is a good fit for the Vita and looks quite good on it, it’s sometimes a bit jarring that it seems to try to target 60FPS and occasionally is hit with some heavy and inexplicable slowdown. It’s not that bad, but it’s noticeable.