I've got to hand it to Gust and NIS. When the two of them team up they tend to make some pretty stellar, if under-appreciated games. The Atelier series as a whole is a pretty solid example of this commitment to quality. And now Gust and NIS are ready to take a big jump and bring the series to the PS3 with Atelier Rorona. With some good looking visuals and a revised alchemy system in place it looks like Gust really wants this to be the game that gets them the recognition they've been trying to achieve from the gaming community. My short time with a preview build of Atelier Rorona has me believing that this game is the result of NIS America's desire to release more quality titles, even if they are few and far between.
Atelier Rorona follows a plucky young alchemist named Rorona who is an apprentice for an alchemy shop that is on the brink of being shut down. Her lazy (and sometimes creepy) master, Astrid has run off leaving Rorona with the arduous task of making sure the shop satisfies the needs of the town or else it will be shut down before the year is out. Players will control Rorona while she attempts to keep her new home afloat while also trying to improve the reputation of the shop to prove it is a necessary part of the community. While time never really felt like a factor in previous Atelier titles it now barrels down on you in Atelier Rorona. Every action has a consequence of time now towards your ultimate goal. Heading out for supplies, making alchemy mixtures, all interactions will now have to be managed with a little more attention to how they affect you chronologically which is an interesting twist for the series.
As previously mentioned, Rorona must satisfy quests in order to keep the shop from being shut down. The castle in town hands down major assignments that must be completed every three months or the game ends immediately. There are also people in town who need help and it's up to Rorona to increase the shop's popularity by completing some of these errands for the townsfolk. These errands also have deadlines so it's definitely going to be a challenge to fit them in to such a tight schedule.
The game has a great visual look for a first 3-D entry of the franchise. Those who have played Trinity Universe or Eternal Sonata will feel right at home with the style Atelier Rorona oozes, though I must admit the world as a whole doesn't seem to have received the same amount of love that the characters have. Considering how early this preview build was I expect this title to come out looking fine when it hits retail shelves. A lot of the enemies have made a great transition to 3-D, especially the Puni characters. But that doesn't mean that 2-D has been totally abandoned. Character interactions will occur on a regular basis with stellar art from Meru Kishida, though there is a bit of a disconnect between the 2-D portraits and the 3-D models in that they look distinctly different, and not always in a good way, especially after seeing how this was handled in Trinity Universe when the 2-D and 3-D models were almost indistinguishable. Though I do recognize that this happens with hand-drawn art. Voice acting from the little bit I played sounded solid, and hopefully with the space of a Blu-ray disc there will be a Japanese voice option included.
I didn't get very far in the preview build provided so combat was a bit sparse for me. From what I played it is very reminiscent of previous Atelier titles, with the slight twist being that items play a much bigger role this time around. Items can only be used by specific characters, making those people the linchpin to your party, so make sure you are able to protect them. Characters also don't rely on magic initially as all skills required hit points to be used. It remains to be seen if this gamble of life makes it worth the abilities used in battle.
Atelier Rorona will be landing in Fall 2010 and it looks like another great title from Gust and NIS. Based on the preview build I received I have no doubts that this game will be a solid addition to the PS3 RPG library which hasn't received all that much love since Final Fantasy 13. It's good to see that NIS and Gust are taking a chance with their franchise, though with the PS2 in its twilight years there isn't much reason to go down that path any more. Hopefully when Atelier Rorona hits retail it will do well enough that we'll see future installments in this long running series. Check back soon for our full review.
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