IGN Review of Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland
For a short time, I dated a girl who really prided herself on her culinary skills. She took particular joy in whipping up Indian delicacies. One night, after a terrific meal, she offered me a popular Indian desert called gulab jamun. Excited to try something new, I bit right in. Immediately, I was able to discern that gulab jamun is just way too sweet for my palette.
My time spent with Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland was a very similar experience. The game is relentlessly adorable, featuring enough awkward, pseudo-lesbian, moekko fan service to make certain breeds of otaku think they've died and gone to heaven. If you needed to Google anything in that last sentence, you may find Atelier Totori's abundant story and colorful characters too saccharine to stomach. Still, its rock solid RPG mechanics and unique item crafting and questing systems deliver enough fun to make it worth taking a bite of.
A direct sequel to last year's Atelier Rorona, Atelier Totori turns RPG convention on its head with a story that's focused on a more personal, small-scale quest instead of a world saving, epic one. You play the role of Totooria Helmold (Totori for short), an aspiring young alchemist from the small fishing village of Alanya. Totori dreams of using her alchemy skills to become a registered "adventurer", in the hopes of traveling far and wide to search for her Mother. This endeavor never leads her to uncovering any insidious, far-reaching conspiracies or confronting any world-threatening, apocalyptic evils, and the game is all the better for it. From beginning to end, the story remains focused on Totori and the small group of people who care for and support her.
As compelling as the core concept of the story is, it often stumbles in its execution. The writing is mostly groan-worthy and the voice acting rarely does anything to save it either. Most of the males in the cast range in quality from tolerable to Freddie Prinze Jr. (not a compliment). I defy you to watch a scene involving Peter without throttling the X button to spare your ears from the torture. The ladies fare better and are really the heart of the tale, as their everyday interactions make up the bulk of the scenes. These interactions include discussing how viciously cute they all find each other, debating who has a better butt, and, most importantly, sleepovers. Yay!
If you manage to survive (or enjoy) the game's repeated attempts to pound you into submission with the cute-hammer, you will find Atelier Totori to be imminently playable and addictive. The Atelier series is known for its "item synthesis" system and in this regard, the game does not fail to impress. It features one of the most detailed item crafting mechanics the genre has ever seen and surrounds it with a unique questing structure and a rock solid, if a bit straightforward combat system.
Pretty much every item you use and every piece of new gear you equip is of your own creation. The basic mechanics are simple enough. Decide what to make, select the ingredients, and the thing you want pops out of the cauldron. The real depth comes from trying to make high quality items with stats and attributes custom tailored to your party and play style. This requires an understanding of item traits and levels, quality ratings and ingredient classes. It also requires you to explore the world to find the best gathering sites for the most sought after components. I lost countless hours trying to build a better megabomb to help me take down a particularly tough side boss, and my compulsion to craft the perfect set of feather chain armor kept me playing until the sun came up.
While not nearly as deep, the battle system is well balanced and provides a good difficulty curve throughout. Despite being turn based, combat is very snappy and briskly paced. Battle animations and spell effects are smooth and colorful, lending a "playable anime" vibe to the proceedings. As an alchemist, Totori is the only party member capable of using the powerful, expendable items she creates in combat. The tradeoff is that her standard attacks inflict a paltry amount of damage and she lacks special combat skills. This paves the way for a mechanic that allows you to call in party members to defend her from attacks or back her up when she launches an attack of her own. Due to this, the party relies on her for utility just as much as she relies on them for combat and protection. It's a neat little wrinkle that keeps the battles fun despite being fairly simple.
The quest structure plays upon these qualities very well. Unlike many RPGs where the game is constantly telling you what to do next, Atelier Totori lets you make your own experience. You start by reporting to the adventurer's guild to see what quests are available. Some will put your gathering or synthesizing skills to the test, while others task you with finding and taking down some beasties. Which jobs to take and which ones to leave is entirely up to you. Keep in mind, most quests have a deadline by which they must be completed or you don't get paid. Every time you gather ingredients, synthesize an item, finish a round of combat or travel from one location to another, time passes in-game, so it becomes important to prioritize and not bite off more than you can chew. This mechanic makes time truly precious, which makes everything you do feel urgent and meaningful.
Some players will find this daunting, but I found it to be Atelier Totori's greatest strength. Everything requires some bit of choice, effort and investment. Nothing is handed to you, but nothing is forced upon you either. If you want a shiny new weapon, take the time to track down good components and make it. Feel like exploring a new region of the map? Go do it, but make sure you synthesize everything you need to keep your crew well rested and healthy for the long haul. You have to manage your travel time, your parties HP and MP, their level of fatigue and even the deterioration of your perishable food items. Because everything is a real undertaking, you feel a palpable sense of accomplishment when you succeed.
Both visually and musically, the game will make the same impression upon you as its story and character interactions do. If you find this very specific kind of anime motif enjoyable, you'll love the soundtrack and character designs. But even if you aren't a fan, it's hard to find fault with the craftsmanship behind it all. All the tracks are well produced, featuring a well balanced mix of pianos and strings, with a healthy helping of flute thrown in for good measure. Character costumes are replete with loving details that make them stand out, and the game runs smooth and looks razor sharp. All told, it's a solid package, even if it doesn't do much to appeal to players outside of the target demographic. One look at the opening cinematic will be all it takes to know whether or not the game's style is for you.