Most RPG gamers out there are so used to seeing the same tired equation in every single RPG that comes out. Sure, there are some differences with the combat and extras, but 90% of the games that get put out consist of a male protagonist who has to save the world from one thing or another. That’s where the Atelier series has always been different though, and that’s what has consistently made this series stand out and shine. No catastrophe threatening to end all life on the world; no giant monster wanting to turn people to crystals – in this game you’re controlling a girl struggling to get by, and grow up. Yes, it sounds vastly different from the other RPG games out there, but as the old Arby’s commercial used to say, “Different is Good.”
In Atelier Totori, you follow the life of 13-year old Totori (just like Atelier Rorona followed Rorona) as she wants to find her lost mother. To accomplish this feat, Totori has to become an adventurer like her mother was. The whole “becoming an adventurer” thing is really the central focus here and you’ll be doing a LOT to further that. Basically you accept jobs (think quests) from the Adventurer’s Guild to do one of three different things. There are synthesizing jobs – as the game is based on alchemy, you have to create a specific object or item. There are hunting jobs – where much like the name implies, you have to hunt out a specific monster and kill it. And finally, there are collection jobs – and that’s not the Joe Pesci kind of “collecting”, but rather it’s going out and hunting down certain ingredients.
Completing jobs gives the usual rewards of money and what not, but whenever you fulfill certain conditions, you’ll get points on your adventurer’s license. These conditions could be things like visiting a new area, killing bosses, or crafting a whole lot of things. Every point gets added to your license to increase your rank. Higher rank equals more jobs, more ingredients, and more places to go. By doing it this way, you’re always working on small goals to achieve the overarching large goal of finding your mother. It’s a great system, because the player sees their rewards quicker than they would in a normal RPG.
This system also gives players an amount of freedom to do what they want that’s virtually nonexistent in the current gen of RPGs, however this freedom never becomes too much to handle. It’s a fine line that they walk – much like the OLD Final Fantasy games – but they make sure not to step to one side or the other. The boundaries that confine the player never feel like they’re stopping you from doing something important, while the freedom doesn’t make you feel like you have no clear goal. It’s this masterful weaving of letting you do things while keeping you on track that every RPG developer should be striving to achieve.
One thing that is a common factor in Atelier games, and one of the biggest devices used to keep a player on track, is the element of time. In Atelier Totori the player is given only five short years; that’s it – no begging or pleading for more. In Atelier Rorona, you had different objectives that had to be completed by a certain time or that was it, but in Atelier Totori, they took a much simpler approach. By year three, Totori only has to reach a specific rank in the Adventurer’s Guild to keep going. Having only one goal really takes a lot of stress out of the game since you’re not worrying every year – however it’s also very easy to lose yourself in thinking you have lots of time left. The player has to remember that everything you do in this game consumes time – be it walking, or crafting, or fighting.
Something else that other RPG designers would do well to take not of, is how Atelier Totori handles inventory. You’re going to constantly moving into and out of inventory, and having a bad system to manage it would most certainly have been a game breaker. Totori does it next to perfectly though, by adding a lot of filters that can be used to sort things, the ability to select many things at once, and the inclusion of an on-hand bag that can hold 60 things plus a workshop that can hold 999 more. All of this shows that the designers here have been doing this for a while, and have streamlined it all down to the best way to do things.
One thing I just can’t talk enough about is NIS of America’s wonderful job of localization in this game. Normally I’ll ignore the English dubs in games because they’re just gid awful, however in this the performances are actually quite well done. The voice actors they hired are full of emotion, and are always delivering their lines the way you think they should. It’s a welcome change for the ears (and the eyes too as I don’t have to squint and read subtitles if I don’t want!) – I really hope that NIS of America continues this trend with their localizations.
Bottom line: If you’re an RPG lover that’s grown tired of the same old same old, give the latest iteration in the Atelier series a try – the story might be strange to some, but the fun and depth of the gameplay more than makes up for that.
You can pick up a copy of Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland from Amazon for $44.96
- More freedom than you’ll be used to having in an RPG
- Amazingly good localization adds charm, character, and emotion to everyone in the game
- Very light hearted story makes it a great pallet cleanser from other games
- Combat can feel a bit “blah” at times
- Some of the art assets are recycled, and it can be noticeable
- You really might want to play Rorona first so you’re not completely lost with what to do and what’s going on