The cycle is finally complete, as Koei Tecmo releases its latest Plus version in its long-running Atelier series. Atelier Rorona Plus for the PlayStation Vita gets an upgrade treatment in the hope of giving fans, current and potential, some extra loving as the series keeps expanding. Is this an ultimate edition worth your time and money, or is it better to wait patiently for the next sequel in this ever-evolving franchise?
Rorona Plus follows the titular character, Rorona, as she is tasked with trying to prevent the takeover of her master’s workshop by the government. Every three months or so of in-game time, she has to complete a specific objective in order for the game to continue, as well as additional tasks for extra perks and items. The assignments vary from synthesizing an item or collecting materials a specific number of times to fighting special mini-bosses and even exploring an area fully. The quests are not hard in the slightest, making this an easy game. The difficulty lies in making sure you get everything done within the time limit.
The main emphasis of the game, just like the others in the series, is on creating all your weapons and gear through alchemy. As Rorona uses it, her level increases, allowing the creation of better things. The best weapons and armor can only be made in the same way, so buying anything is more of a stop gap measure for ingredients, and totally useless for gear.
This can be a bit frustrating at times due to the slow pace of the game. A lot of the time, you’ll just be going back and forth between the same areas continuously, even if the enemies there are so weak they hit for the impish 1 HP. At times, I was utterly bored with the game due to being so far superior to the current environment but needing to maximize my time rather than skipping ahead in the story by sleeping away the days. It is one of the downsides of making an ultimate version of a game when those in the series after it have made robust improvements in weak areas.
One of the charms of the series is how normal the game tries to be. Most RPGs are about fantasy, in terms of characters being superhuman or trained soldiers used to the fighting. The starting trio of Rorona Plus includes a naïve, bumbling alchemy apprentice, her spoiled, rich friend, and a waiter at the local café–not exactly Shepard’s crack squad on the suicide mission. But it makes adding the royal knight to your team later that much more special, as his higher stats are rare. Thus, he’s actually valuable instead of being a cookie cutout with a different name.
One way alchemy is integrated into gameplay is through using bombs and other items to affect the environment around Rorona. Going through some areas, you will suddenly hit a dead end, needing a bomb to blow the rocks up, freeze the water, etc. These uses are creative and cool, but the problem I had with it was twofold: Items you need have to be crafted but the roadblocks regenerate if not destroyed in one hit. It is frustrating early on if you’ve wasted time on making bombs that are useless. Additionally, those roadblocks come back when the area is left, thus creating a never-ending cycle. It is one of those flaws later fixed in Escha and Logy that has to be dealt with by going back to the past. If items available in those areas were worth the hassle it wouldn’t be so bad, but as chests respawn the same item infinitely, it becomes a waste of time as the game progresses.
The story is also not as engaging as it could have been and the cast feels haphazard. You get a big burst of story at the start of an assignment, and then extra information piecemealed throughout the months. Story scenes can be entirely skipped since the quick travel option will show if a conversation is available. This is something implemented in games that came later, but the extra dialogue Rorona gets into is kind of boring. It also doesn’t help that Rorona herself is boring too, as there are way too many jokes and comments about the same material over and over on repeat. The amazingly talented voice actors make the script better than it is, but it’s a small saving grace.
The game infuses the music with the normalcy talked about earlier with the characters. Nothing pops out at the player to get him or her psyched up. There is no Suicide Mission track to make you want to get into combat. This is a shame because the combat is fun, although easy. It might be standard-fare combat for an RPG but it doesn’t try to over-complicate the situation by adding gimmicks for the sake of being different, only bloating combat rather than giving it substance.
I understand what KT is trying to do, and as someone who enjoyed Ayesha and Escha and Logy, Rorona Plus is a good deal for those who started the series late. New Game Plus, extra bosses, and cross-save between PS3 and Vita all add some extra spice to the game. The downside is the meat in the pie is not as fresh as it could be. As someone who plays RPGs mostly for the story, the Dusk trilogy is a leap above the Arland trilogy. This is a game for those who love the series and want the extra goodies, or the ability to play Atelier on Vita. It is also for those who fell under the spell of the Dusk trilogy and want to give Rorona a try for the experience of seeing how the series has progressed through time. This, however, is not a game for those who have skipped it previously on purpose. If that’s you, nothing here will change your mind.