Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: September 20, 2018 (JP) & December 4, 2018 (EU & NA)
The story finishes strong with Meruru.
It is time for my review of Atelier Meruru, the third game in the Atelier series Arland Trilogy. If you want to check out the reviews of the previous games, then you can find Atelier Rorona by clicking here, and Atelier Totori here. As this is a trilogy, this game does link up with the previous titles in some ways, so some references to those games cannot be helped within this review.
Atelier Meruru follows the story of Meruru, a princess of the country of Arls, found on the outskirts of the Arland Republic. Meruru is an excitable girl brimming with energy, and when we step into her life, we find that she has decided to become an alchemist. She is an apprentice, learning off of Totori, the protagonist from the previous title in the Arland Trilogy.
We find that Meruru’s father is not happy with her becoming an alchemist, but Meruru is stubborn and refuses to give up her dream. As such, the king buckles and allows her to study alchemy under one condition; that she proves that she can use alchemy to help the Arls prosper. She is given a three year time period to achieve this and must grow the population, explore new areas within the country, and help develop the main town.
Compared to the previous two games in the Arland Trilogy, Atelier Meruru has a more important story thread holding the game together. Although still a slice of life game not focused on battling the forces of evil or saving the world, developing a country lacking in both alchemy and technology to help the townspeople prosper feels much more significant than Rorona saving her alchemy shop, or Totori becoming an adventurer. This ends up being an interesting change of pace for the game, and I really liked this new direction.
The pacing of the story in this one is excellent, there is never a dull moment to be had. Everywhere you go you seem to get more narrative, be it from the main storyline, or just getting to know the cast of characters in this one. Speaking of the characters, most of the ones found in Atelier Meruru are from the previous two games, which helps to tie the trilogy together. Although you can play this one without having played the previous two, you will miss a lot of the impact meeting these characters again will have.
The new characters that are introduced in Atelier Meruru are also very strong, arguably just as strong as the previous games. Not only that, Totori, whom I found annoying in Atelier Totori, is much more mature in this one, and is possibly one of my favourites here. In terms of gameplay, Atelier Meruru is a rather typical JRPG. That means there will be lots of turn-based combat, levelling of characters skills and exploration to be had. There is also a major focus of creating items with alchemy, and developing the country of Arls.
Beginning with exploration, when you leave town you will be presented with an over-world map. From here, you can choose what area you would like to explore. When you have made your decision, you will then be taken to a zone you can explore, with lots of items to harvest and enemies to defeat.
To engage enemies in combat, you just run up to the creature and whack it with your staff. Doing so brings you to a separate battle screen, where you can select how you would like to tackle the fight. The main options given to you are to either use a physical attack, use an item, guard yourself from an incoming attack, or flee. Other members of your party will also be able to use special abilities that consume MP, much like mana in other JRPG’s. The battle system thankfully resembles the one from Atelier Rorona, which was much easier to navigate and understand at a glance than the one from Atelier Totori.
Collecting items in the field is also an important part of this game, as you will be required to gather items to help you synthesise new items with alchemy. To synthesise an item, you approach your cauldron, choose the item you would like to synthesise, then add the required items to create the item you want. Basically, you need item A and item B to create item C. Sometimes you will also need to create an item to help you synthesise a different item, meaning that you may need item C you just created to help create item D. It is a simple system, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable. The quality of the items you create are based on the quality of the items used as well. Using high quality items will net you a better outcome.
Developing the town is a huge part of Atelier Meruru, and is required to beat the game. To build up the town and increase the population of Arls, you must finish tasks doled out to you by the castle advisor. Doing so will net you development points, and you can cash those points in to begin developments on new buildings in town. These new buildings will also grant you perks, such as higher experience gain, more items in the local shops, or even new alchemic recipes. It is a neat system that acts as an incentive for players to complete certain buildings based on your play style.
You also need to be aware of your popularity among the townspeople. If your popularity is too low, then your population growth will suffer. To increase your popularity, you merely need to complete side quests and requests given out at the local tavern. The more quests you complete, the higher your popularity will grow. keeping up with both increasing your popularity and developing the town can be quite difficult at first, but once you get into the swing of things you will find that it creates an atmosphere in the game where you are always busy, and always have something to do.
As your goal needs to be achieved within 3 years, there is a time limit enforced here. It isn’t a difficult time limit though, and even the most casual of player should be able to have their town prospering within the allotted time. Because of this time limit though, every action you make eats up a certain amount of time. Synthesising items will take days off the calendar, the harder the item is the synthesise, the more days it will take to make. It also takes days to get to new areas to explore, to construct new buildings in time, to gather items in the field, you name it, and that action likely takes a few days off your calendar, I personally enjoyed this aspect of these games, yet I can understand if someone found this time limit stressful.
Visually, the game is as beautiful as the rest of the trilogy. From the visual novel style art in conversations, to the brightly coloured characters and environments, everything here just looks beautiful. Yes, this is a port of a PS3 game, so textures aren’t as detailed as they could be, nor are the edges as rounded as a lot of other games, but the art direction makes up for the dated graphics. Much like how The Wind Waker on the GameCube looks beautiful even today due to its visual style, Atelier Meruru holds up surprisingly well to this day.
The voice acting here is top notch, with excellent performances from all members of the cast. Sound effects match the cute visual style as well, which helps to immerse you within this world. There is one major drawback in this title however, is the fact that the music is absolutely dreadful and tries its hardest to ruin the experience. You will hear songs that sound like they were played by a child who has no rhythm playing a recorder for the first time, or randomly sampled farm animal noises thrown in on top of an ear-bleeding inducing, annoying accordion. It is a real shame, as music can have a huge effect on a game.
Atelier Meruru is an amazing end to the Arland Trilogy. Not only are all your favourite characters from the previous games represented here, but the new ones added are just as strong as those you have come to love. Add to that a strong story with excellent pacing, the best gameplay of the trilogy, and some great voice-over work, and Atelier Meruru becomes an easy recommendation. Unfortunately, the music is terrible, stopping this game from reaching the heights that it probably deserves.
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*Review Key Provided by Koei Tecmo
Should you wish to check out another of our reviews, you can do so by clicking here.
This post was written by Lachlan Bruce