Atelier Lulua ~The Scion of Arland~ Review (Switch)

Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is the long-awaited new entry into the Atelier Arland subseries, having just released on Nintendo Switch back on May 21, 2019. This new title promised to return to the world of Arland and its inhabitants while also infusing the experience with some of the newer features present in the more recent “Mysterious” subseries, perhaps making it a bit easier to approach than some of the earlier Arland games. A few months ago, had you asked me whether or not I’d care anything at all about a series that puts ultra-stylized “cute” anime girls in the forefront, you’d have received a resounding “NO” in response. That said, the Atelier Arland games have grabbed me in ways I never expected, and Atelier Lulua is no exception to that statement. In fact, I believe Atelier Lulua is the best one yet, at least for the average JRPG consumer.

Story

Set several years after the events of Atelier Meruru, Atelier Lulua follows the adventures of Rorona’s daughter, Elmerulia (Lulua), as she follows in the alchemical footsteps of her mother. Despite being the daughter of the legendary alchemist that starred in the first game, Lulua actually is an apprentice under Piana, another alchemist that was introduced in Atelier Totori. One day, the two discover a mysterious book thats contents can only be deciphered by Lulua, but only after unlocking each page’s secrets through combat, exploration, and growing as an alchemist. This ever-expanding “Alchemyriddle” is the cornerstone for both story and side content in Atelier Lulua, segmenting content into chapters (of the book) and effectively acting as the gateway to new locations, alchemy recipes, and story progression.

While there are some twists and turns to be to be thrown at you as the story unfolds, it isn’t the most exciting thing you’ll experience in the realm of RPGs. I’ve always viewed the Atelier Arland games as a “gameplay first, story second” deal, and that also applies to this new entry. For me personally, the biggest appeal on the plot side of things doesn’t come from the actual story itself, but seeing how the new characters fill out the world, as well as how the recurring cast members adapt to the new scenario. Prepare yourself for some disconnect here if you’re brand new to the subseries – this is the fourth entry, after all – but a base amount of information for each of the recurring characters is provided so that you won’t be completely lost. While I wouldn’t go as far to say that you should definitely play the previous entries first, you’ll definitely be missing a piece of the puzzle if you opt out of them.

Gameplay

Atelier Lulua trades in a major subseries staple for a more newcomer/casual-friendly design. The time limit from the previous games is completely gone, and time itself plays only a minor role (at most) in the majority of content. From what I understand, this change brings Atelier Lulua more in-line with some of the newer Atelier titles. The eradication of the time limit is both a blessing and a curse however, as the drastic change in gameplay paves way for a less strenuous loop in general at the cost of, at times, a lack of direction.

The aforementioned Alchemyriddle is there to move things forward, but only after you decipher its contents. The individual pages of this book comes attached with their own objectives you must fulfill, and these requirements aren’t always cut and dry. Some objectives may demand that you gather a specific high-quality ingredient that is native to a single zone, but the Alchemyriddle won’t always tell you that. This leads to some inevitable, aimless wandering that doesn’t always feel the best, but at least time is on your side. Alchemyriddle pages also have a tendency to unlock way earlier than they should, leaving you scratching your head as to how to unlock their rewards in your current progression when, in actuality, you just have to progress the story further in order to reap some of the page’s benefits.

Initially, the departure from the standard time limit was quite appealing to me, as I never felt like I had enough time to fully explore things within the confines of a single playthrough in the previous games, but the execution here feels a bit disjointed in its current form. However, these feelings could very well stem from the first three games grooming me for a certain type of play, only to turn that logic on its head in this one. In short, I like the idea behind not having a time limit as it helps single-run players (like myself) better experience everything that the game has to offer in comparison to the older format. I just feel like the execution could have been tightened up a bit in order to make it an all-around stellar experience.

Gathering and exploration works almost identical to the way it has in the previous entries, save for the lack of a time limit. Lulua can move around the world map in order to reach all sorts of gathering zones, hostile environments, and towns. A certain number of in-game days will pass when traveling between two points but, again, this does not affect the vast majority of content as it once did in the earlier entries. Time of day, however, can affect what enemies and gathering points show up on any given map, meaning you’ll have to visit locations multiple times at different points in order to explore them completely. Revisiting locations to fulfill objectives, gather, or slay certain monsters for subquests is nothing new in the realm of Atelier Arland titles, but the difference here is you can do these things without sweating a time limit.

You’ll want to gather, fight, and explore not only to fill out that Alchemyriddle, but also to complete optional tasks from each city. These are varied and supplied endlessly, but can provide some excellent rewards should you take the time to complete them. You can only take on five of these tasks at a time before you either have to complete (and turn in) one of them, or cancel one in favor of another. As far as I can tell, there are no penalties to cancelling contracts early should they prove to be too much of a bother. Try to aim at accepting quests in or around areas you’ll already be visiting for the most pain-free results.

The turn-based approach to combat has returned in Atelier Lulua, but there are a few key differences worth mentioning here. The combo/chaining system of Rorona and Meruru has once again taken a hiatus in favor of new “assist” and “interrupt” mechanics. Your party consists of three frontline (or active) characters and two supporting (or assist) characters. This lineup is best adjusted out-of-combat, though you can do some limited swapping in combat at the cost of a character’s turn. In the supporting role, each character has one or more skills that will automatically fire off when certain conditions are met. For example, one character will perform an immediate follow-up attack should another character deal magic-based damage. In a sense, this format resembles the previous chaining system albeit in a different way.

The alchemists on your team, of course, have access to the plethora of items you will create along the way. Additionally, they can expend an “interrupt” and use an equipped item immediately if they have a charge in queue. This allows you to instantly throw off a heal or quickly finish off a foe in the nick of time, and this can be very useful in many situations. Enemies can also be knocked back and stunned, which pushes their turn back some in the queue or stops them temporarily, respectively. The stun isn’t completely OP like it can be in other games though, as the first bit of damage dealt on the stunned enemy will immediately wake it from that state.

Sometimes, it pays to put damage on the backburner in favor of keeping an enemy stunned in order for your team’s turns to come back around in the queue. On the other hand, dishing out a mighty blow while the enemy is stunned can, in some cases, substantially increase the damage they receive. In tandem, these mechanics make for pretty satisfying combat, especially when you line up your attacks and assists in a way that prevents an extremely powerful foe from acting before they meet their demise. Atelier Lulua provides three levels of difficulty, which can be adjusted from the menu at any time.

Alchemy, while easier than previous entries, is just as fun and in-depth as before. The lack of a time limit allows you to really hone in on your syntheses without worrying about meeting a deadline. What I DON’T like however, is the absence of a failure rate. In previous entries, you had a chance to fail a synthesis depending on your alchemy level and the level of the recipe itself. You could attempt to synthesize recipes well above your level at the cost of a reduced success rate, whereas in Lulua you have to attain the same level of the recipe before you can even attempt it. You can still fail a synthesis, mind you, but it is much more difficult than it was in the past.

When synthesizing, selecting the required ingredients for any given recipe will fill up bonus bars for the item in real-time, which impacts the potency of certain traits in the final product. These bars are tied to certain elements, and individual ingredients are attuned to certain elements, moving them up or down in progress as a result. The bonus bars often times have opposing elements though, like a fire-based bonus that diminishes whenever you use ingredients with ice properties. Going back to failing syntheses, this can sometimes happen if you let one of these bars go too far in the wrong direction.

Not every item is designed this way though, and the ones that are tend to not be that difficult to synthesize properly anyways. If you’re like me and are more of a “visual” person, this bar feature might sound a little daunting, but it makes complete sense once you experience it for yourself. In addition to these features, the standard trait transfer and quality levels of synthesized items return in Atelier Lulua, offering a satisfying crafting experience as a whole.

Graphics and Sound

Considering the last Atelier Arland game was from the previous console generation, it should come as no surprise that Atelier Lulua is the best looking one of the bunch, even when considering the updated visuals present in the original trilogy of titles on Switch. The departure from the fixed camera is also huge, making the world of Arland feel more alive than it has ever been thanks to the new third person perspective present throughout. The soundtrack is also one of the best in the subseries thus far, combining remixes of familiar tunes while offering up new themes that stand on their own.

Two of my personal favorites are the remixed Meruru Workshop theme and the standard battle music.

Issues

Atelier Lulua, thankfully, fares better performance-wise than the previous entries…for the most part. There are still some spots where things will bog down a bit, but nothing near as heinous as that infamous first map from Meruru. Also, like Meruru, I noticed quite a bit of spelling and grammatical mistakes present in the localization, but nothing so ridiculous that it became an annoyance. Also, English voiceovers aren’t available like they were in the original trilogy, so I kind of hoped that the script would have been a little bit cleaner as a result. Either way, these mistakes are worth mentioning but aren’t that big of a deal.

Conclusion

The enhancements fitted to Atelier Lulua easily make it the most approachable game in the subseries, despite it not being completely free of faults. The recurring mechanics found across most Atelier will not resonate with every RPG fan, but there’s never been a better time to see what the fuss is all about. You could easily spend 30-40 hours on the main and various sub-campaigns before hitting the post game, and that is only from a single playthrough. These games are typically designed to be played multiple times over too, so the potential for even more value is definitely there. Don’t let its looks fool you. Atelier Lulua, like the other Arland titles, hides lots of meaningful depth and enjoyment behind the cutesy aesthetic.

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