As a longtime consumer of RPGs – but one that usually loathes heavy anime aesthetics – I was pleasantly surprised at just how much fun I had with the Switch’s inaugural Atelier Arland title: Atelier Rorona. Prior to that entry, I knew little – and cared even less – about the longrunning franchise, but was instantly sucked in by its interesting spin on resource management RPGs once I tried it out for myself. Atelier Totori is the second entry in the Arland subseries, and was a game I was eager to dive right into after my generally positive takeaway from Rorona. After rolling the credits, however, can I reflect back – in confidence – at Totori’s triumphs over the previous game, or did its missteps fail to propel the series forward? Let’s find out, together!
The story here is simple, but far more compelling than what is found in Atelier Rorona. Set just a few years after the events of Rorona – where the ditzy alchemist succeeds in keeping her workshop doors open – Totori becomes the next alchemist-in-training, hailing from a small fishing village far to the south of Arland. While Totori has a genuine passion for alchemy, a craft which Rorona gladly taught the girl whilst on her travels, her true desires lie in becoming a bona fide adventurer. Becoming a licensed adventurer is key to exploring the world to its fullest as travel restrictions have closed off all of the most basic of roads to only those that prove their worth – and for good reason: the world is dangerous.
Little Totori doesn’t aspire to cull the monster population or traverse the most dangerous of locations for no good reason though – her mother, also an adventurer, set off into the unknown years ago, never to return. Nobody knows of her fate – or do they? If so, they don’t make it known. Regardless, Totori hopes that, through the necessary traveling involved with alchemy, she just might see her mom once again and, perhaps, grow a bit as a result. The premise here, while not revolutionary, is a much appreciated departure from the rather low stakes involved with simply keeping your workshop open in Rorona. It is rather bold for a teenager – really, anyone – to brave the dangers of the world just for a chance to see their mother once again.
Then…nothing really happens. Well, at least for quite a while. The open-ended design of Atelier Totori’s gameplay systems doesn’t mesh too well with a consistently compelling story. Instead, you are encouraged to just “enjoy the ride” through learning more about the many characters and of the world itself. Yes, you ultimately will receive closure but some breadcrumbs here and there would have went a long way in extending – and amplifying – the purpose behind all of your actions along the way.
There are plenty of characters to interact with though – both new and old faces. Although you start within that small fishing village, eventually, you’ll be able to go back to Arland (and mingle with the usual suspects there), among other points of interest. New characters, most of which are native to the base village, are interesting in their own right. Some of them lean a bit too heavily into fan service for my own tastes, but that is likely not going to be a problem for everyone.
As was the case in Rorona, Atelier Totori is designed in such a way that – unless you really know what you’re doing – you’ll probably not see everything in one playthrough, let alone achieve the “true” ending. The ending itself, as well as all of the many, many cutscenes in between, play out depending on the actions you take, but also by the helping hands you take along for the ride. Thus, the narrative can feel a bit disjointed depending on your path, but I don’t necessarily play these Atelier games for their story (first and foremost) either.
Like Rorona before it, Atelier Totori is a resource management RPG that dips into turn-based combat at times. Initially, you’ll have three years to achieve a certain rank as an adventurer before your license expires. Should you reach the required level, your license will be renewed for another two years, by which point you’ll ultimately be awarded a permanent one (but the game ends). Adventure experience can be obtained in a myriad of ways, and you aren’t pressured to obtain them within quarterly windows as was the case in the previous entry. You don’t want to slack off, of course – there are several levels of adventuring you must attain in order to meet the Adventurer’s Guild demands, but that process is paced in a much less stressful way than was presented in Rorona.
Ranking up as an adventurer requires you to explore the world, fight enemies, synthesize items, and supply demands via the questing system. Each adventurer tier brings about new objectives you can tackle, rewarding you with adventurer points – or experience – for your troubles. While you’ll eventually dabble in all four types of content, there will likely be times where you lean heavily on one or two rather attempt to consume them evenly. Not only that, but you might get tired of crafting and just want to explore. That is fine! You are likely to be rewarded for whatever you do in Atelier Totori.
In general, combat is much more enjoyable time around thanks to a more consistent difficulty. While there were times that I still felt a bit overpowered, even as a new player, instances in which I had to actually do “work” to succeed far outweighed those that did not. Unlike Rorona, there is a “final boss” within the story campaign that took me several tries to defeat, and there are additional super bosses beyond that for those that dig that sort of thing. Battles are turn-based and the “assist” function from Rorona returns, albeit on a smaller scale offensively.
Totori’s companions can step in and take a hit for her with a button press, but only if they have an assist charge available in the first place. The same can be done on offense – using an item or ability with Totori will allow a party member to follow up with a secondary strike, again, for the cost of an assist charge. Surprisingly, chaining three or more attacks together appears to have been left in Rorona, but I believe this was a good choice for the sake of better balance.
Combat and exploration would be for naught without that sweet loot though: gathering components. No alchemist-to-be is worth their salt without a basket full of ingredients, and the world of Atelier Totori is full of all kinds of goodies. However, this time around, the process of gathering chips away at your time limit – not by a lot, but enough that you’ll want to factor it in when facing quest deadlines. There are several dozen locations you can visit which may be home to numerous ingredients, enemies, or both.
I feel like there is a larger variety of places to discover than what was in Rorona, but the majority of them only take a minute or so to traverse. Thankfully, most locations are barred behind natural adventurer tier progression as opposed to rather obscure item requirements found in the previous outing. All things considered, combat and exploration were a blast in Atelier Totori, with less facerolling combat – no doubt – playing a large role in coming to that conclusion.
Of course, alchemy returns as a primary component of Atelier Totori’s gameplay loop, and it functions more or less the same as before outside of a few…odd changes. Gather ingredients, craft a good thats quality (and traits) vary based on the quality (and traits) of the components themselves. Said quality and traits can then be transferred to other crafts, which can result in some incredibly powerful items. As per usual, synthesis expends MP and eats up a portion of your overall time limit, which demands that you keep such things in the forefront of your mind rather than mindlessly crafting away through the night. Again, the pressures of the time limit are a bit lax in comparison to Rorona, but you still need to play things intelligently as to not screw things in the end.
Atelier Totori has made some minor changes to how the whole crafting system is done in comparison to Rorona, none of which I really can understand. Whereas Rorona’s crafting menu was divided into eight or so categories, Totori does away with that in favor of only two or three. This makes finding the desired synthesis recipes far more tedious than it should be, and it begs the question, “what was wrong with the tabular approach anyways?” Also, in Rorona you could craft missing components from your desired recipe without ever leaving that page, whereas in Totori you have to back out, find that other recipe, synthesize it, THEN go back to your main recipe. Again, why?
Let’s not forget about that beautiful balded man, Hagel, and his amazing weapons and armor. Remember how, in Rorona, ole’ Hagel would tell you exactly what components were needed for his goods? Nope, not here – let’s leave that up to your imagination “just because.” Unfortunately, the oddities don’t stop there – remember when you could exit a gathering map without having to physically find the exit? That serious quality-of-life feature is missing here, for some reason. Don’t get me started on the homunculus changes either – let’s just say that, I feel, they added an unnecessary level of complexity to a system that, by its own definition, is supposed to help you out. None of these quirks are enough to completely sour the experience, but they certainly offset some of the achievements that Atelier Totori attains over its predecessor.
Graphics and Sound
Atelier Totori ups the ante a bit in regards to both graphics and sound compared to the previous entry. Make no mistake though, the game is still primarily composed of overly cutesy, anime-heavy cutscenes, but there is beauty here even for those that don’t care for those types of things. Character design is done well, with lots of variety amongst the densely packed cast. The hardworking bartender, Gerhard, was among my favorites as it is hard not to appreciate that neatly trimmed mustache. If you’re in it for the fan service only, you should be happy to know that you’re all-but-forced to bring a certain someone along for the better part of half the adventure – lucky you. The music is great, if a bit repetitive at times. This “forest” theme provides ambiance for many of the game’s locations, and I enjoyed it every single time:
The standard battle theme is not too shabby either:
The Atelier Arland series continues to amaze me in ways I never expected from the outset. Atelier Totori, like Rorona before it, features deep, engaging gameplay systems which demand thinking and strategy despite people frolicking around in what is to be considered the alchemical equivalent of “tutus.” The story isn’t going to be the driving force of the whole experience, but it does have the potential to wrap up neatly enough in the end. The pacing here is so much smoother than that of Rorona, to the point that I wish that this would have been my first foray into Arland. Alas, you really should play Rorona before diving into this one, unless you don’t care about the story and characters whatsoever. That said, if you enjoyed Rorona, definitely give this one a go. It won’t blow your socks off, but it is still worth your time.