Video game publisher NIS America has a knack for importing games that garnish a sort of cult following. The alchemy-based Atelier series is no different with Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland, the second game in the three game "Arland" series (the third game is currently only available in Japan), recently appearing stateside.
The game follows Totooria Helmond (Totori for short). She is an alchemy student of Rorona, the protagonist for the first "Arland" game, and the daughter of an Adventurer who's gone missing. The kooky storyline loosely follows Totori's desire to locate her mother, all the while improving upon her alchemy skills and doing some adventuring herself. She does all this with (save for very early in the game) two companions always at her side.
The storyline, which doesn't have the best writing in the world, in rather sorted with a lot of little things happening here and there. Also, it's mostly presented through voiced still-frames much like a vis-novel game, which aren't very popular in America when compared to the East. That said, it does progress at a comfortable pace and tends to stay relevant throughout the somewhat A.D.D. video game.
Visually, Atelier Totori is a rather nice-looking game. The game doesn't have the same visual appeal and refinement as bigger-budget titles like the soon-to-release FPS title Battlefield 3, but it's not trying to. A turn-based JRPG, the game's anime-style CG animation and gorgeous character portrays do the job just fine. There will be times, though, during some of the more cinematic CG sequences where a frame will be dropped here and there, causing a very small and rare jumps in the on-screen action.
The game's audio doesn't quite match the overall quality of the video. While everything heard will be crisp and clean, the music is exactly the kind one would expect to hear when watching something from Rumiko Takahashi and, quite honestly, gets a little stale after a while. The voice work is acceptable, but some characters could have been done better. Also, the assortment of in-battle catch-phrases could be a little more varied. For those who like their JRPGs with a little more "J" than others, NIS America kept the original Japanese voice-overs as an option to the default English dub.
Atelier Totori has players level up in a few different areas, with each area reflecting a different element of the game. The most pressing of these is the Adventurers' Licence. Players take on quests (hunts, alchemy, fetch, etc.) and the performance of these quests is reflected towards the renewal of one's license every three in-game years. Furthermore, there's Totori's alchemist level (the higher the level, the more complex items she can synth), as well as her overall character level and those of her party members.
Getting back to the Adventurers' quests, these are a mixed bag. It's not that any of the individual quests themselves are a pain, but they repeat fairly often. On the other hand, they are constantly rotating as the in-game calender progresses and most of the quests have a deadline to keep even the least goal-oriented player motivation to keep on schedule. Keeping on schedule is important, by the way, as players only have five in-game years to complete Totori's quest. Failure to do so will result in the game's "bad" ending.
Alchemy, which is a large part of Atelier Totori, is very much the simple combination of a few different parts to make a whole new item. Health potions, items, consumable in-battle items, and even other components can be made "by hand" in Totori's alchemy labs. Of course, the real trick isn't making an item -- it's making an item of any quality. The rule of thumb here is to use better-quality components (they're given letter grades and have clearly-stated characteristics) to make better-quality items.
While Atelier Totori features interesting alchemy mechanics, a progressive storyline, enjoyable turn-based battles, and good visuals, there is one thing that might turn off many would-be players: the game is a bit girly. Simply put, the game can be cute and it knows it. Of course, male gamers who are perfectly comfortable with their masculinity should have no problem picking this game up as his own little "guilty pleasure".
Final Game Guys grade: B