The Atelier series, although it’s seen as relatively niche within the industry, has actually been around for quite some time. The first game released in 1997 and was created by the series’ long time developer Gust Corporation. Since then, it has been largely tied to the PlayStation brand. Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland is actually an enhanced version of the original Ps3 title, and is the third Atelier game to be released on the Vita. The series centers around likable female alchemists that must gather ingredients, battle monsters, create unique items, and interact with an interesting trope of anime characters.
Rorona Plus marks the first time I sat down and really dove into the series, even though I have the original Ps3 version of Rorona sealed and sitting on my shelf. My main concern, and the biggest reason preventing me from playing the Atelier series, was the fact that the game operates on a series of events that have their own time limits. For the longest time in my gaming career, I absolutely loathed time limits in games. Nothing destroys an enjoyable experience, or prevents me from even touching the title, quite like they do. I even recall groaning loudly when Ocarina of Time threw a timed block puzzle at me in the Forest Temple.
Anyway, as such limits are the backbone of the Atelier series, I always viewed the games from afar. Every once in a while I would be brave enough to buy one of the games, but never really played it and they soon became part of my growing backlog. If you’re on the fence much like I was about Rorona Plus, you’ll be happy to hear that the game's time limits are actually pretty loose. In fact, the game doesn’t really put too much pressure to the player. I was expecting to be wiping sweat from my brow as I watched the timer tick down, but there were numerous times when I completed my task in a single in-game day.
What do you actually do in the game? There are several main portions to Rorona Plus. It’s largely a role-playing game, but with several unique elements to the gameplay that make the Atelier series really unique from other titles. The game takes place in the city of Arland. Rorona, a young, naive, and likable girl is an apprentice at an alchemy lab. Her master, a strikingly ingenious business woman, whom is incredibly lazy and bossy, has been sleeping on the couch and ignoring her duties as a shop owner. The kingdom is deciding if the alchemy shop should be closed down and instead used for economic development. To prove the shop's worth to the king, Rorona will spend three years completing a series of tasks that involve defeating monsters, collecting alchemy ingredients, and synthesizing special items all the while managing time limits for each job. The town acts as the central hub for the player and includes various shops, locations, and a quest counter. The world map, which includes numerous areas to explore, is used to direct players to the ingredients they need and monsters to be slain. Each task has a deadline, meaning you'll have, for example, eighty days to achieve your goal in any way. Sometimes, if you’ve managed your time wisely during previous tasks, you’ll have everything required to complete another in a single day. I found this happening more often than I expected.
Traveling, resting, and alchemizing all take time off of the clock. Since I was petrified about the time limit, I was really careful with how I managed my time. This led to me completing most quests and tasks early. However, if you end up doing this, it gives you time to explore the harder portions of the world map, and allows for the player to stock up on ingredients.
Rorona Plus, outside of the time limits for the tasks, is a really laid back game. Although the plot features the potential closing of Rorona’s current home (more like her place of indentured servitude), there weren’t many times where the story slid into a more serious tone. The light hearted plot and characters were actually quite enjoyable. There is a point where a “villain” is introduced, but even his contributions to the plot, in an attempt to derail Rorona’s accomplishments, were actually comical in nature. By the time he was introduced into the storyline, I didn’t really want that sort of character there. Everything had been so easy going and enjoyable, that I didn’t see a point in adding friction to the plot. The deadlines, and potential shut down of the shop felt enough like an antagonist. Generally speaking though, it is better to have a person as the main driving force against the protagonist. It’s easier to relate to in such cases.
The majority of the story is told through character interaction and small talk. Your journey introduces tons of unique characters that are all intertwined with some sort of backstory. Visual novel elements guide these sections along pretty well. Rorona, while very naive, is a likable main character. She’s the butt of many jokes, and the other female characters are quick to tease her, while the male characters either downright ignore her or flirt with her in some way. Her parents, which I thought was an interesting addition to the game, are they end up being a humorous couple. They travel around the world, and seemed alright letting their daughter work off an unpayable debt for an indefinite period of time. Her father also gets caught up spending too much time at a widow’s shop, and it was pretty funny when Rorona discovered him during one of her shopping trips. Instead of having a story that was one of the main reasons to play the game, it was nice to see Rorona Plus offering a laid back experience that focuses on a unique cast of characters.
Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland is light-hearted, enjoyable, and one of the better role-playing games on the PlayStation Vita. Even though the threat of not completing a task before the deadline is always present, the game still remained laid back and fun. This is the third Atelier title on the Vita, which can make newcomers a little weary about where to jump in. But Rorona Plus is definitely worth trying for both gamers new to the series, and fans that are ready to grab their alchemy spoon one more time.