Pilgrimage by Mineko Yamamoto
If you look back to your memories,
Only their aura will remain.
If you look up at the sky,
You can hear a voice coming from far away.
That’s the melody of the wind,
softly inviting you closer.
That’s the fragrance of the water,
a landmark that will lead you far away.
Now, let’s go on a journey before we forget.
I still want to search
Before the horizon on the other side becomes far away.
Today’s Under Your Radar is about a rather interesting title. It’s called Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland, known in Japan as Atelier Totori: The Alchemist of Arland 2. It has been released for PS3 and Vita remade for Vita as Atelier Totori Plus: The Adventurer of Arland.
I played the Vita version, which contains all the DLC and some re-recorded voice acting. It is the twelfth title of GUST’s long-running flagship Atelier series, and the second in the Arland trilogy. NIS America handled the release of the PS3 version, but Tecmo-Koei bought GUST before the Vita port came out, and promptly released it as a digital-only title without any acknowledgement before or since.
The Atelier series is a long series of JRPGs, Totori being the 12th of 15 mainline games, which are split into 6 sets of 2-3 games that take place in separate universes from other games in the series. There are also tons of spin-offs and ports for a variety of platforms, many of which are Japan-exclusive (by which I mean both platforms and games). The main series, however, is exclusive to Sony systems. The series is a huge hit in Japan, but nicher than niche in North America. It is worth noting that two of the mainline games have the title Mana Khemia instead of Atelier for some unknown reason.
Standard gameplay of the Atelier series is simple in concept. The story gives you a time limit of 3 years to achieve a specific goal. You must achieve this through the power of alchemy (which is mainly an item-crafting skill in the series). There is also some JRPG-style combat and gathering of materials to supplement this, but it’s mainly the use of alchemy to achieve your goal that is the focus. Each game has a variety of endings, usually involving your relationship with specific party members or other things you can trigger, including true and bad endings. On occasion, the games will give you additional time past the three year mark, but most games in the series, from what I gather, force an ending at the end of the clock, and later ones will send you into a new game plus where you keep very few things.
Also standard to the series is that there must always be a ghost named Pamela, and trying to interact with most barrels will simply result in your character saying “Barrel!”, which is always voice acted. They even re-recorded this specific line for the Vita port of Totori! (Which is a good thing. The line sounded pretty bad in the PS3 release’s English voice track.)
Atelier Totori follows this formula pretty well. We open with the story of Totooria “Totori” Helmold, a girl from a small port town, whose mother was a great adventurer. But, one day, her mother went missing. When Totori grew older, she received alchemy lessons from Rorolina “Rorona” Frixell (the previous game’s protagonist), the only remaining alchemist in the country of Arland. Since then, Arland has had two alchemists, Rorona and Totori.
After teaching Totori the basics, Totori gained a purpose in life, and Rorona went off on her own adventures for a while. A few years later, Totori and her childhood friend Gino went to visit the capital and obtain their adventurer’s licenses so Totori can become a great adventurer like her mother and locate where she has been all this time. However, if Totori cannot raise her adventurer rank sufficiently within three years, she will lose her license forever.
You are then allowed to do whatever the hell you please within the game’s mechanics towards this goal. However, three years isn’t as much time as you’d think. It takes several weeks to travel to and from most areas, not to mention that leaving an area aside from the two hub towns makes the game skip to the next day even if you haven’t done anything. In most areas, you can do things that, while doing things you absolutely need to do, advance the clock. If you’re in town, every action that takes time is rounded up to the next day. When you’re not, gathering ingredients takes half a day, and fighting enemies takes a fifth of a day (the game mentions more time being taken for long fights, but that never happened to me).
Alchemy is simple. You buy books to get recipes you can use to craft items using ingredients you’ve gathered. Those items are either sold, made into equipment, used in battle, given for quests, or held onto for further crafting. Occasionally you get a utility item that makes the game a lot more convenient, allowing teleportation back home or halving travel time, for example. For added convenience, you eventually gain access to little baby homunculi named Chims that help you gather ingredients or synthesize copies of items you already have in exchange for pies.
Quests also work very simply in this game. You’re told to kill X amount of Y monster or craft Z item by a certain date. Your reward varies by how well and how quickly you manage to do this – crafting a very mediocre permutation of the requested item will give you a lesser reward, for example. For covenience, Totori and/or the person manning the quest counter will let you know how if it’ll be troublesome for you to do it, or if you can just accept it and report it as done immediately.
The battle system is interesting. It looks like a normal JRPG battle system at first, but there are subtle differences from most JRPGs. First off, only alchemists can use items, making them sort of the mage of the group. The battle system is designed around this idea, with you having up to two vanguards who can take hits for you or support your attacks. Which is good, because alchemists don’t exactly have the strongest of defenses.
Before I continue, I just have to say that I love the battle music. I especially like how it’s different depending on your level in relation to the enemy. Even if you don’t like the music, you can change it to any song from an earlier instalment out of a list (this is DLC in the PS3 version, but is there by default on Vita).
Click here for the song that plays when you’re underleveled.
The game is designed such that there is only one mandatory boss if you don’t want a bad ending, however, so this battle system isn’t the main part of the game in any sense. The focus is the item crafting. And this plays in very strongly to how you get your equipment, too, as the vast majority of it has to be crafted – you’ll only occasionally get equipment outside of that.
The game’s weakest element, however, is probably the story. It’s well-written, but the degree of freedom the game gives you to shoot for its 13 endings (3 of which are bad endings) means that most events have to be written as if all of the ones that aren’t prerequisites may or may not have happened. It also makes the story pretty heavy on event flags, some of which you need a guide to find. The true ending is the canon one, and needs you to meet the requirements for all of the other 9 non-bad endings plus a few other things. The annoying thing is that this involves conflicting promises regarding Totori’s future, none of which is brought up because the true ending has nothing to do with any of your actions, not even acknowledging most of them, making it feel cheap as a result. If you want to know what happens: Totori’s mother suddenly comes home one day. The end. Out of all of them I prefer the Mimi ending, where Totori and Mimi travel the world and become the most famous adventurers ever.
One problem, however, comes with the beginning and end of the game. Until you get your license, the game is all setup that drags on and could have been a lot shorter. After you do, the game is great, until you’ve gotten the requirements for the ending you want. Then the game becomes boring and you basically just choose to rest until the cut-off date and see the ending, so there are a few empty-feeling months at both the beginning and end of the game. This is probably the most damning thing about the game I can find (aside from how characters don’t visibly age, but we can attribute that to art budgets), which is a relatively good thing. It should be noted, however, that the beginning can be skipped on a new game plus.
Atelier Totori is simply a good game. It was my first foray into the Atelier series, but it made me a fan right away. The only parts I can definitely say I disliked are the fact that very few things carry to a new game plus (it’s pretty much just your equipment and money), as well as the fact that, unlike similar time management games like Recettear, you don’t get to play infinitely without a clock breathing down your neck after beating it. I suppose it makes sense, since, time-wise, Meruru would take place shortly after the true ending, but still.