Cadena by Mineko Yamamoto
The picture book I opened that day in the attic
Was of a magician who carried a gold staff.
I continued to hold my little passionate dream on those nights
Of the moon and stars, in hopes that it would come true, even for me.
Someday I will fly.
Even if that day is not in sight yet,
In the sparkling daybreak horizon,
There is the sound of flapping wings
Coming to the broad, great earth.
No long delay between reviews this time, nope! Today’s Under Your Radar covers Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland (Atelier Meruru: The Alchemist of Arland 3 in Japan), the final game in the Atelier series’ Arland trilogy, a direct follow-up to Atelier Totori, which I’ve previously covered (and you should probably read that review to figure out what kind of game this is, as I won’t repeat myself). The game was originally released on PS3 by GUST and localized by NIS America, but I played Atelier Meruru Plus, the updated rerelease for the Vita that was brought over by Tecmo-Koei as a digital-only release.
Atelier Meruru takes place shortly after the true ending of Atelier Totori and follows Princess Merurulince Rede Arls, Meruru for short. Meruru is the princess of a frontier kingdom known as Arls, and the neice of Arland’s former king, Ludwig Giovanni Arland. Arls will be merging with the Arland Republic in a few years, at which point Meruru’s status as a royal will also be a thing of the past, so she sees no point in learning royal etiquette, despite her father’s insistence, and wishes to become an alchemist. After come convincing, her father allows her to, so long as she shows that she can advance the kingdom this way.
You are thus given 3 years to multiply the kingdom’s population tenfold, after which you get two more years in which this must hold steady. This is similar to Totori‘s setup, where she has to spend 3 years advancing her adventurer rank to a certain point to avoid its revocation and gets the remaining two to find her mother. If you haven’t played the previous games in the Arland trilogy, there’s no need to worry – they’ll outright spoil the anti-climax that was true ending of Totori for you almost immediately, and there’s an optional prologue video available from the title screen.
I’d actually recommend Meruru as a starting point over Totori regardless. As one starts to play the game, it is apparent almost immediately that Meruru is a significant improvement over Totori in terms of mechanics and how they’re communicated to the player. Combat and alchemy remain mostly unchanged, but the things around them are fairly different.
Rather than repeatedly doing quests (which you still have the option to do to maintain your popularity and earn money, though this is no longer mandatory and they no longer have due dates) to advance as an adventurer, Meruru’s goal is to advance her kingdom, so you have to use your alchemy skills to create and deliver the required supplies to specific locations so your faithful citizens can do the rest.
There are a few things I like about how this was handled. First and foremost is that you can meet certain requirements for the items and need less of them, or not meet the requirements and need a lot more of them, or even mix and match. This is a very smart way of going about the item requirements, as it is not only realistic (20 non-durable blankets stacked upon each other should be able to do the job of 2 durable ones, etc.), but it can alleviate the frustration of trying to track down specific traits, as the requirements can call for traits that are fairly rare as you progress. Secondly, they actually went and completely changed the layout and look of many of these areas to reflect the growth of the kingdom as time passes. It’s quite satisfying to see windmills be put up, a field turn into farmland, a town building up from nothing, a lake becoming a clean water source, etc.
There are many convenience features that have been added into the game as well. You are now able to equip the time-saving items like the larger basket or faster shoes so that they don’t take up a slot in your basket, and they pass on to a new game plus due to being an equipped item. Of course, the teleporter that allows you to instantly return home is not included in the equippable items, as that would break the game. In exchange, however, money will not pass on to a new game plus, unlike the previous entries.
A major benefit from being the last game in a trilogy really hit here for Meruru in that your pool of playable characters is, for the most part, a cast consisting of of fan favourites from previous titles. You have Sterkenburg “Sterk” Cranach, Esty Dee, Mimi Houllier von Schwarzlang and, of course, all three alchemists (though Rorona is stupidly aged down to a kid for some reason), among others. Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you will find yourself sticking to a few specific, better characters outside of any you need for certain story events.
Not all is necessarily good, however. Meruru‘s tone is significantly more childish than Totori‘s, and the amount of story is lesser, though Meruru practically never skips a day on you because of plot, which was common in Totori. Additionally, I should note that the endings for Meruru all involve Meruru giving up her life as a princess, no matter if you make Arls completely self-sufficient to the point where you don’t need Arland. Some endings actually have Meruru, who’s no longer a princess by that point, having so much work that she doesn’t even have time to catch a breath. Why does she need to do so much for Arls at that point? It perplexes me.
Something else that may be off-putting to some is that there’s only one tier for each bomb type in this game. As such, you cannot make rocket-propelled snowmen, which I consider a major loss. You can, however, still craft the standard variety.
Another thing that I felt mixed about was how Meruru, and sometimes other characters, will react to the time and day of the week on the title screen. Meruru berated me for playing on a weekend and was shocked at my playing at 5 AM, for example.
There are are different endings and story changes if you’re in a new game plus, with several endings annoyingly being new game plus exclusives. This includes one of my favourite endings. To be fair to Meruru, Totori had even fewer endings I liked, so it’s at least an improvement.
Overall, if you like Totori, you will like Meruru even moreso. It really is as simple as that. Meruru improved quite a bit on Totori while, at the same time, allowing Totori to remain as its own game with its own merits by not overlapping with it completely. I commend GUST for doing this, as the Arland trilogy’s order of release is a bit mixed up between platforms, so you can’t guarantee people will play it in the right order (the first game is coming out last on Vita, for God’s sake!).
Atelier Meruru is easily one of my favourite Vita games.