Most role playing games revolve around combat, but like it’s predecessors, Atelier Meruru’s main gameplay mechanic is the crafting system. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly plenty of combat, but the crafting factors into everything you do in the game. The game calls it alchemy, but the crafting is much more than simple potion brewing. You can craft a variety of items, weapons, materials and armor in addition to potions, and many quests task you with making specific items, oftentimes with specific traits in mind of well. The alchemy system is very deep, with several factors playing a role in how your synthesized items turn out. Meruru has an alchemist level, independent of her overall level, which governs the success rate of alchemy as well as her ability to craft higher level items.
When crafting, there are many different elements which contribute to the state of the item you are synthesizing, such as the quality of your materials, the types of effects your materials can pass on, your choice of materials (many recipes will be vague, such as requiring lumber, but not a specific type of lumber), and Meruru’s alchemy level. It’s possible to create two of the same item, but have each item possess wildly different attributes. Because of the complexity of the crafting, I found myself wanting to experiment, but the fact that a minimum of 1 day passes every time you synthesize is counter-intuitive to experimentation. With a system as deep as this, the game should encourage experimentation, but the time mechanics made me feel like I was being punished for messing around with alchemy, especially now that I know the game ends after 5 years regardless of overall progress.
Unlike the crafting, the combat in Atelier Meruru is very simple. The game employs a very basic turn based battle system with three character parties. The only real wrinkle in this system is the way it handles skill and item use. Only alchemists can use items in battle, meaning only Totori, Rorona, and Meruru can use items. Most characters learn combat skills as they level, but Meruru does not, meaning she has to rely on either basic attacks or damage dealing items (which you must synthesize yourself). Most characters will learn lavish special attacks with 30 second animations as they reach higher levels, which are pretty cool, but they only become available in prolonged battles, so they are pretty much limited to boss fights. The combat is certainly serviceable, but it’s not the type of deep strategic turn based combat I usually look for in JRPGs. In fact, it was a good 12-15 hours before the combat presented any challenge whatsoever, which made the early game battles quite boring.
Like past games in the series, Atelier Meruru has a very heavy anime art style, but on a pure technical level the graphics are substandard. The texture quality is very low, so low that the game looks like it could probably run on the Wii. The well implemented art style does make up for a lot of the visual shortcomings, but there is still no getting around the fact that this is a very low poly game. One would think the modest technical aspect of the visuals would leave plenty room for great game performance, but sadly this is not the case. The frame rate fluctuates drastically, sometimes looking super smooth while other times it is clearly sub 30. The presentation is also very last generation. There are pretty much no in-engine cutscenes, with almost all dialogue being text boxes and character portraits over static backgrounds. What little in-engine stuff there is features no custom animation of any kind.
As you would expect from this type of game, the voice acting is very anime. Fans of the genre will probably be fine with it, but as someone that plays a lot games with great voice acting, it just sticks out to me as being not that great. It’s by no means the worst I’ve heard, but it just screams low budget Japanese game to me, which I guess makes sense. The music, however, is quite a bit better than the voice acting. It’s got a mix of a lot of different styles of music, from hard rock to orchestral and everything in between. The game manages to blend it’s varying musical styles into a pretty good cohesive soundtrack that fits the game well.
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is very niche game. It’s got a lot of things in it that anyone other than fans of the series will likely find weird, but at it’s core is a very engaging game that will keep you playing to the end. Looking back on my time with the game, I can’t say I loved it, but I did wind up playing quite compulsively from beginning to end, which is a result of the addicting mission structure. It’s got some good ideas and interesting mechanics, but so much of it is hampered by the unforgiving time passage mechanics. My biggest disappointment with the game was it’s lack of any compelling story elements, but I still enjoyed the core game loop enough to have a good time. I can’t recommend this game to everybody, but fans of JRPGs will probably have a good time.
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- Core design structure keeps you engaged
- Alchemy system is deep and nuanced
- Combat gets the job done
- Good musical variety
- Solid artistic visual design
- Uninteresting paper thin plot
- Boring dialogue gets in the way of gameplay
- Time passage mechanics work against your enjoyment
- Takes a good 15 hours to get challenging
- Low detail visuals, uneven game performance