My Year of JRPGs — Atelier Rorona: The Alcehmist of Arland

I don’t think it would too terribly incorrect to say that Atelier Rorona  has significant mass appeal. Gameplay is as repetitive as you would expect from a JRPG, but pleasantly so; the entire game is geared toward the obsessive gamer, the type who feels compelled to find all the collectible items in every game he/she plays.

The game is about Rorona, a teenage alchemist who is forced to take over her alchemy shop and create a series of items for the government over the course of three years. In that same span, she is expected to create/collect other random items for the townspeople and her friends — basically, she has to do her job.


Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland (PS3 [Reviewed])
Developer: Gust
Publisher: NIS
Release Date: September 28, 2010
MSRP: $49.99

And so the entire game is about taking Rorona — and friends, of course — out into the treacherous countryside looking for items and ingredients, and then taking her back to her workshop to make things. That’s 100% of the game. An added twist is the time limit; it takes time to make things and travel, and each task must be completed in a timely manner.

The countryside is treacherous because it’s full of monsters, and battles are turn-based and generally unremarkable. No one aspect of the game is trying on its own; the challenge is to manage your time well enough that you complete all the main government tasks while also raising your reputation with the townspeople enough that they want to keep you around once it’s all over.

The game is perplexing in that it isn’t open-ended. People obsess over games like Animal Crossing and Farmville because they can play them forever, and Atelier Rorona could be that kind of game if it wanted to, because folks definitely would keep playing in order to raise the friendship levels of all the folks Rorona knows and gain the approval of the townsfolk. It was jarring, then, that once it was all over it was really over. I think I admire the challenge it presents the player to try to accomplish the tough trophy requirements within the strict framework of the game. That stubbornness does promote replay, though, and the game is short enough (20-30 hours) that giving it another go ’round doesn’t seem horribly unreasonable.

What’s far more interesting to discuss, though, is the “other stuff”: the characters and their interactions. The game features the typical character cut-out cutscenes that require you to press X after every line of dialogue, all of which is mostly bad. It doesn’t help, of course, that the characters often talk about how certain characters always look angry, even though the cut-outs never really show it.

But that’s not why the character are the interesting part. No, the reason is that the characters in Atelier Rorona are awkward to a disturbing degree. There is an attractive shopkeeper in town, and several middle-aged men, including Rorona’s married father, like to stand in her shop and discuss all the different nice things they’d like to do for this woman to make her happy, and what kind of jewelry they should buy her and whatnot. It’s precious and funny, but it’s also bizarre.

Then, there’s the strange boy Rorona’s master creates from semen and s–t. This thing wears amusingly oversized clothes, plays with cats that it names after the various distinct meows they make and will make things when you’re busy. And there’s the clerk in the castle named Esty Dee who stockpiles various poisons and explosives.

Worse, though, is Rorona herself, who externalizes all her insecurities, and goddamn does she have a lot of them. Any time someone talks to her for the first two thirds of the game, she starts screaming about how she’s sorry for whatever it is she did that made them hate her. She’s like this because she’s been emotionally abused for years by her alchemy master.

And this is where things get disturbing. Rorona works in the alchemy shop because she’s working off a debt her parents accrued to the alchemy master, who loves to endlessly berate her. And rape her. Yeah, that’s the subtext of their relationship: the master emotionally and sexually abuses Rorona. Early on in the game, the master even jokes about it. Later, the master accuses a knight of having sexual designs on Rorona, and the knight says something to the effect of: “No! I’m not like you.” And so it’s common knowledge that this woman likes to have sex with underage girls, but nobody does anything about it. Interesting.

Oh, the music is really good, particularly the credits song.

Pros:

  • Generally pleasant
  • Funny
  • Isn’t too long
  • Excellent music

Cons:

  • Awkwarrrrrrrrrrd
  • Rape isn’t really funny
  • It’s just millions of fetch quests

Final score: 60/100

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