Friday, October 11, 2013

Atelier Meruru Plus (Vita) Review

A few months after the "stealth" release of Atelier Totori Plus for the Vita, the US is treated to another Atelier game.  Atelier Meruru Plus is the Vita release of the PS3 game, with a few changes and additions.  This game follows the exploits of Meruru, princess of the rural Arls Kingdom, and her training to become an alchemist.  She is training under Totori, who has now become a powerful alchemist in her own right, much like Rorona was in her game.

If you have played the previous entries in the series, or read my other reviews, you will think that there is a 3 year limit to complete your training.  You would also be correct.  If you haven't played any other Atelier games before, the main character is given 3 years to advance enough as an alchemist to get one of the good endings to the game.  Making items, gathering, travelling and fighting all take time, so plan accordingly.  Other than that, the game gives you a fair amount of freedom in accomplishing this goal.  There are several developmental quests that you must fulfill to strengthen the kingdom for its inevitable merger with Arland.

One of the best parts of Atelier Meruru Plus is how you can actually change some areas.  Since Arls is a developing kingdom, some of the requests are to make nearby areas more suitable for expansion.  One area early on has you clear out foliage (by gathering them), defeat the enemies, and deliver items to a knight stationed there so they can make the place hospitable for the increasing population.  Once all of that is done, it actually changes the look of that area, changing it from a forest into a clearing with a cabin.  It might not be a huge deal, but I think it's cool that you actually affect things in the game in such a way.  Another way that you can change the map is when choosing what to develop for Arls.  With the points you acquire, you can erect walls for defense, schools and other commodities.  These not only apply bonuses to your character and town, but they show up as little graphics around the city on the world map.  Both of those make it really feel like you are changing and developing the kingdom, and I really like it.

The basics of any Atelier game is to go to various locales, fight monsters, gather materials, then go back to your workshop and make things with what you found.  There's a lot to the actual making of items and managing your time by balancing travelling, hunting and gathering.  The tutorials the game provides are pretty good, and tend to not dump too much on you at once, basically easing you into each mechanic.  People new to the series shouldn't have any trouble picking up what to do and how to do it.  Mastery of alchemy will take time, though.

Making items using alchemy is as simple as having the recipe, the items and the MP to do it.  Better ingredients make a better product, and the traits you put into the item can change the properties of the final result.  Traits can make an item sell for more, be a higher quality, allow healing, or adding a stat to a piece of equipment.  There are many, many traits, and figuring out what to put on what can require a lot of pre-planning.  Sometimes requests will want specific traits, and turning in items with those traits will reduce the number of the items you have to turn in, which will save you time and materials.  Another place that you will want to pay attention to the traits is when making ingots and cloth for weapons and armor, respectively.  A shiny new spear might be stronger, but it will be even better when you add more attack, some HP or MP and a guaranteed critical versus a certain enemy type.

Meruru's MP, which is needed to synthesize equipment, can easily be replenished by resting for a few days.  Of course that takes time, so balancing MP cost, time to make it and materials required is the great juggling act of the game.  There will be stores that sell some raw ingredients, and even one that you can "register" things you have made so you can buy more without making it again.  You will also get two Homs that can either gather materials or make items for you.  Taking advantage of all of these resources is vital to maximizing your time.

Fights are turn-based, with each character or monster getting a turn based on their speed.  A helpful chart on the right side of the screen shows when each participant will get their turn.  All characters can attack, but only Meruru can use items.  Other characters get skills that use MP.  Managing your items and skill use is important early on, as it can make encounters a lot shorter or easier.  If Meruru uses an attack item, one of the other characters can follow up that attack.  If she is being targeted by an enemy, another character can block for her.  Both of these actions take a level of their meter and two LP, so decided when to use them is part of the game's strategy.  Sometimes, defeating all of the enemies in an area will allow you to move on to the next one.  This at least makes sure that you are somewhat prepared for the next area.

Battles in Meruru are actually easier than the ones in Totori.  You can easily get the Uni item early on, which Meruru can use as a cheap attack item (and thus allow chain attacks).  Plus, the other two starting party members have AoE attacks, making battles much easier than in the previous entry in the series.  Provided you have the Homs making ingots and cloth, getting the newer characters geared up is easy, too.  It was fairly painless to switch around my characters until I found which ones I liked best.  It costs a fair bit of money to make the good equipment, but I had enough stashed from all the requests I was doing along the way.

Depending on what actions you take, the time necessary to complete the game can vary.  I lost track of how much time had passed during my first run (I don't think the game keeps track either), but I estimate it was at least 30+ hours.  At first, I was flying through the development quests, but eventually hit a few that required me to be a higher level.  The game slowed down a bit, but after clearing those out, I hit another quick patch, followed by another period of slowdown.  I don't know if that's how it was designed or if how I played the game made it flow like that.  Thankfully, just like in Totori, there is a time extension, so the 3 year limit isn't as daunting.  There's also a new game+, which allows you to keep your current equipment, Meruru's alchemist equipment and money.  This will obviously make any subsequent playthroughs much faster.  A few of the endings are also only obtainable in new game+, so there's plenty more to play when you've beaten the game once.

The trophies for Meruru are similar to the other Atelier games.  Certain scenes will have an accompanying trophy, as will the different endings.  Others are for attaining certain goals in the game, like having a huge population or defeating specific powerful enemies.  For the most part, the difficulty wasn't that bad, since I felt it was easier to keep up decent equipment and the characters were all pretty useful.  Getting over my hoarding nature with the alchemy items also helped.  The hardest parts for full completion would be beating the really powerful enemies and trying for some of the stricter requirements for the various endings.

Atelier Meruru Plus is a pretty game.  The graphics, like the game before, look wonderful on the Vita's screen.  Starting out in the game was fairly painless, since the starting characters were good and the tutorials didn't drown you in too much information each time.  Overall, I enjoyed it more than Totori, which was also fun.  Changing the few areas in the game by fulfilling development requests was a great little addition.  If you like any of the other Atelier games, you'll find the same fun in Meruru.  If you want an RPG that is part fighting, part making items and part doing quests, you should give Atelier Meruru Plus a try.  It should keep you using your Vita for the next few weeks!

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