Review: Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland (PS3)

The last time we saw Princess Meruru, she spoke Japanese and we had no idea what she was trying to say or do. Now, thanks to the magic of localisation, we can be bludgeoned in the face with scores of squeaky voices and dialogue.

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is the third game in the Arland arc of the Atelier series of JRPGs. It features Princess Meruru, who, of course, doesn’t want to be a princess, but instead wants to run off and become an alchemist.

The game slaps you on the face with its huge anime-style opening sequence to make you know what you’re getting into. It’s a JRPG. One that is packed with dialogue. There are three levels of tolerance you can have to this game: not paying attention to the audio and reading the subtitles to get it over with, endure the chirpy English dub or enjoy the game less annoyingly with the original Japanese voices, which can also get out of hand.

The Atelier series is known for its synthesising elements, by which I refer to Alchemy. As an alchemist, you need ingredients and materials to synthesise into other things. The game world holds many ingredients and materials for Meruru to harvest and drop in her basket. You can experiment by combining different items, but you are also handed a recipe book so you can keep track of the things you need to find. If you want to spend less time harvesting, some materials can be made into its synthetic version, using ingredients the handbook think it should work with. Better-quality items are usually found in areas far away from Meruru’s hometown of Arls.

To continue her alchemic ways without ticking off her father, also the ruler of Arls, Meruru is given the important task to further the development of Arls within three years and add to its population (no, not THAT way). The completion of missions given by citizens or through the mailbox then analysed and assigned by your straight-faced butler will help drop you development points to further your development of Arls and make you more or less popular amongst the citizens.

Items can also be obtained by defeating enemies, like carrots from rabbit-like monsters and goo from blobs. You won’t start fighting alone though, you’ll start off with a party of two, making that fearsome bunny an easy task. Battles are turn-based and the order-in-sequence is displayed on the left so you can strategise. Meruru has the ability to use items to heal her party of drop synthesised bombs onto enemies. If all of that didn’t help, chances are, you’ll be knocked out and dragged back to Arls, however far you have travelled.

Remember how I said Meruru’s father gave her three years to fulfil her goal? That’s real game time. Everything you do consumes time, including picking ingredients, battling enemies, synthesising materials, travelling from area to area on the world map and when you regain consciousness when you wipe out in battle. Failing to meet the three year time limit will cause the game to serve you an average or bad ending. Considering how almost everything consumes time and you can distracted by unimportant sub-missions, this could cause a bit of stress for players who prefer to stroll about the world map or discovering you spent a whole month making bombs and pies.

I was also pining for a plot twist of some sort, especially since my last JRPG adventure was Tales of Graces f, but there wasn’t. I had to dip myself online for a bit to check without spoiling anything, but there doesn’t seem to be much else to the story about a disobedient little princess with her head stuck in the clouds of alchemy.

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is not a bad game, but it could use a bit more Essence of Interesting. We could have Meruru run away and return in the middle of a war to fight with what little alchemy skills she has learned.

I was slightly expecting more from a JRPG such as this. There is a lack of motivation to get Meruru done through the three years, except for game completion and seeing through all of its several endings. There is still a challenge, but that challenge will eventually begin to repeat itself through the game.

Graphics 7.0
Camera angles and positioning can be awkward at times, but the developers probably want to exploit that so you can take a look at some pretty decent scenery.
Sound 8.0
The soundtrack gives the game a bit of light-heartedness, fighting over the squeaky English dubbing or the Japanese anime voices. Choose one.
Gameplay 6.0
Synthesising items is fun, until you remember  that three-year time limit. You’ll probably go harvesting at the same spots and fighting the same critters for items that add to the strain.
Lasting Appeal 7.0
Several endings to unlock and the ingredients and materials you can collect and synthesise so you can learn from your past games’ mistakes. Or if you want the princess to fail miserably.
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Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is a JRPG (turn-based battle-type) game developed by Gust and published for the Western markets by NIS America for the PlayStation 3.