I was not expecting to like this game. Were I to be completely honest with you, I passed up on every game in this franchise because A) the concept of spending an entire RPG doing fetch quests sounded incredibly dull, and B) I was severely off put by the crazy sect of the fan base overseas that got upset because their “pure innocent girl” might sorta kinda have a relationship in one of the games.
Seriously, like with how they treat their pop idols, that’s just…weird and unnecessary.
In any case, I literally bought this game because I had nothing else I wanted to play on my Vita, and because I support niche games whenever my pocket book will let me. Having taken the plunge on a whim, I must say I was not disappointed!
Atelier Totori: The Alchemist of Alanya tells the story of Totooria “Totori” Helmold as she works hard to become a top notch alchemist and an adventurer in order to find her missing adventurer mother. Unfortunately, her largest obstacle may prove to be herself!
Totori, bless her heart, is a bit of an airhead and a klutz. Okay, she’s a massive airhead and klutz, due likely in part to her airheaded alchemist teacher and her overly nurturing sister who takes care of almost everything for her. The game drives this point home at on the outset with poor Totori blowing up her lab attempting to make some concoction or another. Unfortunately this appears to be a regular occurence, leading to her sister Cecilia “Ceci” Helmold chastising her before deciding to clean up the mess. Totori flees, not liking her sister being upset with her, and you’re left to explore and get to know people from there.
You’ll meet the hot blooded youth who will be more best friend than anything because apparently Atelier girls aren’t allowed to have relationships or the fan base gets upset, and a bumbling carriage driver who…spies on your big sister all the time because he likes her but lacks the courage to talk to her…cuz that’s not weird…
I’m poking a lot of fun at the characters, but honestly this game is a blast and so is getting to know them. You’ll spend your time in the first section of the game getting to know Gino, your childhood friend, and Melvia “Mel” Siebel for some time, whiling away the hours exploring town and doing jobs for the gruff but caring bartender to help out around town. Despite Totori being an absolute novice at alchemy, there’s only three alchemists left in the whole world which makes her a precious commodity.
You’ll gather materials for alchemy, hunt monsters, and synthesize items for the townsfolk. The more you play and interact with characters, the more you’ll get to know them. Really, this is the heart of the game. You feel like alchemy is a job and a responsibility, and you get paid to spend time with your closest friends all day.
I find it difficult to put into words how nice this all is. The experience is very charming and laid back; you never really feel pressured or prodded, but the experience is so organic that it held my interest and tore me away from Fire Emblem: Awakening!
You have a period of time to complete your objectives, and that time passes as you travel to areas, as you fight (each round costs a certain amount of time), and as you synthesize. Keeping this in mind, and the fact that the game likes to hijack your time for several hours or days without warning, you’ve got to plan accordingly. Even so, the only time I failed a quest so far was when they suddenly decided it was time to get my adventurer’s license. I honestly felt bad when the bartender chastised me for not completing my jobs on time, telling me to be more responsible and caring of other’s needs, because I honestly cared what he thought about me and my party!
I tend to have trouble caring about most characters in RPG’s these days. I’m not an angsty teen or an impulsive youth anymore, so I don’t tend to care about most JRPG heroes anymore. I enjoy the genre, but normally when I reach the “Oh you are so going down for what you did to ____!!!” point it’s fifteen to twenty hours in. Atelier Totori is the first game since Lost Odyssey that made me so endeared to the cast, and the first RPG since Tales of the Abyss to manage to make me go from “…What’s the…why am I…wha???” to “I love this game and its cast” so quickly.
The nicest thing about the cast is that they’re more than their anime roles. Ditsy Totori who cries whenever Ceci is upset with her is more than an emotional idiot; she’s a girl who has already lost one family member and can’t stand the thought of losing another. You begin to see as time goes on that Totori idolizes her sister and values her opinion more than anyone else’s, she can’t bear the thought of Ceci being disappointed in her. Likewise, the covalent bond between them shows how much Ceci bases her life around caring for Totori, and their relationship is really quite sweet to watch grow. One scene in particular that struck me was Totori bursting into tears over how cold and vehemently Ceci tells her she can’t become an adventurer. Ceci calls Totori everything from useless to idiotic, somehow wrapping that in a compliment on how those are her best qualities. A sobbing Totori exclaims that she hates her sister and runs out of the house, and once Ceci is sure Totori is gone she breaks down sobbing also. Their ninja like father comforts his daughter, commenting how they both love each other dearly, but struggle with how to express it at times.
Scenes like these really endear you to your party, and show the depth beyond their anime stereotypes.
The fierce tsundere that meets you at first goes from being a brash loud mouth brat to finding herself fiercely protective of the otherwise too trusting Totori, and begins going to great lengths to show everyone she has a good heart beneath her pomp and circumstance. Everyone grows, and that’s the best part of this game for me. Sure, the combat engine has its own depth, and the alchemy system does as well, but the heart of the game is your journey with your friends.
Just as you, the player, go from a casual acquaintence to coming to love and care for the cast, so too does the cast go from people that know each other, to a family.
In combat, Totori isn’t very strong physically, but is the only one who can use items. She can heal everyone, and through her alchemy can make some pretty killer combat items. You raise your adventure rank for questing and your alchemy rank for synthesizing, gathering and reading more books, and as Totori evolves from scared wimp to confident adventurer you see how she wants to be strong not just to find her mother, but to take care of her friends. Your allies in battle, of which you can bring two, are way stronger. They can build up a gauge that will allow you to pick one of them to dive in front of an attack for Totori, lowering the damage both members take, or else do a follow up attack with her.
The more comfortable you get with the surprisingly deep alchemy system, picking and choosing what effects to add and realizing sometimes it’s worth using lower grade materials to get better status effects, the more involved you become in the game’s world. It’s not just Totori wanting to be a great alchemist, you want to be one too, and you’ll be darned if anyone says you can’t! And, everyone else isn’t just there because of Totori’s goals, they have their own dreams to strive for as well. Even the NPC’s in town, such as the hilarious and amazing blacksmith or the head of the adventurer’s guild grow and have great interactions through cutscenes the more you get to know them.
Atelier Totori is a rich and charming game exclusive to the Playstation Vita for anyone willing to set aside gritty shades of brown and explosions for a while. $40 and three gigs on your memory card will net you this Playstation Network exclusive RPG. To be perfectly honest, even if your bread and butter is Gears of War, Tekken and Lord of Apocalypse, you owe it to yourself to spend a little time in Arland. Everyone’s waiting for you, and they can’t wait to be your friend.