|Dev: Gust Co. Ltd.|
|Pub: NIS America|
|Release: Q2 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Ryan Rigney
After making a splash in Japan in 2011, NIS America is finally bringing Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland to American shores sometime within the first half of this year.
For those not in the know, the Atelier series is a turn-based RPG franchise with a somewhat old school battle system that closely resembles early Final Fantasy games. Meruru will be the ninth game in the Atelier series to be released in America, and it is the final game in the "Arland" trilogy. Including Meruru, there are 13 unique games in the series that have been released since the series' incarnation in 1997 as a Japanese PlayStation exclusive.
Meruru will continue the long-held Atelier series tradition of a focus on alchemy and item crafting, but it does introduce some new mechanics, according to NIS America. NIS promises that a new "Time Card" element will give battles a new layer of strategic depth. Time Cards influence the turn order that characters and enemies are restricted to while fighting.
Admittedly, I'm a lot more interested in learning more about the "Development system" that will debut in Meruru. According to NIS, players will be given the ability to develop new areas and facilities, altering the appearance of the game's world. The way that players choose to physically develop the world will have some sort of impact on the story, although NIS has so far stayed mum about just how big that impact might be.
Meruru isn't the first PlayStation 3 entry in the franchise to be released outside of Japan—both Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland and Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland (the first two games in the Arland trilogy) have also been brought to the U.S. by NIS America. Both of these games have received somewhat average review scores from the press, although Totori was greeted with a significantly more positive response from critics.
Cheat Code Central's own Becky Cunningham gave Totori a strong 4 out of 5 review. Cunningham called the game's cel-shaded graphics "gorgeous," and remarked that the game "is backed up by a high-quality, evocative soundtrack."
Cunningham did criticize Totori's story, noting that despite the fact that the game takes place over the course of several years, none of the characters seem to grow physically or mature mentally during that time. "Totori still looks like a pre-teen at the end of the game," wrote Cunningham. "And though she's told that she's 'grown up' a fair bit, there's no indication that she's actually grown any older."
Meruru's story picks up directly where the previous game left off, and old characters will return in new roles. Totori Helmold herself (the main character from the second game) acts a guide for the protagonist—Princess Meruru. The story follows the princess as she works to learn alchemy under Totori Helmond and then uses her powers to develop the nation of Arls, her homeland.
Meruru has already run into some controversy. There was something of a debacle a month after the game was released in Japan, as the game was incorrectly rated by CERO, the Japanese ratings organization, as appropriate for "all ages." Atelier developers Gust were forced to stop shipments of the game altogether until CERO could redo the games rating. CERO later allowed the game to be re-released with a "B" rating, which means that the game is appropriate for players ages 12 and older.
Meruru looks to be an interesting addition to a solid RPG franchise, and if it manages to fix its predecessor's problems the same way that the second game in the trilogy improved the first, it very well could be the best Atelier game yet. The game is only months away now, so it won't be long before players get a chance to find out.
CCC Contributing Writer