Portable, Addictive, and Slightly Creepy
If you have never played the Atelier series of RPGs, let me fill you in. They are, essentially, equal parts traditional JRPGs and crafting systems. Yes, crafting items via alchemy is a huge part of these games, and you can spend hundreds, yes, literally hundreds of hours, tinkering away in your shop, making special potions and tiny hats. This cult-classic series of RPGs is a phenomenal time sink, rivaling Nippon Ichi’s own Disgaea series in both content and amount of time you can spend without actually progressing the story any. This uncanny ability to spend hour after hour absorbed in a game world without actually doing anything but watch numbers go up is what makes the Atelier series a perfect fit for a handheld system like the Vita. This brings us to Atelier Meruru Plus , a portable re-release of Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland for the PS3.
If you missed Atelier Meruru’s first release, here’s a short rundown. Meruru is the princess of the Kingdom of Arls, and this means absolutely nothing. You see, political revolution is going down in Arls, which means that her tiny kingdom will soon become part of the ever-growing Arland Republic. When this happens, she will become a princess in name only, a lot like Britain’s royal family, but without all the paparazzi trying to get a picture of the royal baby.
Faced with the option of living a practically meaningless royal life or doing anything else, Meruru decides to become an alchemist, because that’s what the Atelier series is all about after all. (Well, that and slightly uncomfortable panty shots of magical girls.) She finds Totori, a previous protagonist of the Atelier series and decides that she will become her apprentice. Unfortunately, Meruru’s family doesn’t approve, and so Meruru needs to prove that alchemy is worth a damn by getting 15,000 people to settle in Arls through her alchemy… somehow.
Atelier Meruru is basically a time-based mission game, a lot like Dead Rising but with more RPG elements and the aforementioned panty shots. Meruru will get requests to alchemize certain items by a certain point and time, and it’s up to her to figure out the recipe, put the item together, and deliver the item before her deadline is up. Of course, a huge portion of item crafting is actually gathering the materials for items, which has to be done in fields or dungeons. Traveling to and spending time in these areas makes precious seconds tick off of your in-game clock, but it’s probably the most efficient way to get materials in the game. It’s here that Meruru will be able to either harvest materials from gathering points or gain materials by beating up enemies and reaping the spoils. Battle takes place in a traditional, turn-based combat engine, and it’s pretty much necessary to beat the game, so don’t ignore the battlefield too long.
That’s Atelier Meruru in a nutshell, and the Vita port, Meruru Plus , isn’t much different. The story is the same, the goals are the same, and even the time frames are the same. It’s an incredibly faithful port, right down to the graphics, which, in all honesty, haven’t changed much. So if you played the original, you pretty much know what to expect here.
The small alterations that Meruru Plus does make tend to affect overall game balance. Many players complain that Atelier Meruru is too hard. Battles take players by surprise, wiping out their party with no warning, and rare items are so hard to procure, certain missions seem impossible to complete. Luckily, this is not the case with Meruru Plus . The overall difficulty of the game has been toned down. Enemies do less damage and yield far greater rewards. Your party grows in strength much more quickly than before, and rare items are easier to come by. While this change may upset people who are fans of real, white-knuckle, hardcore RPG action, the game is honestly better for it. Besides, portable games are better off being slightly more casual anyway. It’s better than throwing your Vita out the car window.
The Vita version comes with a few other bonuses as well. For example, much of the PS3 version’s DLC, in terms of both costumes and characters, is included in Meruru Plus free of charge. New costumes have also been included, increasing the amount of customizability the game has to offer. There are a few new areas as well, and a few new scenes to watch, but neither actually change the overall plot or pacing of the game, especially since missions are easier to complete this time around.
While Meruru Plus is easily the best release of Atelier Meruru out there, many of the flaws from the original are still present. For example, the game is still incredibly grindy. Even though the game is easier, you will still run into whole stretches of the game when all you are trying to do is increase your weapons. One of the big complaints about the original Atelier Meruru is that it can only be truly “beaten” with the true ending on a New Game +, and that is still the case here, so prepare yourself for multiple 100+ hour gameplay runs just to see a slightly better endgame cutscene.
The voice acting in the game is horrible, just like it is in the PS3 version. The characters’ voices are high and squeaky yet, somehow, strangely emotionless. It’s like an audio version of the uncanny valley. You can switch over to the Japanese voice track whenever you like, which is cool, but only because we can’t actually understand what characters are saying. Not only that, but there are equally annoying high-pitched squeaky characters on this track as well. So you might as well turn the voices off.
Finally, the biggest issue in Atelier Meruru lies in its, frankly, quite creepy sexualization of its main characters, who look at lot like underage girls. It is bad in the PS3 version, and it’s bad here. In fact, some of the new costumes are even more tasteless than before. Sure, there is a whole section of fandom that indulges in stuff like this, but for me, it just feels awkward, and it’s going to turn a lot of people off.
However, flaws aside, Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice of Arland is a good, solid JRPG that works phenomenally in the portable format. It’s easy to pick up and put down, even though you’ll eventually spend hours of your life on it. Its mission-based format is perfect for long trips on a plane or short trips on the bus. It has a better sense of pacing, more content, and free DLC. If you haven’t tried Atelier Meruru yet, or if you just want to have a version of the game to take with you on the road, then you might want to pick up Atelier Meruru Plus .
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
The graphics seem nearly identical to the PS3 version. 4.0 Control
The PS Vita actually lends itself to menu-based JRPG action. 2.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice actors are still horrendous in both English and Japanese. 3.0 Play Value
This is likely the best version of Atelier Meruru for your money, but anyone who has played the original probably won’t pick it up again. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best