I wrote a very long review of the Atelier series but it’s gone now, however I still wanted to mention this. Atelier Meruru is the most recent Atelier game (I think the 13th in the series) – not including Aisha or whatever that’s releasing in Japan in a month or so.
I don’t want to go into a full blown review of the franchise or even the Arland trilogy again but basically, Meruru takes what all the previous games have done, builds on it, AND makes it all much more manageable and smooth. Rorona had way too constraining time limits and was pretty clunky at times, the battles felt like a pain in the ass as well. Totori had fixed a lot of that while making it a little TOO free and also adding in (a great addition) the adventuring aspect.
Meruru though managed to find the perfect balance between being too free, too constricting, and also at the same time giving you a SHIT TON of stuff to do. If you ask me it should get GOTY but like hell a JRPG would ever achieve any sort of award status outside of Japan. Westerners hate this shit, I’ll never get why.
Oh, anyway, they of course have the synthesizing and ingredient gathering stuff as the main focus, along with your usual turn-based battles (much smoother now!) – and you also get the adventuring world-map type of deal from Totori. Here however, the adventuring is really “leveled up” I suppose. You get to actually develop fucking everything, you’re a princess and your goal is to build the kingdom up before they merge with the Arland Republic. Because of this, along your adventuring on the map, you’ll find new locations to develop on and they ACTUALLY CHANGE the area which was really cool. For example, one place you find is a murky kind of ugly forest, but this is also the most strategic location for more farmland for the city (which needs it as it’s growing) – so what happens? You chop down all the trees (which disappear once they are all gone), you kill the monsters, and you deliver some wood planks (made from the chopped trees) to a soldier there. After awhile, some homes and a windmill appear, along with – instead of treeless plains, some grass and food growing. Then later on they might ask for more stuff, like things needed to help raise goats, and you deliver that and now they will have goats and shit – and all this stuff you do changes what kind of shit you can harvest at each location as well.
Other places include anything from residential areas to military forts to protect the city.
You also get ‘development points’ from doing objectives and side things – all of which you can use to build up the main castle town and raise the population and desirability of moving to Arls. This adds another layer to the game that I really enjoyed, the music even SLIGHTLY changes over time as you get a bigger and bigger main city.
Aside that the side jobs (the ones you get from Esty/Filly) are much easier as well as much more varied. They also have NO time restrictions whatsoever. Also, a GREAT addition I think (as it was always a problem for me before) the FRIEND jobs to raise friendship levels are now here as well. No more hunting down the people and asking them if they want you to do shit for them every goddamn day.
This being the finale of the Arland trilogy, you get most of them! Actually, in rather big news, you even get Pamela as a playable character (via DLC only though) – and even more importnatly to me personally as she’s one of my TOP favorite characters – ESTY is now PARTYABLE. This was a great surprise for me as I really like her and she was my favorite girl in Rorona. I’m still ass pained about what NISA did in butchering her name, but I’m really glad she’s not only back but even partyable. Not only that, she’s EXTREMELY good. She’s pretty much Sterk 2.0 in terms of battle prowess, and she’s much faster than he ever is.
(She’s over 40 years old, seriously.)
The new cast members are all perfectly likeable, which while I loved the cast in Rorona and Totori – they both had terrible “childhood friend boy” characters – who were fucking insufferable. However, here, unlike Gino or Iksel, the childhood friend is actually alright. He’s still the worst of the cast, but he’s tolerable and pretty good due to his mid-AoE attack. He’s annoying due to his almost-romantic obsession over his brother and how that’s all that ever comes up in his story parts, he’s not nearly as bad as say…Gino. Whom I literally could not stand a second of. And for the record, Gino – not to be confused with the King Gio, who is awesome.
My personal new favorites are Keina, Meruru herself, and Hanna – whom, luckily, is ALSO a partyable character with DLC. She’s extremely cute and genki and I very much recommend spending the 4 bucks for her, and if you have it, also on Pamela. Hanna first though.
My main party however for the first playthrough was Meruru (duh), Sterkenburg (he’s my favorite character in the entire franchise), and Esty (one of my favorite Atelier girls overall). My second playthrough was Meruru, Totori, and Mimi to get the friends together again. Currently I’m going with Meruru, Hanna, and Pamela!
Sorry Rorona, your loli form is just…really useless and too quick to die in battle. Maybe I’ll go through with all the alchemist girls next time!
My personal favorite of the Arland trilogy however is still Totori. This game is better overall, much better, but Totori made me FEEL like I was on a real adventure, it got me excited, it gave me goosebumps, it surprised me. I’d think it was going one way and then out of nowhere (though in a believable way) I’d be entirely wrong and it’d take a twist. It was still your typical Atelier fare, but without spoiling anything, I genuinely was surprised to find out I wasn’t at the end of the story three fucking times. And all of those times lead to REALLY cool shit that made me feel like I was really taking part in something big for these characters. They did an AMAZING job on Totori in that aspect and it’s one of my most memorable gaming moments I think.