Usually, when you think of Princesses, you think of little frilly girls who have maids to do all their work as they sit around and play. That’s not how Meruru of Arls operates. Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland tells the story of Meruru, a princess who has never really been much of a princess. She has decided that she is hellbent on becoming a world renowned alchemist, and there is only one thing stopping her…her father, the King of Arls. Feeling bad for her daughter, they strike a deal. Meruru has 3 years to use alchemy to develop Arls, and if she succeeds, she will have her fathers blessing to pursue alchemy to whatever extent she desires. If she fails, however, she must give up her dream. At first, Atelier Meruru seems like a title with very minimal promise. Considering I had never played any of the other Atelier games, I didn’t know what to expect. Now that I have played the game, well, we are going to get to that in a bit.
As I said before, the main story behind Atelier Meruru is one about development, something that not many JRPG’s touch on anymore. It all usually revolves around some character (with very colorful hair, might I add), going on some epic quest to slay some monster, show up some character, or do something dangerous for shits and giggles. This fact alone made me skeptical about Atelier Meruru at first. I didn’t exactly like the fact that the whole point of the game was to develop a kingdom, especially when to do so, you have to go around and gather stuff like mushrooms and rocks. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the main character is an alchemist, a breed that I have grown to very much dislike in games. If you haven’t gotten the drift here, I did not really expect much from Atelier Meruru when I first started playing it. I really don’t expect newcomers like myself to have a much different reaction, either. The only thing is that your opinion will start to change fast, or at least mine sure as hell did.
There are so many things that Atelier Meruru did well, so I guess I will start with the most obvious one; Atelier Meruru was a very good story driven title. Even though the premise is simple, Atelier Meruru drove me home with their complex story development, and especially with how Meruru interacts with the games various characters. When you play the game, you really feel like you are interacting, and getting to know the characters. Whether you are seeing the sweet, loving way that Kiena interacts with Meruru, the strict, fatherly way that Rufus orders her around, or witnessing the fire in Lias’ eyes when he tries to show up his brother, you really can feel the characters. I am not one to jump out and cherish a game for their stories. Hell, that’s most likely one of the reasons that I disliked Mass Effect 2 so much. I will say, though, that storytelling is one of the aspects of Atelier Meruru that really hits home, and made me enjoy the title so much. Everything is so complex, and there is a never ending realm of possibilities as to what will happen next. It was really the driving factor that kept my picking up the controller. Atelier Meruru also did a lot of other things really well.
Alchemy is such a touchy thing in video games, at least in my experience. It always seems to take a back seat, and serve as a side system that you can use when it is convenient to you. Truthfully, I never really end up using alchemy systems in games, mostly because they are extremely convoluted, and just downright difficult to use. I usually find it easier to just go out and find food than using alchemy to make it. In all honesty, Atelier Meruru’s alchemy system is the first one that I have actually enjoyed using, and I commend the developers for that. Considering the fact that Meruru is an alchemist character, they really had to develop a system that will be easy, fun, and simple to use. I mean, if a game revolves around getting killshots, the developers are going to have to make a system that makes getting those shots awesome (I’m lookin at you, Sniper Elite). So actually, it’s no real surprise that Atelier Meruru has a great alchemy system. Basically, every item is grouped into a certain subgroup. These can range from liquids to mystical items, all the way to cloths. By gathering items within various map stages, you can make better items using alchemy. There are many other factors involved in the process, such as quality, traits, and level, but it never was really that difficult to understand. Everything just kinda flows together, and it really makes playing the game fun.
Other than that, everything in Atelier Meruru does what it is supposed to do. The cell shaded graphics look great, and they really blend with game play. Cutscenes feature a mix of both 3D rendering of the characters, as well as 2D interactions. Everything looks great, and my eyes thank the developers for that. While the gameplay is quite simplistic and turn based, it kept me entertained throughout the game. With an RPG as potentially long as Atelier Meruru, gameplay mechanics are key to whether the gamer actually decides to continue playing your title. They definitely succeeded in that aspect. As I said before, everything did exactly what it was supposed to do to keep me both entertained, and having fun.
Now, considering the fact that Atelier Meruru isn’t getting a perfect 10, I’m sure you’re wondering what is wrong with the game. There is one really huge, gaping thing that really held the game back in my eyes, and it was something that was not so much the developers fault as much my fault for being completely impatient. The only real “flaw” I could find with Atelier Meruru is the fact that there are sometimes too many cutscenes. I know, I know…earlier in the review I said that the story driven cutscenes were one of the things that kept me playing Atelier Meruru. That still applies. The only problem is that there were many times while I was playing where I was pressed for time and really needed to get something done, but the game simply wouldn’t let me do it. One specific time was when I needed to go to the shop that sells synthesized goods to buy some Polish Powder. I had to go out, and before I left I wanted to get an item made so I could finish a quest. There were literally 3 consecutive, 2 minute cutscenes that stopped me from getting into the shop. I thought they would never end. While it was definitely a minimal thing (that was most likely based on preference), I think it was the elephant in the room that held Atelier Meruru back from getting a 10 on my scale.
I think to say that Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland was a good game is a severe understatement. It is definitely one of the best titles that I now have in my library, and is one of the better games that I have played in a long time. Sometimes, with a JRPG series like this, it is hard to pick up on when you have not played any of the previous installments. This was sort of the case when I picked up Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2. Atelier Meruru, however, manages to create an environment that can be enjoyed by not only hardcore fans of the series, but people who are trying it our for the first time. With a great story, a well enough battle system, a great alchemy system, and very few flaws, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is a game that I must highly suggest that you check out. While I will say that it is definitely not for everyone, even if you aren’t generally an RPG person, you should be able to find something to love in this game.