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Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland (PlayStation 3) artwork

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland (PlayStation 3) review

"Thereís an astonishing level of complexity on display everywhere you turn, so you might have to wait until your second or third trip through the game before trying to actually hunt down some of the more fearsome monsters. Even then, with the benefit of gear that you are allowed to carry over from one round to the next, failure is possible and perhaps even likely. Thereís a bunch of awesome stuff to do and see but not nearly enough time."

The ginger-haired Princess Meruru lives in a castle at the center of a tiny kingdom called Arls, positioned along the remote peninsula to the northwest of the Arland republic. Privileged and immature, Meruru hasnít ever had to worry about anything more important than deciding when she should take her next bath. Her loyal maid, Keina, takes care of all the necessary cooking and cleaning. That in turn leaves Meruru with plenty of time to dream about someday embarking on a proper adventure that will take her beyond the familiar castle walls and dusty streets she calls home.

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, the third and likely the final Alchemist of Arland game for PlayStation 3, chronicles the several years that pass as the plucky heroine evolves from a fifteen-year-old brat to a responsible adult. With your help, Meruru may become a regal ruler that any nation would be proud to serve (just in time for the kingdom she calls home to merge with Arland). She could just as easily wind up a total failure, though; itís up to you.

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland asset

Whether youíve played previous Alchemist of Arland titles or not, you shouldnít have trouble following along with the delightful and very basic story. Atelier Meruru features minor subplots in addition to whatís outlined above--annoyingly presented in dialogue exchanges that may break your train of thought if youíre just trying to run around town and gather items or meet with someone--but knowledge of past Atelier games isnít required. Many of the characters may hail from the previous titles, but theyíre all introduced and profiled again so that you donít have to wonder who considers who a friend. Naturally, the most familiar returning character is Totori, the star of the previous game. Now a full-fledged alchemist, Totori lives in a beautiful cottage along the village outskirts. Her home doubles as a workshop and serves as a convenient base of operations. Series veterans shouldnít be surprised to learn that the alchemy practiced in that building is the only reason Meruru has any hope of living out a daring adventure.

Because Atelier Meruru is finishing up a trilogy of sorts, you might expect to have a hard time jumping into things if you lack experience with the previous titles or just never got the hang of turning mundane items into treasure. Fortunately, though, the new game starts with a tutorial session that helpfully walks you through any potentially overwhelming play mechanics. If you pay attention during those opening scenes and allow yourself to soak in the instructions, youíll be off to a great start. As in Atelier Totori, there also are in-game help files that outline the gameís basic fundamentals in case you forget anything. With all of the available documentation at your disposal, thereís seldom an excuse to remain confused for long.

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland asset

Depending on how you feel about fresh content (or the lack thereof), you may actually enjoy yourself more if this is your first exposure to the franchise. Atelier Meruru borrows quite a few of its more basic assets from older Atelier titles, enough that youíll be bound to notice if you have experience with them. The presentation as characters converse is nearly identical, for instance, many item illustrations remain unchanged, character models are recycled with little or no modification, and some of the menu text and other visual prompts remain identical. However, there are a slew of tweaks throughout the game, minor modifications that turn a good experience into a great one.

The down side to the improvement is that playing previous titles now feels almost like a chore in comparison (though of course thatís not this newest gameís problem). Menus have been overhauled for Atelier Meruru, meaning you can now tell more easily if youíre about to accept a quest that you canít promptly complete because now the number of matching items you already have in your possession is prominently displayed, whereas previously it was not. Thatís the sort of change that should have been implemented a game or two back, and there are other similar fixes throughout the experience. When you decide to take a rest on your bed to recover LP or MP or even HP (though items tend to serve that last purpose more efficiently), numbers conveniently predict your stats after a single dayís rest instead of forcing you to guess. You can also check the numbers for a multi-night nap before committing to anything. Most importantly, the game introduces quick travel in its opening scenes, meaning you can easily teleport between the various town environments. Those areas are also less enormous than those featured in Atelier Totori (with more tolerable load times, as well).

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland asset

If such overdue improvements arenít enough to excite you, know also that Atelier Meruru is the prettiest game in the series to date. Not only are environmental elements more detailed, but you can quite often look out and see a variety of activity in the distance. For example, in one early area, you can look across a wide stream of water and see enemies oozing along a distant bank. Sometimes the draw distance isnít great--particularly during moments where you might see several NPCs in an environment, but only see prompts letting you know which ones might interact with you as you get closer to them--and characters still can pop into sight when an environment first loads (just as they did in Atelier Totori), but mostly the game is a visual treat with art design that finally seems to have come into its own. The music is also excellent, offering a nice mix of familiar tunes and new selections that will likely prompt you to hum along before you realize what youíre doing.

Thereís certainly a lot to like in Atelier Meruru, but some of its most admirable strengths also present as flaws in some circumstances. While some players will appreciate the more persistent direction that is afforded by regular dispatches from Rufus, the kingís uptight advisor, there arenít many moments where you feel like you have the freedom to simply explore. Wandering around the world map eats up far too many precious days, and you only have so many years before the game will conclude (whether youíve done everything you had planned to or not). Just about anything you might do outside of town consumes time, while in town you may lose a full day or more just synthesizing a single item. Throughout the experience, thereís a constant and occasionally frustrating need to manage your time more effectively. A simple mistake (such as taking a trip halfway across the map and then realizing that the item you thought you had in your possession was accidentally used the last time you created some other quest-specific item) could set you back so significantly that it winds up meaning the difference between seeing a good eventual ending to the game and seeing a great one. There are quite a few endings to see, based on your performance.

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland asset

Arls is a surprisingly expansive kingdom, despite its initial low population, and it only opens up to you once you start meeting some demanding requirements and growing the size of the populace. Even if you plan carefully, youíll have trouble seeing everything that the region has to offer, especially when a powerful beast might be preventing you from developing a promising area. Thereís an astonishing level of complexity on display everywhere you turn, so you might have to wait until your second or third trip through the game before trying to actually hunt down some of the more fearsome monsters. Even then, with the benefit of gear that you are allowed to carry over from one round to the next, failure is possible and perhaps even likely. Thereís a bunch of awesome stuff to do and see but not nearly enough time.

Thanks to its polished design and extensive campaign, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland comes highly recommended if you love JRPGs and yearn for something a little different from the grim norm. The unique elements that always make new installments in the series so special--including item collection and synthesis, along with character designs and situations so charmingly inoffensive that you have no choice but to smile--ensure that the final adventure in Arland is also the best one. Donít miss it.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 26, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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zippdementia posted May 26, 2012:

It certainly looks beautiful!
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threetimes posted May 28, 2012:

Wow, I only just found out this was already out in the EU. It didn't take long to play? I'm assuming there are loads of different character endings as with the Arland games? Good to hear they've speeded up travel and quest/item identification, but it sounds as if that feeling of always having to rush around and be careful about time remains one of the major stumbling blocks to full enjoyment.
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honestgamer posted May 28, 2012:

I put around 60 hours into it, threetimes. NIS America sent me an advance copy. Ironically, I played through it... three times. I've actually just barely started a fourth run, for fun, but I had other stuff to do. Anyway, it's a wonderful and addictive game, and I hated that I had to give it a rating of "only" 8, but the site doesn't allow 8.5 and 9 felt too high given the time constraints and other minor annoyances. If you're into this sort of game at all, though, I can't recommend it highly enough.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next Atelier title, which I guess hits Japan next month and probably won't arrive in North America and Europe until much later... possibly under a new publisher (since Koei Tecmo bought out Gust, the developer).
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Nightmare posted May 28, 2012:

Good review, Venter. I was debating on picking this one up so you've sold me.
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threetimes posted May 29, 2012:

Ha! three times is the charm. ;)

I though this was the last of the Arland games. Nice to know there are more Ateliers to come. And yes I'm a huge fan of them, I've played all the English releases, even Annie,, apart from Mana Khemia 2 which I gave up on part way through. Didn't like what they did to the awesome battle system of MK and didn't much like the synthesising, or the horrible hard to read font they used. Rorona was frustrating but Totori was great, so I'm delighted to hear that this one is good too.
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TomatoMan posted August 04, 2012:

The time restrictions tend to make achieving a particular goal or ending rather difficult, at least in Rorona, since you need to do things for the common folk and friends alike as well as getting a certain rating on your tasks for the King. I must say though, once in the zone you don't really want to stop, the alchemy system is rather addictive.

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