Ah, Rorona. My first Atelier girl; my entry point to the series; and a character who pretty much acts as a perfect representative of what Atelier is all about.
Last time we looked at the Atelier Arland trilogy here on MoeGamer (back when it was still actually a trilogy) we explored a number of the series’ secondary characters. But we never gave any love to the titular leading lady of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland.
So let’s rectify that right now, then, shall we, what with this ongoing Atelier MegaFeature and all?
When we first meet Rorona, she’s fifteen years old and, like the Atelier protagonists from the early days, has found herself in possession of two things: a workshop, and a series of tight deadlines in which to achieve various alchemy-related things.
Yes, as we’ll talk more about when we examine Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland in detail, the Arland series marked something of a return to the classic Atelier format after the latter days of the series’ PS2 era showed something of a dalliance with a more “conventional” RPG-style formula.
What of Rorona herself, though? Well, she’s a charming young girl who initially feels way out of her depth, but is nonetheless willing to take on the challenges ahead of her. She feels indebted to her “master” Astrid, after all, since it was Astrid’s ministrations that helped nurse her parents back to health a few years back, and as such became an apprentice alchemist.
What she probably wasn’t counting on when she agreed to this was Astrid’s spectacular talent for complete and utter indolence; the very setup of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland is that Astrid can’t be arsed to comply with a local bureaucrat’s threat to shut down the workshop if it doesn’t fulfil a series of increasingly challenging assignments over the course of three years, so it’s up to Rorona to take on the job, lest she and her parents find themselves exiled from Arland along with Astrid.
Astrid isn’t stupid, mind; there’s a reasonable argument to be made that she deliberately left Rorona in the lurch to help her grow as both an alchemist and a person — and indeed she pulls similar tricks in the subsequent Arland games — but that’s a discussion for another day.
Rorona does indeed grow over the course of her experiences, though. When reporting her first assignments to the rather gruff knight Sterkenburg Cranach in Arland Castle, she is absolutely terrified — both of the situation she is in, and of Sterk himself. But with each passing assignment, and with her growing skills in both the field of alchemy and adventuring outside the city walls, she becomes more and more confident, and finds herself more able to relate to Sterk on relatively equal footing.
Her other relationships around the town grow in a similar fashion. During her early conversations with castle administrator Esty, for example, Rorona has a habit of putting her foot in her mouth by mentioning things like Esty’s perpetual singledom or her advancing years, but she quickly learns that it’s a bad idea to bring such things up around a woman in her late twenties who is sensitive about such things.
She never quite lets go of certain aspects of her own immaturity, however. Even late in the game, she’s still a very noisy young woman, prone to somewhat overblown emotional outbursts, particularly when surprised by something. This is all part of her charm, of course — and a reminder for all of us that just because we “grow up”, it doesn’t mean that we have to let go of everything about our personality from our younger days. Indeed, Rorona is such an appealing character precisely because she holds on to her endearing clumsiness and bewilderment not just throughout Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, but onward into the other games of the subseries, too.
Design-wise, Rorona highlights the Atelier series’ fascination with a rather Germanic aesthetic. The Arland subseries in particular makes a real effort to create a distinctly European atmosphere through both its architecture and its costumes, and Rorona’s default outfit is a great example of this.
The brown dress she wears as her base layer is an interpretation of the traditional German/Alpine dirndl, featuring a bodice with a low neckline, worn tight to the body, fastened with buttons and ornamented with elaborate embroidery. She does, however, lack the apron that is traditionally worn as part of a complete dirndl outfit.
The material — which looks like leather or perhaps suede — is in keeping with the dirndl’s traditional use as a hard-wearing garment, and this is definitely appropriate for Rorona’s profession. Whether going out and about to seek out ingredients — and maybe fend off a few monsters — or trying not to blow herself up in her workshop, Rorona needs something that is both hard-wearing and practical. But that doesn’t mean she needs to sacrifice her femininity or her ability to express herself.
Rorona’s dress is complemented by an embroidered shawl, which is a common accompaniment to the dirndl, an oversized belt which holds her alchemy pouch and other equipment, and a two-coloured hat that complements the rest of her outfit, and which is decorated with elaborate embroidery and a feathery charm. The charm itself is very commonly seen throughout the game as a whole; not only is it in Rorona’s hat, but it’s also the marker that appears in the corner of dialogue boxes indicating you should press a button to proceed.
Rorona’s outfit stands out in one way compared to her peers, however; her skirt is very short. Traditionally, a dirndl features a long skirt, but in more modern versions shorter and even miniskirt versions do exist. Other women around the town of Arland all wear long skirts or dresses — including Rorona’s friend Cordelia, along with Esty — so Rorona stands out a great deal with her particular fashion.
This can be interpreted in a few ways, mostly relating to the idea of modernity. Much of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland’s narrative concerns the kingdom’s struggles to honour its traditions while also embracing a modern industrial revolution; indeed, Rorona’s own situation is because the main “villain” of the piece wants to flatten her workshop in order to build more factories, so we can read her entire mission as an attempt to prove that there is a place for a traditional vocation — alchemy — in a “modern” world.
As a teenager, Rorona is part of a new generation who would have grown up in the “modern” world, but she respects tradition. Her outfit reflects this; by being based around a dirndl, she acknowledges tradition, but the short length of her skirt provides an air of modernity to the entire ensemble — as well as simply making her stand out as the main character in the story, too.
Anyway, that’s probably more than you thought you’d read about German clothing today; it’s certainly more than I thought I was going to write about when I woke up this morning. Now I’ve got assignments to complete, so it’s back to slaving over a hot cauldron for me!
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