In the previous part of this feature, we took a high-level look at how Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland represented a return to the Atelier series’ roots, after Gust experimented with the formula quite a bit throughout the latter days of the PS2 era.
Today, we’re going to examine one of the main ways that the game combines this “traditional” feel with more complex, in-depth and modern mechanics: its revamped alchemy system. As the centrepiece of the Atelier series as a whole, this has always been where Gust has been at its most experimental and iterative, building on the best aspects of what had come before while casting aside the things that didn’t work quite so well or which couldn’t practically be fleshed out any further.
While Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland’s alchemy system is distinctive in its own right, it also clearly learns a lot of lessons from what immediately preceded it. So get that fire lit under your cauldron, and let’s get cookin’!
The fundamentals of alchemy in the Atelier series have always been pretty simple: get recipe for thing, follow recipe to create thing. And indeed that side of things doesn’t change in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland. You’ll acquire new recipe books through story events, by purchasing them from the shops around Rorona’s workshop, and by finding them throughout the game’s dungeons, and each will contain at least one new thing for Rorona to create.
In the Atelier games we’ve seen up until this point, these recipes tended to look “fixed” at first glance: in other words, they appeared to request very specific items in order to produce an equally specific end product. Some depth was added to this system by the fact that different ingredients could be substituted, however; usually, replacing the first ingredient in a recipe had a chance of unlocking a completely different recipe (thematically represented as the protagonist having a flash of inspiration) while replacing others allowed you a bit more fine control over the final quality of the item and perhaps the “traits” or “reviews” that you would be able to attach to it.
Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland provides a slight twist on this formula by a lot of recipes only calling for a particular category of item rather than a specific item. For example, a recipe might call for a “plant” item, giving you a lot more freedom to choose your ingredients than if it called for a specific ingredient — which it still does too, it should be noted.
This increased flexibility is extremely important, though, because unlike the Atelier games we’ve seen up until now, most of the items in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland are completely unique, with their own level of quality, their own ability to produce various effects in specific recipes, and with their own traits that will help make different production runs of the same item slightly different from one another. And unlike the Atelier games we’ve seen so far, producing an item with a different set of characteristics doesn’t magically make all instances of the item in the world take on those characteristics; here, if you want to make, say, a bunch of really good bombs, you have to make all those really good bombs.
Actually, that’s not quite true, due to some mechanics that are introduced a little later, but we’ll come back to those in the next part of this feature.
When choosing to synthesise an item in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, the first step is, as always, to select your ingredients. While choosing specific ingredients, there are several things you might want to take into account: the quality level of the ingredients, which is measured as a number between 0 and 120; the effect of the ingredient, which varies according to the recipe and the quality level of the item; the traits which are attached to the ingredients and whether or not they can be passed on to the final item; and the effect on the item’s “cost” that the ingredient has.
Let’s take all these one at a time. Quality is pretty straightforward: use higher quality ingredients, get higher quality item. Easy enough. Quality affects all sorts of things, but in the case of consumable items it normally determines their base power level. A high-quality bomb will deal more damage than a poor-quality one, for example, and likewise high-quality healing items will restore more HP than low-quality ones. Final item quality is calculated based on the quality level of each of the ingredients, plus a bonus according to Rorona’s alchemy level (which is different from her adventurer level), the number of traits attached, and any specifically quality-related traits she might have attached to the item.
The effect of the ingredient determines what specific things the item will end up being capable of doing — or in the case of non-usable items, things like the specific form it takes. For example, when producing “Beast Statues”, Rorona is able to produce wolf, bird or devil statues according to the ingredients she uses. This mechanic is somewhat akin to the “Ether Level” system in the Mana Khemia games in that each specific effect has a “range” that you have to hit in order to trigger it, but here it is manipulated using the ingredients you put in the pot rather than a timing-based minigame.
The effect mechanic also highlights something we touched on last time: the fact that a hand-crafted single item that you take your time over can be more precisely put together than something mass produced. Going back to the statue example, you might only have one item that produces the “Devil Statue” effect; if you throw in some other items in order to make more at once, the effect level of the final item will drop below the level necessary to produce a devil statue. In this way, if an assignment or a quest is calling for you to create items with specific effects attached to them — or if you’re simply trying to make the most helpful items for Rorona’s adventures — it often pays to take a little more time and be a little more precise about the ingredients you’re putting in.
Traits are similar to effects in that they add additional capabilities to a final item, but unlike effects, which are tied directly to recipes, they are rather more independent, and a big part of achieving success in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland — particularly when it comes to the challenging optional objectives required to see some specific end sequences — comes with understanding the best way to pass traits down from one “generation” of item to another.
Traits aren’t completely freeform in that you can’t transfer them if they don’t make a lot of sense. Traits that relate to increasing attack power or adding elemental affinity can only be attached to ingots that will eventually become weapons, for example, while stat increases are attached to cloth and leather that will become armour. The game’s interface helpfully shows you which specific trait options will be available to you when you produce the final item, ensuring that you don’t waste valuable ingredients with rare traits on recipes that won’t support them.
Traits of similar types but different levels can also be combined to produce much stronger traits that are considerably more powerful than their component parts. For example, you can combine a “Quality lv. 1” trait with a “Quality lv. 2” trait to create “Hand-Crafted”, which raises the final quality of an item considerably more than just attaching the two Quality traits separately. These traits are “secret” until you discover them once, however; in your initial playthrough of the game you’ll have to experiment to find what works. From that point on, however, they are recorded in the game’s Library feature, so you can easily recall them if you need to.
The power of traits is perhaps best demonstrated by an item that is essential for victory if you plan on taking on the game’s toughest bosses: a very specific form of the Elixir healing item.
In Atelier lore, Elixir is the ultimate medicine, and indeed in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, making a good quality Elixir will ensure you have one of the most powerful healing items in the game; depending on the effects you apply to it, it can even raise knocked out characters from KO status, and at the very least applies a strong heal to the whole party at once. However, in its base form, you still need someone to use it for it to be effective. And Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland returns to an early series convention that we’ll talk a little more about when we come to look at combat: the fact that alchemists are the only ones who are able to use items in battle.
There’s a way around this, however. Several traits from ingredients throughout the game allow synthesised consumable items to automatically trigger their effects based on Rorona’s remaining HP. The most effective of these is known as “Pepped Up”, and triggers any time Rorona’s HP is less than 99% — in other words, whenever she takes any damage whatsoever. This, as you might imagine, is incredibly useful when taking on bosses that are capable of hitting the entire party in one go — perhaps even one-shotting party members. Carry around some Elixirs with Pepped Up attached to them, and any time Rorona so much as grazes her knee a strong heal will be applied to the whole party; if you had the foresight to use ingredients that also unlocked the “KO Recovery” effect, it will also raise anyone who got knocked down by a powerful attack.
Sounds pretty easy, right? Just follow the recipe using an ingredient with Pepped Up attached to it? Well, no; firstly, Pepped Up is quite a rare trait to stumble across, and secondly none of the “raw ingredient” items you use in producing an Elixir are capable of holding the Pepped Up trait. Instead, what you have to do is synthesise the item Nectar — which early in the game is used as your standard KO Recovery medicine — and ensure Pepped Up is attached to that instead. You then use your Pepped Up Nectar as one of the ingredients for the Elixir, since Nectar is one of the “fixed” ingredients in the recipe.
There’s still one more thing to consider, however, and that is “cost”. Despite the name, this doesn’t relate to how much money you require to produce the item — alchemy is “free” so long as you have the ingredients — rather, it determines the total “value” of traits a final item is able to hold. Any item can carry up to five traits in total, but the value of those traits cannot exceed the item’s cost value. And, as you might expect, powerful and useful traits such as the aforementioned combined traits or Pepped Up tend to have rather high values, meaning that you’ll need to select your ingredients carefully to ensure your final item will have sufficient cost to take all the traits you’d like it to have.
Thankfully, you’re able to review all this information before you craft the final item, so you’ll never feel like you’re doing all this blind. There’s a slight element of random chance involved — particularly if you’re attempting to craft items that are higher in level than Rorona’s current alchemy level, which drops her chance of success below 100% according to the disparity — but even this can be manipulated with the right traits. In fact, if you want to complete the post-game “Overtime” scenario, it’s an absolute necessity, since the item you need to finish that sequence is otherwise completely impossible for Rorona to craft, even at the level cap!
One of the particularly pleasant things about Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland is that you can “beat” the game — with the “true” ending, even — without getting too heavily involved in the intricacies of the alchemy system if you find it too complicated or time-consuming to engage with. However, the game very much rewards those who are willing to put the time and effort in with additional narrative content, significant mechanical challenges to overcome and a marvellous sense of satisfaction when you achieve something noteworthy.
It’s this side of things we’ll be looking at a little more in the next part of this feature — the way in which this game, despite initially appearing to have a fairly rigid structure, actually offers a lot of flexibility in how you play, and some of the best replay value you’ll ever see for a game of this type.
Until then, happy synthesising!
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