One of the things the Atelier series has always done well is infuse its secondary characters who are of minimal importance to the main narrative with just as much personality as its leads.
A good example of this is Tiffani Hildebrand from the Atelier Arland series, who first appears in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland and sticks around for its follow-up Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland. In mechanical terms, she’s a shopkeeper. In personality terms, however, she’s so much more.
There’s also a disappointing lack of fanart of her online. Someone get to work, quick! In the meantime, though, let’s take our time to celebrate Atelier Tiffani: The Mom of Arland and her official art.
As we join the story in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, we’re introduced to Rorona as someone who already knows the residents of Arland well. While her workshop doesn’t have the best reputation — thanks primarily to Rorona’s master Astrid rather than Rorona herself — Rorona is well-liked for her cheerful personality and her kind nature.
When we, the player, meet Tiffani as we guide Rorona into the “R&T’s Sundries” shop for the first time, it’s clear there’s a pre-existing relationship there. Tiffani looks on Rorona with a certain degree of motherly kindness, while Rorona is keen to treat Tiffani well in return. On one particular occasion in the narrative, Rorona learns that Tiffani has had to close her shop for a day while she is sick, so she makes her some medicine and refuses to charge her for it — something that Tiffani is very grateful for, being a shrewd businesswoman herself.
Tiffani has a bit of a sad backstory, though it’s never made a big deal of. We learn that her husband (the “R” of “R&T”) passed away some time ago, and she clearly still thinks of him fondly. There are a couple of occasions where we see her heading out to tend to his grave, and she still wears her wedding ring on her finger. She seems content enough, however; we can assume that her husband’s death was well prior to the events of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, and she is at peace with it. At least, she certainly puts across that impression with her public face, anyway.
Since Arland is quite a small town, most people are aware that Tiffani is a widow, but that doesn’t stop the middle-aged men of the town stopping by Tiffani’s shop primarily to perv on her. They never actually do anything though; if anything, they act like shy drunken university students scoping out a nightclub dancefloor but never actually having the courage to approach someone who takes their fancy. (Not that I have any experience of that, obviously.)
Part of this is shyness on the part of the gentlemen in question — it’s clear that most of them are outright afraid to approach her — but there’s also a quiet, unspoken respect for Tiffani, too. It’s clear that despite her being at peace with her husband’s passing, she’s in absolutely no hurry to find someone new. She’s more than capable of running her business by herself and seems quite happy having something meaningful to throw herself into. And while her “fan club” enjoys hanging out in the shop to gaze slack-jawed at her beauty, they know that they’ll never have a chance.
There’s a delightfully awkward scene at one point in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland where Rorona catches her father Ryan hanging out with Tiffani’s fan club, and it’s clear that Ryan also thinks that Tiffani is attractive. We do, however, know at this point that Ryan and Rorona’s mother Laura are in a firmly committed, loving relationship, so part of it is Ryan just joining in with a bit of “boy talk”; Rorona, however, soon puts a stop to it by threatening to tell her mother what he’s been up to!
Tiffani does have a hidden side, and it comes out when she’s been drinking. Tiffani is fond of the odd tipple, particularly when hanging out with her friend Esty, and should you happen to catch her deep in her cups, you’ll find a rather rambunctious young woman who is more than happy to get a bit touchy-feely with pretty young things like Rorona — and, later, Totori. And inevitably she will have completely forgotten about her shenanigans the following day — though neither Rorona nor Totori ever forget.
As Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori progress, Esty and Tiffani’s drinking sprees become somewhat legendary — though in order to witness these events for yourself, you do have to put a fair amount of effort in to build up the protagonists’ relationship values with Tiffani. If you don’t, you might never know about this rather fun — if mildly threatening — side of Arland’s favourite housewife.
The fact that Tiffani — and indeed the other shopkeepers in Arland — all have distinct personalities and backstories that it’s possible to explore feels like something of a callback to Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana in particular. In that game, you’d develop your relationships with the shopkeepers to unlock new items to craft as well as discover their personal stories; here, improving your relationships with vendors like Tiffani allows you to make use of the useful and time-saving “wholesale” mechanic that allows you to easily duplicate items rather than having to craft them individually.
Tiffani is a great example of something that Gust clearly made a point of emphasising in the Arland series: the fact that the character you play is just part of a world that is continuing to go about its business as they do their thing. Rorona and Totori certainly have their own stories to tell, for sure, but they’re no more or less “important” than anyone else in town; we just happen to be following their narratives in the most detail.
And in the meantime, Tiffani is continuing to run her thriving shop, live a seemingly content life by herself… and occasionally get plastered with her good friend Esty. Sounds like a pretty good existence to me.
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