We’ve already talked about how Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland marked something of a return to the “traditional” Atelier format in terms of its concept and structure. But its follow-up Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland shows that this return to Atelier’s roots was more than just a one-off.
Specifically, Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland re-establishes the early series’ formula of having several games unfold in the same (or at least a similar) geographical area and showing how that area changes over time — along with how the people who live there change, too. Atelier has, after all, always been a series about people at its heart.
Before we dive too deep into specific talk of mechanics and narrative, though, let’s take a first look at where this game came from — and one particularly interesting story surrounding one of its various releases over the years.
Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland first released in Japan for PlayStation 3 in 2010. Like its predecessor, it would be roughly a year later before the official localisation came west, once again courtesy of NIS America. A Plus version of the game was released in Japan in 2012, coming West in 2013, though unlike Atelier Rorona Plus before it, this time around it skipped the PlayStation 3 and only came to Vita.
Part of the reason for this may be the fact that Atelier Totori Plus is a much less significant update over Atelier Totori than Atelier Rorona Plus was over the original Atelier Rorona. By the time Atelier Totori was released in 2010, the series was already using more realistically proportioned character models, for example, and despite Atelier Totori’s alchemy mechanics being a bit more clunky than those found in Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, Gust evidently found them less in need of a revamp than those in the original Atelier Rorona.
Ultimately, the only major addition to Atelier Totori Plus over the PlayStation 3 release is an optional endgame dungeon as well as some costumes and playable characters that were originally downloadable content. With that in mind, rereleasing an almost identical version of the same game for the same platform it was originally released on might have looked a bit cheeky, so Gust wisely chose not to do this. What this does mean from a practical and collecting perspective is that the original Atelier Totori for PlayStation 3 is still well worth playing today, while the original Atelier Rorona has been completely superseded by its later incarnations. Atelier Totori Plus and Atelier Totori DX, Plus’ subsequent port to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC, simply provide more up-to-date versions for more recent platforms, with all the downloadable content included.
Atelier Totori Plus specifically became somewhat notorious for another reason, though. While the English-speaking world was still questioning whether or not this new Vita version would get a Western release, a rating was spotted for it on the Australian Classification Board’s website. Something was strange, though; while the original PlayStation 3 release had been rated “PG” for “mild violence and infrequent coarse language”, the Plus version somehow found itself slapped with an R18+ rating, warning of “references to sexual violence”, “moderate impact themes”, “moderate impact sex” and “high impact violence”.
The memesters of the Internet decided to abbreviate these descriptors to “high impact sexual violence” — usually accompanied by either an image of a rather surprised Totori or an inebriated Tiffani — even though that’s not quite what the rating actually said. This incident, when coupled with numerous others over the years, led the Australian Classification Board’s seeming prudishness to become something of a running joke in certain quarters of the Internet — particularly with their subsequent refusal to classify titles such as MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death, Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkuni and Omega Labyrinth Z.
Where did this bizarre change in rating come from, though? As you probably know by this point if you’ve been following along, the Atelier series in general has something of a “wholesome” reputation and tends not to get associated with the more fanservice-heavy side of Japanese games that has gained considerably in popularity since the PlayStation 3 era.
But it’s worth noting that a sexually provocative element has always been there to a varying extents, much as it has been in anime for a lot longer than many people realise. Throughout the Atelier Iris series, for example, there are recurring “elemental” enemies who look like naked girls and drop various styles of panties as their loot when you defeat them. And Atelier Rorona features a swimsuit scene (two in Atelier Rorona Plus), as well as numerous suggestions of Rorona being sexually harassed by her teacher Astrid. (Although in the latter regard, it’s also worth noting that we never actually see Astrid doing anything untoward, and given her personality it’s very possible she’s just saying things to get a rise out of her pupil.)
You’ll notice that although there are sexual undertones here, there’s nothing outright explicit (or what is considered to be “explicit” in the console space, anyway); there are no gratuitous panty flashes, no “accidental” boob-groping scenes, no scenes that are obvious allegories for sexual encounters — and indeed no actual sexual encounters between any of the main cast. It’s cheeky humour with an occasional sighting of a bit of skin at most; certainly nothing “high impact”.
What about Atelier Totori, though? Did something change? For the most part, not really, though there is an argument to be made for this particular installment to be playing things — if you’ll pardon the expression — a little closer to the bone on a few occasions. I literally mean “a few” as in “three”, though — and all of them are optional scenes that are easily missed.
The first of these unfolds as you progress an optional series of events that concerns the highly strung Adventurer’s Guild receptionist Filly (sister of Esty) and shopkeeper Tiffani. Filly frequently confides in Tiffani about how anxious and uncomfortable she feels at her job, and this culminates in Tiffani taking her out drinking.
As you may know if you happened to witness some of her scenes in Atelier Rorona, Tiffani is a randy drunk who tends to forget everything by the following morning. And while we don’t see anything specific happening to either Filly — or Totori, who manages to get caught up in the situation if you happen to drop in on the pair of them at the right time — the depiction of Totori’s reaction the following morning makes it apparent that something everyone involved with probably regrets happened off-screen. Exactly what, we’ll never know, but we can make some assumptions, and they’re not entirely comfortable ones.
The second is an optional series of events towards the end of the game that involve Peter, the coach driver in Totori’s home village. He comes to Totori’s house enormously excited about the prospect of a “fishing festival” the village hasn’t been able to hold for years, and tasks Totori with gathering up a group of “eight beautiful women” for him.
Prior to this point, Peter has been built up to be something of an undesirable character — not outright loathsome or villainous, but someone who you probably wouldn’t want to hang out with. His shabby clothing, greasy hair and perpetual stoop make him look like the sort of person you can probably smell before you see, and his constant whining over never being able to catch the eye of Totori’s sister Ceci do not make him especially endearing — especially as it becomes abundantly clear that Ceci would absolutely be open to at least having a conversation with him, since they used to be childhood friends who played together.
With all this in mind, it’s apparent that Peter is most certainly up to no good, and the game does indeed give you the freedom to completely ignore his request if you so desire. Follow through on it, however, and you discover that the inevitable result is, of course, a swimsuit competition featuring all the game’s main female characters, with some of them distinctly more comfortable showing off their bodies than others.
There are, of course, some salacious undertones here as Peter hosts the show with glee — but it’s also worth noting that the more empowered female members of the cast such as Totori’s adventurer friend Melvia, the aristocratic Mimi and the foul-tempered Cordelia all have their own particular means of making their feelings abundantly clear on stage in front of everyone. And should you manage to manipulate things so that Totori wins the event, the result actually ends up being rather wholesome and nice, as the community’s love for her — and not just her in a swimsuit — is made clear.
The third and final scene that likely caused some raised eyebrows is, again, an optional event, this time involving Totori and the character Sterk, who returns from Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland. A significant sidequest culminates in Totori and Sterk attempting to hunt down a legendary sea creature known as The Guardian. Their attempts are successful, but not before both Sterk and Totori have had The Guardian’s octopus-like tentacles wrapped all around them, and Totori has given us a good flash of her backside in the process.
The scene isn’t violent or overtly sexual, but for many people, sexual associations are unavoidably present with any scene involving tentacles. Tentacle scenes are often used as an allegory for bondage, particularly with the ways in which female characters tend to get caught up by them, though in this case, though, those implications aren’t really there. Totori is grabbed around her knees and nowhere else, it’s somewhat surprising her panty flash hadn’t happened any earlier given how short her skirt is, and she looks more bewildered than anything else at the whole situation. Plus, of course, Sterk is there too; in fact, since he’s bound up in the foreground — considerably more tightly than Totori is — he’s arguably a greater focus of the event image than our heroine.
While each of these scenes can be argued to be a little more intense than the Atelier series as a whole has typically played things with regard to sexually provocative content, none of them are anything compared to the myriad games that specifically pride themselves on strong fanservice content. And certainly nothing you would expect to see slapped with a restricted age rating.
Since the descriptor specifically listed as “high impact” is “violence” rather than “sex”, the only other possibility is another optional scene towards the end of the character Melvia’s character-specific series of events. In an attempt to rekindle her friendship with Totori’s sister Ceci, Melvia takes her adventuring by herself, and ends up heavily injured by a group of monsters she can’t quite tackle alone. When Totori finds her, the scene is uncharacteristically bloody for the series as a whole, though mild compared to many other works out there — plus Melvia is very much in one piece and recovers quickly from her ordeal.
While there’s a lot more to talk about with regard to Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland than the rating it got in one very specific region of the world and the possible reasons for said rating, this has always been an intriguing and rather baffling part of its overall story as a creative work — and one that has remained part of public consciousness on the Internet ever since it first arose.
It also raises some interesting questions that are worth considering: specifically, where one draws the lines between “acceptable” levels of violence and sexuality for various age groups — and how you determine where a particular work fits in to all that. It’s become particularly apparent over the years that there are a lot of people out there who are absolutely not ready for anything even vaguely sexual to come anywhere near video games — particularly those with stylised, cartoonish graphics, and regardless of the target audience of a particular work.
In the grand scheme of popular media as a whole, Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland is extremely tame in terms of both its extremely limited amount of violence and its equally light amount of overtly sexual content. For it to be considered worthy of a fairly severe rating by an official body that has the power to deny creative works from being sold in a particular part of the world would seem a little troublesome — though thankfully, like its predecessor, Atelier Totori has had no problem remaining relevant for a full ten years at this point, regardless of what Australia thinks.
On top of that, let’s not forget that the original PlayStation 3 release of Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland had a PG rating despite having the exact same content. This just goes to show that judgements of this type are an inherently subjective thing — and thus it’s usually best to make your own mind up about such things. The only trouble occurs when those subjective judgements can prevent something from being released at all — which, regrettably, we have seen happen a fair few times elsewhere in the games industry over the years. But that’s a story for another day.
For now, that’s the intriguing story of how Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland found itself with an unexpectedly rocky road to Western release! Next up, we’ll take a closer look at how this game differs from its predecessor — most notably in terms of its overall structure — and where it might draw some of its inspirations from.
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