So we’ve talked about one of the main reasons Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland became somewhat notorious around the world — now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty of what the game itself is all about.
Mechanically and structurally, it’s a very interesting game to contemplate, because while it’s still recognisably an Atelier game — and recognisable as a follow-up to Atelier Rorona, even — it feels like it draws influences from a much broader field to create an experience that is noticeably different from its predecessor, while remaining comfortably familiar as part of the Arland subseries.
Pack a lunch and don’t forget to bring your Adventurer’s License, then; it’s time to take to the road with Totori.
The concept behind Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland is pretty simple. Totori is a young girl who has lived her whole life in a seaside village named Alanya. She lives with her father Guid and her sister Ceci, and has never known her mother. As she entered adolescence, she started to become more curious about her mother, since her actual status remains unclear to Totori. No-one will actually say she died, but she has been gone for a very long time. Determined to believe that her mother is still alive and well somewhere out there, Totori decides to become an adventurer in an attempt to track her down — or discover the truth — once and for all.
As part of her preparations for her adventures, she also took up the study of alchemy under one Rorolina Frixell, who has apparently been wandering the land quite a bit since she saved her workshop from being shut down in the previous game. At the outset of Atelier Totori, Rorona has once again wandered off somewhere, but Totori remains a keen student of the art of alchemy, since she knows that the items she crafts will be useful to her in her travels.
What this setup means is that rather than the game being divided into short assignments, as in Atelier Rorona, Totori instead has a long-term goal to accomplish: discover what happened to her mother. And she’s up against the clock, too; after successfully acquiring her Adventurer’s License from the new Adventurer’s Guild in Arland — run by one Cordelia von Feuerbach, who has grown more mature but certainly not any taller — she learns that she needs to accomplish enough adventurous deeds within the space of three years to prove that she is worthy of holding on to said license.
We’ll talk more about exactly why adventurers need a license in the world of Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland when we look at the game’s overall narrative. Suffice to say for now that while Totori’s main goal is, as previously mentioned, to discover the truth behind her mother’s disappearance, she also needs to balance this with various tasks that will allow her to prove herself. The first two thirds of the game primarily focus on this aspect of her quest, while the latter third — assuming you are successful — concerns her true mission. Once five years in total are up, Totori decides to settle down and give up the adventurer’s life, regardless of how successful she was in her overall task, and the ending you get to the game as a whole depends on how much you managed to achieve in that time.
If that all sounds quite free and open, you’d be right. While Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland placed a strong emphasis on completing the castle assignments to progress in the game and the sidequests to build up Rorona’s reputation, in Atelier Totori you are largely free to approach Totori’s task how you see fit. And the game’s core progression mechanics are very much built around that philosophy.
Totori’s Adventurer License can be ranked up through achieving objectives in four different categories. Battle objectives task her with defeating certain numbers of specific enemy types or single specific boss enemies; Quest objectives require her to accomplish simple tasks either for the Adventurer’s Guild in Arland or Gerhard’s bar in her home village of Alanya; Exploration objectives require her to visit all the locations in a particular part of the overall world map or discover specific landmarks within an individual zone; and Library objectives focus on filling out the in-game encyclopaedia by meeting people, discovering ingredients and synthesising new items through alchemy.
In practice, by the end of the game you’ll have spent time fulfilling objectives from all of these categories as a natural part of just playing the game, but in your early hours you are free to focus on the areas you particularly enjoy for the most part. In fact, there’s incentive to clear out some simple objectives first, since each time Totori successfully earns enough points on her license to rank up, she is able to proceed further afield on the world map — which means access to a wider variety of objectives, enemies to fight, ingredients to use in alchemy and things to discover.
The world map is a marked shift from how Atelier Rorona handled things. Rather than radiating out from a central hub, the map is now a node-based affair, with nodes connected to one another by paths that will take Totori varying numbers of days to follow. On top of that, all of the playable characters have a new stat known as “LP” that represents their overall fatigue level; the longer you stay out in the field without returning to either Totori’s home village or Arland, the lower this gets — and the lower this gets, the less effective characters are in combat.
This side of things actually gives Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland something of a feel of older, Western role-playing games for home computers. These games often placed a strong focus on the more practical side of adventuring, such managing your provisions and energy levels while out on the road, considering how long it takes to get to various places and ensuring that you plan ahead in order to achieve everything you need to by a particular time. While fundamentally it’s not that different from how Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland implements its calendar system, it does give Atelier Totori a distinctive feel from its predecessor — and means that you really do need to think carefully before stepping outside the safety of a settlement’s walls.
In terms of modern gaming mechanics, what you’re essentially doing for a lot of your time in Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland is the equivalent of achievement hunting. The main difference is that here, you often get helpful rewards for fulfilling the various objectives in the game rather than simple bragging rights. For example, completing the Battle objectives that relate to defeating specific numbers of a type of enemy typically reward Totori with a damage boost in future encounters against those enemies; likewise, visiting every area in a particular region of the world map rewards Totori with full information on all the enemies and harvestable ingredients in each of those zones, even if you haven’t previously encountered them. Speaking long-term, it’s worth developing Totori’s experience in a broad range of fields rather than getting too hung up on one in particular.
With all this in mind, while alchemy is still an important part of Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland, it is not necessarily the central feature as it was in Atelier Rorona. Rather, Totori makes use of alchemy to help her advance her career as an adventurer in various ways. In practical terms, there are several situations throughout the game where Totori can craft specific things in order to make her travels more efficient by upgrading various means of transportation — and in the latter third of the game, she’s confronted with a substantial quest to build the components of a ship so that she can cross the ocean in pursuit of her mother’s trail. But from a more everyday perspective, Totori can and will make use of alchemy both to fulfil requests from Gerhard and Cordelia at their respective establishments — and to provide her with various items that she will find helpful in various ways.
The alchemy system itself is fairly similar to what we saw in Atelier Rorona, though bear in mind that Atelier Rorona Plus and DX actually incorporate the refinements built into Atelier Meruru, leaving Atelier Totori’s mechanics feeling just a little clunkier than both its predecessor and successor. Once again, recipes consist of one or more ingredients, which are either specific items or any of a particular “type” of item. Combining items of higher quality results in a higher quality final product, but there are several things you might want to bear in mind before committing to a particular synthesis.
The first is, much like in Atelier Rorona, the effect of each ingredient. This is represented as a bar chart, and, where a particular ingredient is capable of producing several different effects, specific divisions on that bar chart will show the overall “effect level” required to produce a specific result. This highlights one area where Atelier Totori’s mechanics are just a little more cumbersome than both Atelier Rorona and Atelier Meruru; while there is some sort of filter functionality built into the ingredients picker, Atelier Totori lacks the ability to sort by this effect level. Since effect level doesn’t necessarily correspond to quality level — it tends to be more about being a good example of a specific item rather than any old thing that meets the recipe — it can be a bit fiddly to create certain items with specific effects attached. For the most part, this isn’t too troublesome, but it does make producing effective healing items and bombs more cumbersome than in the other games of the series.
The second important consideration is the combination of traits your item will end up with. Again, much like in Atelier Rorona, these are attached to ingredients rather than a particular recipe, and you can choose to attach any of the ingredients’ applicable traits to the final item — assuming you made it with ingredients that provided you with enough “Cost” to attach everything you want to. Sometimes it’s worth sacrificing a little bit of quality so you can squeeze a few more traits in there; this is particularly important when dealing with equipment, where traits can make an absolutely huge difference in performance, even between two instances of the same item.
For example, an armoured coat with a good defence value is easy to create and will be reasonably effective for everyday use. But if you take the time to source some ingredients with traits that boost elemental resistance and stats, you can make a much better version of that same armoured coat that will be much more useful in the long term. Likewise, a basic healing item is handy to have in Totori’s basket if you find yourself getting into a pinch; a healing item that automatically heals everyone and raises party members who have been knocked out is even better.
Totori’s ability to create useful consumable items to use in combat is extremely important on your first run through the game, because she’s a total weed when you first start. Unlike Rorona, who could just about hold her own in combat from the outset of her own adventure, Totori is next to useless when she first takes to the road. This means that in the early game it’s extremely important to ensure that she has reliable allies by her side — and also that you take some time to craft both healing and offensive items that she can carry in her basket in order to contribute a little more effectively.
The situation can change somewhat once you gain access to the ability to craft ingots and cloth to turn into equipment items, of course — but Totori will likely still find herself lagging behind her allies in terms of combat effectiveness until pretty late in a first playthrough. As such, it’s arguably more important to keep her allies well-equipped so that they can better protect Totori by finishing battles more quickly.
Combat in Atelier Totori is pretty straightforward and to the point, following the mould of its predecessor for the most part. Turn order is represented once again as a string of cards, and you can see before using an ability when the character’s next turn will come around. This allows for a certain degree of forward planning, but unlike the later Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia games, there aren’t many ways of actually manipulating the turn order by stunning or knocking back enemies. Part of the reason for this is likely the fact that battles in Atelier Totori tend to be over fairly quickly, and thus overall strategy tends to be about efficient damage dealing rather than doing anything too clever.
There are exceptions, of course; as previously noted, some of the Battle objectives require Totori to take down specific bosses, which usually have some special mechanics, strengths or weaknesses that it’s worth taking advantage of rather than just blindly attacking and hoping for the best. Elemental resistance in particular is of critical importance for some of the later optional bosses, so when crafting equipment this is very much something worth focusing on.
And while you can spend much of Atelier Totori feeling like combat isn’t necessarily a focal point of the experience, it’s worth noting that completing the main narrative — i.e. finding out what happened to Totori’s mother — requires you to defeat at least one of two powerful bosses: a legendary sea monster known as the Flauschtraut who lurks in the waters beyond the shores of Alanya, and a demon named Evil Face who has been terrorising a village on the other side of the ocean. You can actually get the game’s “Normal” ending without defeating the latter, but if you want to see the “True” conclusion — which is a demanding task best saved for a second playthrough or later! — you’ll need to find a means of overcoming this challenging foe.
On top of all this, as you progress through the game you’ll naturally start stumbling across narrative arcs for each of the recruitable party members you encounter over the course of Totori’s adventure. Besides the events that comprise these arcs, each character has their own unique ending that you’ll see if you meet the conditions for the “Normal” ending; on top of that, there are several other endings that have their own unique conditions to meet — and the aforementioned “True” ending requires you to fulfil the conditions for all of these possible endings in a single playthrough. Doing this on a first playthrough is challenging but not completely impossible; doing it on a second or later is a little easier, but still demands careful time management — and in some cases, taking care that you’re not progressing too quickly in certain areas of the game!
As you can see, there’s a lot to do in Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland. While there is a time limit to the overall adventure, as is Atelier tradition, the fact that you’re focusing much more on long-term goals — and the short-term objectives that will allow you to accomplish those long-term goals — means that for the most part the game feels a lot more “free” than its predecessor. This doesn’t mean that you can lounge around and waste time, mind; what it does mean, however, is that for the most part you can approach the challenges the game has to offer in the way that you see fit, rather than following a linear sequence of events to an eventual conclusion.
While Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland has a few rough edges — not helped by the fact that the most up-to-date versions of the games either side of it in the series have much more polished mechanics — it remains a thoroughly interesting game that eschews the usual conventions of linear, narrative-centric RPGs in favour of a self-directed experience. It’s a game that feels like it trusts you to live in its world and deal with the consequences of your actions — and a surprising amount of scope for two playthroughs to unfold quite differently from one another according to how you choose to do things.
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