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Most of the Atelier games that unfold over a clearly defined time period are “coming of age” stories, where the protagonist comes to understand the sort of person they really are, and the place they have in the world.
This is especially apparent in Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland, a game whose broader scale and scope than its immediate predecessor makes it ripe for exploring its lead character’s growing sense of maturity, responsibility and self-confidence.
Totori grows up a great deal over the course of her journey — so let’s take a look at some of the trials and tribulations she has to face along her path. Spoilers ahead!
As we’ve previously explored, Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland somewhat de-emphasises your typical linear narrative in favour of a series of events that unfold as you travel around the world. Some of these are tied to particular characters that you get to know, some are tied to the passage of time and some are what we can think of as the “main” plot: Totori following in her mother’s footsteps and attempting to discover what happened to her.
As such, analysing Atelier Totori’s narrative is a little bit different from how you would look at a more linear story. Unlike conventional, straightforward, start-to-finish narratives, the various story threads one might encounter during a typical Atelier Totori playthrough will vary significantly from player to player, according to their playstyle, their favourite characters, the parts of the game they derive the most enjoyment from — and whether or not they’re aware of the various conditions required to get the various endings at the end of the whole thing.
This is an interesting approach to interactive storytelling, because it also means that different players’ interpretations of what is going on might be different, too. The order in which events occur can change the context of things that happen and things that the characters talk about — and one player might see a whole narrative thread that another skipped over completely, perhaps because they didn’t even know it was an option!
With that in mind, we’re going to focus on the various characters Totori encounters and the things she learns from them, before taking a look at the game’s finale sequence. By doing that, we can get a good idea of the various influences on Totori over the course of her journey — plus the different ways in which she is able to grow and mature as she proceeds on her way, and how she ends up once it’s all over and done with.
When Totori begins her journey, she’s quiet, meek and not terribly confident. Her sister Ceci is her opposite in many ways, having taken on something of a “motherly” role in the Helmold household since the actual matriarch disappeared. Ceci cooks, cleans and even rebukes both her sister and her father when they do something “wrong”, and still manages to find time to help out in the bar in their home village. It’s no surprise that she’s such a popular figure, and she appears to be perfectly content just living out her days being a domestic goddess.
Totori learns many things from her sister — chief among which is the fact that one can most certainly develop a sense of responsibility without necessarily having an authority figure or role model to look up to. Their father Guid certainly doesn’t act as either of these things; indeed, at the outset of the story, he is depicted as such an ineffectual shell of a human being that his own daughters frequently don’t even notice when he’s in the same room as them.
This is a running joke throughout the game, as you might expect, but there’s a more serious side to it, too. Clearly the disappearance of Totori’s mother — and his wife — Gisela hit him hard, and he’s had difficulty dealing with simply existing ever since. He gave up doing the things he loved and instead spends his days fishing on the waterfront, his presence barely registering when he does return home of an evening to enjoy his daughter’s cooking.
Guid doesn’t talk about the grief he is undoubtedly feeling at any point in the game, but it’s clear that it’s there. When he finally does open up a bit about the sort of person Gisela was really like, he speaks of her with great fondness — but also with a certain amount of regret. And, of course, as he sees Totori following in her footsteps, despite her being a very different sort of person, he finds it quite difficult to deal with and doesn’t quite know what to make of things.
We’ll come back to Ceci and Guid in a while, since Totori’s relationship with them kind of “bookends” the bulk of what can be considered the “main story” of Atelier Totori. Before we look at the far end of the game’s events, then, it’s worth considering the various folks Totori encounters on her journey, and the impact they have on her.
The first people to join Totori on her quest are her childhood friend Gino and her sister’s best friend Melvia. These two are an interesting contrast in that Gino, like Totori, is an aspiring adventurer, while Melvia is an actual adventurer with several years’ experience. Gino is wide-eyed and unreasonably enthusiastic about the possibilities ahead of him as he starts his new career; Melvia, meanwhile, is somewhat more practical and even somewhat dismissive about the many remarkable things she has seen in her years on the road. Together, we can look at the difference between the pair of them as an important (if depressing) lesson for Totori to learn about adulthood: while it may be exciting to face the unknown as you find yourself on the cusp of starting a new life (as Gino’s enthusiasm shows), after a while even the extraordinary can become mundane, and that which you were once excited for can become everyday and pedestrian.
Melvia hasn’t exactly lost her passion for adventuring or seemingly given up on life in the same way that Guid has, but she has very much settled into her role and doesn’t think there’s anything particularly remarkable about what she gets up to.
Of course, she demonstrates quite ably on a regular basis that she is, in fact, an absolutely remarkable young woman — most notably as a result of the astronomical physical strength that she hides well in her slender frame — but she’s reached a point in her life where she just takes things for granted, and doesn’t feel quite the same “buzz” from showing her skills any more. Indeed, when Totori first suggests that she join her and Gino as they set out for Arland, Melvia’s response is that she “didn’t feel like working seriously anyway”.
Upon her arrival in Arland, Totori encounters someone who will go on to be an extremely important presence in her life: Mimi Houllier von Schwarzlang, a young noble who, when we first meet her, is having a raging argument with the Adventurer’s Guild administrator Cordelia von Feuerbach — the very same Cordelia who stood alongside Rorona throughout her numerous challenges in the previous game. (And hold that thought on Rorona — we’ll come back to her in a moment.)
Mimi and Cordelia clash so violently because, on the surface, they’re both textbook tsunderes, giving them the unique opportunity to see the absolute worst in one another any time they interact. Totori finds herself caught in the middle of their acidic back-and-forth as she attempts to apply for her initial Adventurer’s License; Cordelia, feeling spiteful, ends up immediately granting Totori a license while deliberately withholding one from Mimi, who is also there for the same purpose. Totori doesn’t quite know what to make of this; Mimi, of course, is absolutely furious.
That said, there was something about Totori that Mimi found striking, because it’s not long before Totori encounters her again. Indeed, on a visit back to her home village, she is rather surprised to find Mimi waiting for her, ostensibly to show off her title and perhaps hire Totori’s alchemical services for one reason or another. It doesn’t take long for it to become extremely clear that Mimi has a personal interest in Totori, though; something about her kind and gentle personality really resonates with the hot-headed Mimi, and she ends up following Totori around for quite a while before finally officially joining forces with her.
It’s clear that Mimi’s never really had a friend of her own. Whether this is purely down to her abrasive personality or the sheltered upbringing she enjoyed as the daughter of a noble family isn’t immediately clear, but bearing this in mind, it’s understandable when we see her starting to get quite so clingy with Totori. While Atelier Totori itself stops short of explicitly indicating that there is some sort of actual romantic attraction between the pair of them, the intentions are very clear — particularly when we look at how the pair’s interactions continue in the next game, Atelier Meruru.
Is it healthy for Mimi to fall for the first person she’s ever really managed to form a connection with? You could make arguments either way for this, but on the whole, there are far worse people she could have fallen for than Totori. Totori is kind, caring and gentle and never has a harsh word to say to anyone — indeed, early in their relationship, one might argue that Totori should probably stand up to Mimi’s abusive comments a little more — and as such, we can assume that Mimi finds her to be something of a haven of calm from the fire that is otherwise burning in her soul.
Over time, Totori learns from Mimi, too; while she doesn’t develop her friend’s venomous tongue or anything like that, she sees that Mimi’s natural assertiveness definitely gets things done when they need to be done, and comes to understand that sometimes you need to stand up for what you believe is right rather than letting people walk all over you. This becomes especially important as she gets closer to the truth behind her mother’s disappearance — and an important task she needs help with to continue her journey. More on that later.
Okay. Let’s talk Rorona. Throughout her own game, we saw Rorona grow from a somewhat ditzy young girl into a young adult who was capable of taking responsibility for things when the situation demanded it. However, exactly how Rorona ended up at the conclusion of that game was somewhat up to the player; a wide variety of different possible mutually exclusive endings could see her continuing her life as an adventurer alongside Cordelia, closing down her atelier in order to open a pie shop, or attempting to start a new life with any of the friends she made along her journey.
It’s actually quite tricky to determine which, if any, of Atelier Rorona’s endings are “canonical”, since clearly some time has passed between the conclusion of that game and the outset of Atelier Totori. We can tell this from the fact that Rorona looks visibly older when we first encounter her — and she has also decided to wander the land teaching alchemy to people rather than remaining confined to her atelier in Arland. To date, however, she has had limited success with this; as we join the story, Totori is her only student.
When we do finally meet Totori-era Rorona, at least some of the reason for this becomes apparent: Rorona most certainly hasn’t lost her more ditzy tendencies as she has grown older, and in some ways is seemingly even more of a klutz than she ever was. Indeed, she makes her entrance to Atelier Totori as Totori’s father Guid fishes her out of the sea; Rorona claims that she was out exploring and “fell in a river”, ultimately getting swept out to the coast near Alanya before being rescued.
If you’d never encountered Rorona prior to this moment — if, say, for some reason, Atelier Totori was your first Atelier game — then this would perhaps, quite understandably, cause you to question her competence. If you’re already familiar with her, however, it’s not hard to picture the events she describes unfolding, particularly if she was out exploring by herself. Throughout Atelier Rorona, she always had people to rely on and help her out of trouble when required; she also never strayed that far from Arland. As such, it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine that she might have found herself having some difficulties adjusting to life on the road by herself.
Regardless of exactly how she eventually shows up in Atelier Totori, it doesn’t take long for her to contrast her somewhat chaotic personality with her obvious talent for alchemy. When acting as a teacher to Totori, she is kind and patient, explaining things in detail and clearly knowing what she is talking about. Regardless of the exact ending you got in Atelier Rorona, she is, by the end of that game, a highly competent alchemist, after all. That said, in what is perhaps a sly reference to the two Mana Khemia games’ co-operative synthesis mechanics, in which the protagonist could enlist the assistance of their classmates when performing synthesis, Totori does find that when Rorona helps directly, everything has a tendency to turn into pies. Perhaps that “Pie” ending really was the “right” one.
Rorona’s role ends up somewhat mirroring that of her former master Astrid in Atelier Rorona, only with considerably less sexual harassment and slightly less competence. For example, while Astrid was able to make Rorona a fully functional homunculus to assist with her alchemy, Rorona is only capable of producing a diminutive “Chim”, a pint-sized creature that is only capable of saying the word “Chim”, but is remarkably competent at both synthesis and gathering. This may be down to the fact that Rorona is hesistant to use the exact ingredients required to product a full homunculus — which are frequently implied to include some rather intimate bodily fluids — but it also serves as a reminder that however much Astrid might brag about her own alchemy abilities, she actually has the skills to back up her claims in most cases, while Rorona, and by extension any of her pupils, will always be trailing behind to a certain degree.
Rorona actually doesn’t have a ton of importance to the main plot of Atelier Totori aside from being the initial catalyst for Totori’s alchemy skills, but she is a comforting presence to have around. In terms of character development, she acts as a means of Totori figuring out where her own priorities are.Yes, this is partly because Rorona starts feeling insecure and needy over whether or not Totori enjoys adventuring more than alchemy, but regardless of the context in which the question is raised, it does get Totori thinking about the reasons she is doing what she is doing.
On top of that, Totori explicitly states at one point that she will be forever grateful to Rorona for introducing her to something she is genuinely good at. Totori will never give up alchemy, because Rorona helped her understand her own capabilities — and, from the things she says, we can assume that prior to this, Totori didn’t really have an idea of anything that she was good at, often feeling somewhat inferior to her sister’s seeming “perfection” when it came to all things domestic.
Another character that allows Totori to reflect on the reasons she is doing what she is doing is The Exceedingly Exceptional Genius Super Scientist Professor McBrine, also known as “Marc” for short. This rather strange individual is someone who Totori initially encounters out in the field, and subsequently attempts to antagonise her through his belief that his field (modern science) is naturally at odds with Totori’s (traditional alchemy). After a bit of a discussion in which Totori actually stands up for herself and her field of study, Marc comes to realise that the pair of them aren’t actually so different — and that indeed, while alchemy has a certain unexplainable mystic component to it, it is, in effect, simply another form of science.
Marc serves as a reminder for Totori that she shouldn’t lose sight of her end goal, however much she is enjoying the actual study and application of alchemy. While she does develop into a talented, reliable alchemist over the course of the story, she’s doing so in order to satisfy her own end goal. Marc, meanwhile, doesn’t appear to have concrete long-term intentions — well, beyond getting some ancient technology up and running, inadvertently terrifying the citizenry of Arland in the process. In other words, he simply enjoys studying for the sake of studying — and one might argue he’s lost sight of finding a broader “meaning” in life in the process. He argues that he is simply focused on the “wonders of now” rather than “worrying about the future”, but Totori decides that’s not a path she wishes to follow to its endpoint; she has something specific she wants to accomplish. She has a definite future in mind, and focusing on the “now” will not help her make it a reality.
Another cautionary tale for Totori comes in the form of one Sterkenberg “Sterk” Cranach, who in Atelier Rorona was already concerned that his traditional profession — being part of the knighthood — was under threat by Arland’s march towards modernity. At the time of Atelier Totori, Arland has successfully transitioned from a monarchy to a republic, leaving an ageing Sterk without the occupation he has clearly known for his whole working life.
Sterk finds life without the “meaning” he clung to so desperately rather difficult, but he manages to keep himself occupied by telling himself that he is pursuing Gio, the former king of Arland, and the one responsible for the country undergoing such significant changes. While Sterk still has a reasonably rational head on his shoulders as in Atelier Rorona — plus he will always be a highly capable swordsman — he shows that single-minded pursuit of a goal that is no longer possible to reach can be just as harmful as having no direction in your life whatsoever. As such, Totori comes to learn that an ideal position to be in is somewhere between the extremes that Marc and Sterk both represent.
Sterk has another important lesson to impart — and it’s the same one he imparted to Rorona. It’s also a lesson he doesn’t deliberately impart, and one that often frustrates him — but an important one nonetheless. That lesson is, of course, the fact that one should not judge people by their outward appearances. Sterk has always had a stern, intimidating expression that tends to put people ill at ease when they first encounter him — and indeed, Totori practically screams when she meets him unexpectedly.
Sterk is obviously used to this behaviour from people, but it’s also clear that he doesn’t like it. While he doesn’t mention it a great deal throughout Atelier Rorona, in Atelier Totori he’s much more willing to directly acknowledge that people judging him based on his apparently terrifying countenance bothers him somewhat. He seems to resent the fact that it often precludes him from forming close personal relationships with people — and it’s perhaps for this reason that he looks on both Rorona and Totori with such fondness, as in both cases after their initial “shock”, they treat him as a trusted friend.
Sterk is also one of several sources of information on Gisela alongside Cordelia and Melvia. As time goes on Totori, starts to get somewhat conflicting views of what her mother was really like — some people seem to think she was a liability and a bit of a pain in the backside, while others think back on her capability and strength fondly. And most people feel a bit of both.
Eventually, it becomes clear that Gisela crossed the ocean on her journey, which finally gives Totori an even clearer goal to accomplish rather than just following the footsteps. Making use of the lessons she has learned from the people she has encountered, Totori manages to convince the people of Alanya to share a truth they have been hiding from her for a number of years: that Gisela’s boat was attacked by a sea monster known as the Flauschtraut, which haunts the waters outside Alanya, and that her vessel was seemingly completely destroyed.
It seems that Gisela was assumed dead, though her body was never found — and the younger Totori was sufficiently traumatised by the possibility her mother had passed away that she had blotted it completely out of her memory. Guid, meanwhile, convinced everyone in Alanya to keep quiet about the situation — though as Totori’s adventure continues, it becomes impossible for anyone to maintain their silence any longer.
It’s clear that this is a great relief to Guid, as his long silence on the subject is likely a big part of the grief he has been struggling with for these long years. Totori’s optimism, given everything that she has learned on her journey prior to this point, gives him a feeling of life he hasn’t had for some time — and it even inspired him to build her a ship, just as he once did for Gisela.
Ceci, meanwhile, is afraid that Totori following down the same path as her mother will eventually mean she loses someone else who is dear to her. As Totori works on providing her father with the materials needed to construct the boat, Ceci is one of the characters who is most resistant to her leaving — not because she doubts her sister’s abilities, which are well and truly proven by this point, but because she’s afraid whatever happened to her mother will also happen to Totori. An understandable reaction — but while Totori resembles her mother in some regards, in some other very important ways she is absolutely not the same person.
For starters, Gisela didn’t have alchemy on her side. And for another thing, she didn’t have a band of devoted friends standing by her side on her journey.
With these two big advantages — and inspired by the fact that Gisela clearly managed to at least do some damage to the Flauschtraut before her ship was wrecked — Totori and her friends manage to send the dreaded sea monster packing, leaving the way open for her to cross the ocean and discover what lies on the other side.
What she discovers is not quite what she expected… or wanted. But there are still questions to be answered.
Upon making landfall in a snowy land far to the east of Arland, Totori stumbles across a village in the middle of nowhere, seemingly populated entirely by women of various ages. While there, she discovers that her mother did indeed survive the trip across the ocean — but her story still seemingly didn’t have a happy ending.
At the frontier village, Totori discovers a solitary gravestone, clearly given a position of great importance. Upon questioning the locals about it — and revealing her identity — she discovers that her mother had stood up to protect them against a demon who demanded the sacrifice of female children every few years. Unwilling to accept that an entire community had just given up on trying to live a normal life and was instead, effectively, just waiting for death, Gisela took on the demon by herself — and was seemingly mortally wounded in the process, though she described it as a “tie”, since she at least managed to put the demon off for a few years.
Gisela insisted that she be buried at sea, leaving her final fate somewhat unknown; the residents of the frontier village simply assumed she passed away peacefully somewhere on the ocean. And exactly how this particular thread ends depends on whether or not you manage to get the “true” ending to the game. But said “true” ending is also spoiled in Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, so do bear that in mind.
Alongside all this, several things happen that become of significant importance much later in the Arland series as a whole. The main one is that a young girl from the frontier village, known as Piana, stows away on Totori’s ship when she makes the long return journey to Alanya to report her mother’s (apparent) true fate to her family.
Piana is a precocious young child who, despite her tender years, knows exactly what is going on in the frontier village; the reason it is full of no-one but women is because everyone there was abandoned as a young, female baby just in case the demon came a-knockin’ and demanding a sacrifice. Those who live there now are those who have survived for varying amounts of time — but everyone lives in constant fear that one day, they will be the one the demon comes for.
Unlike her fellow village dwellers, Piana refuses to accept her fate, and insists that she’s not going to go back to the village while the demon is still at large. This, naturally, puts Totori in a bit of a difficult position. She has inadvertently kidnapped a member of a community — and one who will clearly be missed, since she’s a rather distinctive young lady — and yet it seems that the only way to convince her to go back and face the music is to defeat a legendary demon that even her mother couldn’t take down.
You can technically “beat” Atelier Totori without jumping into this final confrontation if you fear it might be a bit too much to handle — and make no mistake, it is a tough fight. But really, having come this far and seen Totori grow so much in so many ways… you wouldn’t want to leave the job unfinished now, would you? Assuming you have enough time left on the ever-ticking clock, that is…
This post is one chapter of a MegaFeature!
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