Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland concludes what was the original Arland trilogy for PlayStation 3 with another twist on the formula that makes it a very distinct game from its predecessors.
Blending elements of the game structure from both Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland and Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland, it was a fitting conclusion to the series — at least until Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland put in a surprise appearance, anyway, but that’s a story for another day.
In this part of the Atelier MegaFeature, we’ll take a look at these things Atelier Meruru has in common with its predecessors — and how it manages to stand out as its own distinctive experience through its own additions to the formula. Let’s jump in!
In Atelier Meruru, you take on the role of Princess Merurulince Rede Arls, the only child and heir of Dessier, king of the tiny rural kingdom of Arls. As the story opens, Meruru has been spending a lot of time in the company of one Totooria Helmold, an alchemist of some repute who was sent to Arls by the republic of Arland.
In five years time, Arls will be amicably absorbed into Arland, you see. And given that both Totori and her predecessor Rorona helped to demonstrate how useful alchemy could be for a wide variety of purposes in and around Arland over the course of their own respective adventures, it’s understandable that Arls might want to take advantage of their services in order to ensure the kingdom is in as good a state as it possibly can be once the merger happens.
Meruru doesn’t really care about all that political nonsense, being a somewhat tomboyish yet highly feminine princess who strikes a perfect balance between wearing pretty dresses and enjoying rolling around in the mud. But having been immediately struck by how fascinating Totori’s life as an alchemist sounded, she has been sneaking out of the castle to take alchemy lessons, and has shown a certain amount of aptitude for the art in her own right.
Her father doesn’t approve of this, however, and would prefer that she be a nice, normal, demure princess who stands around looking pretty but not really saying anything except when required to by her “royal duties”. That’s not Meruru, though; after calling him a “poopyhead” — we all say things we regret in the heat of the moment — she manages to get him to come to an agreement. If she can prove that she is able to make use of alchemy to help the kingdom thrive over the course of the next three years, he has to let her keep studying. Best of both worlds, you see? She gets to study the thing she’s come to love and fulfil her “royal duties” at the same time. Everyone wins. Probably.
The overall game structure of Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland combines elements of both its predecessors. We have the short-term tasks of Atelier Rorona — albeit without specific deadlines this time around — and the long-term “big goal” of Atelier Totori. Completing plenty of the former will naturally take care of the latter — though towards the end of the game, there are a variety of different possible conclusions you can choose to pursue, each with its own distinct gameplay focus, providing a lot of replay value.
The basic loop of Atelier Meruru involves Meruru being issued with requests from the people who are working in various areas around Arls in an attempt to develop the land, then taking these requests to her butler Rufus for him to devise a strategic plan. Rufus, being an organised sort who has clearly attended a few management seminars in his time, breaks things down into specific, measurable, attainable and relevant tasks for Meruru to accomplish, and it’s then up to Meruru to take care of them as she sees fit.
The exact nature of the tasks varies according to what the larger request involves. If the overall job is building a road to a new area, for example, Meruru will likely be asked to clear several areas of enemies — a simple matter of entering a region and kicking the snot out of all the enemies present. If the job is developing an area with new facilities such as farmland, power generation or water treatment, she will likely need to use her alchemy skills to create items the workers need to complete their job. And, as the story progresses, certain narrative events occur, often requiring Meruru to respond with both her alchemy and her adventuring prowess.
As Meruru completes tasks, she earns points, similar to how Totori earned points on her Adventurer’s License in her own game. Here, though, they serve two purposes: firstly, at various milestones of total points acquired, the kingdom will “rank up” and its rate of growth will accelerate; and secondly, they can be spent on building various facilities in Arls itself. The two aspects are intertwined; the higher the rank of the kingdom, the wider the variety of facilities Meruru can build, and the more facilities she’s built, the easier she’ll find it to complete her tasks and earn more points.
Meruru’s long-term goal is measured not on points, but on population, however. As time passes in the game, she’s given various population targets to aim for, with the most important coming at the end of her third and fifth years. If she successfully meets the target at the end of her third year, she gets two more years to continue developing Arls right up until the merger with Arland; if she meets the target at the end of the fifth year, that’s one way of “beating” the game — but by no means the only way.
Population increases on a daily basis according to several factors. Firstly, the current population plays a role; the more people already in the kingdom, the faster it will grow. Secondly, the kingdom’s rank helps the population increase. Thirdly, various facilities that Meruru can build provide immediate large increases in population. And finally, Meruru’s popularity among the residents of the kingdom is of critical importance; keeping this topped up ensures maximum growth, while allowing it to plummet will eventually cause Meruru’s father to decide that enough is enough and that he’s not willing to indulge her any further.
Thankfully, keeping popularity up is relatively simple; it’s a matter of completing smaller tasks for the kingdom, similar to the Adventurer’s Guild quests in Atelier Totori and the Front Quests in Atelier Rorona. These generally require simply delivering an item or defeating a particular number of enemies, and more often than not can be easily banged out on a regular basis as part of your natural adventuring, particularly in the case of requests that demand nothing more than simple raw materials. Facilities can help, too; certain facilities cause popularity to decline more slowly, while others make it easier to top up through the completion of quests, so it’s helpful to get these constructed as soon as possible so Meruru can focus on larger tasks.
In terms of the number of things Meruru has to think about at any given moment, Atelier Meruru is easily the most complex of the Arland games, but thankfully its accessible interface and clear presentation of information means that the multi-tasking required to succeed in the game never becomes overwhelming or impossible to manage. The larger tasks tend to coincide with Meruru learning the alchemy recipes she requires to complete them, or having access to the equipment and items necessary to survive under more challenging circumstances. And since the smaller quests refresh on a weekly basis, simply heading out into the field to deliver the items for a major task means that there will likely be some easy delivery requests ready to immediately turn in by the time you get back to Arls.
Things get most interesting in the final couple of years of the game, after Meruru has met her first major population target and has been given the approval to continue developing Arls. At this point, several major plotlines get underway, and it’s possible to pursue any, all or none of them as the final deadline grows closer and closer. Indeed, as previously noted, so long as you accomplish the final population goal by the end of Meruru’s fifth year, you will “beat” the game, but there are a variety of other endings available that are dependent on tugging at these narrative threads — as well as developing your relationships with the various recruitable party members who can join Meruru on her adventures.
Most of the endings are achieved in a similar manner to the rest of the “development” gameplay — Meruru will receive a request, she’ll have it translated into a series of smaller tasks, and it’s then up to you to help her accomplish them. The main difference in most cases is that the individual steps are often quite a bit more complicated.
One example concerns the development of an area near a volcano to the north of Arls. We learn that Meruru’s father had previously attempted to develop this area, but things had ultimately proven unsuccessful. Meruru believes that her alchemy can make a difference, however, so she sets about providing the things the settlers need to establish a habitable and sustainable environment in the region.
So far so straightforward. Unfortunately, as the efforts to develop the area reach a conclusion, Arls is hit by a series of earthquakes, and it becomes apparent that the long-dormant volcano is about to erupt. And this isn’t any ordinary eruption, either; it signifies the somewhat premature awakening of the horrible beast Airshatter that has been hibernating within the volcano. Airshatter wasn’t due to wake up for another hundred years or so — and by then it would be Arland’s problem, was presumably the thinking — but even at its reduced power level, it still presents a devastating threat to everything Meruru has worked so hard to build up until this point.
Naturally, the only answer is to go and kick the shit out of it, but this is a Volcano Incarnate we’re talking about, not a Puni bouncing around in a field. Consequently, Meruru finds herself having to devise a way to cool the volcano down somewhat in order to further reduce the power of Airshatter, then fight her way down into the very core of the volcano — which, naturally, involves beating up a few other pesky bosses along the way — before laying the smack down on Airshatter itself once and for all.
This is a cool final boss sequence, for sure, but it’s also completely optional. If you prefer, you can instead attempt to pursue the development of a Potion of Youth for Rorona’s former master Astrid, or find a means of dealing with the lizardmen that have moved into the mysterious ruins to the far east of Arls, or help Peter the perverted carriageman from Atelier Totori build a hot springs, or prove your worth to the mysterious superhero “Masked G” who has been buzzing around Meruru for a significant portion of the game (who could he be?). Or, indeed, if you’re feeling particularly feisty, you can see how many of these it’s possible to accomplish in a single playthrough. And don’t forget all Meruru’s friends, either; not only do each of them have their own endings, there’s also another ending for meeting the conditions for all of them simultaneously.
There’s plenty to keep you busy in Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, then. And not just for a single playthrough; this is one Atelier game that is worth running through several times to see what you can achieve — and how differently things can unfold when your priorities are a bit different.
Next up, we’ll take a look in more depth at the moment-to-moment mechanics of Atelier Meruru’s alchemy and battle systems, and how they build on the foundation provided by the earlier Arland games. Until then, keep stirring that pot… guru guru!
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