Up until this point in the Atelier MegaFeature as a whole, we’ve explored the games in release order.
They were released in clear “sets”, after all — we had the Atelier Iris trilogy, then the Mana Khemia duology and then the three Arland games. And while the stories don’t always follow on directly from one another — most notably in the Atelier Iris series — each game in each series, at the very least, feels like it has a number of stylistic and thematic elements in common with its contemporaries. But in 2018, something interesting happened; after three Dusk games and three Mysterious games, Gust issued the surprise announcement that the twentieth game in the mainline Atelier series would not kick off a new trilogy; instead, it would return to Arland for (probably) one last time.
So with that in mind, we’re skipping forward from 2011’s thirteenth Atelier game Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland to check out 2019’s twentieth installment Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland. Then we’ll go back and look at all the ones in between. Sound good? Good. Let’s get cracking — beginning with an overview of what this game is all about and how it fits in with its predecessors.
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland opens twenty years after the beginning of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland. We return to a world where Totori is a well-established alchemist in Arland with a desire to spread the good word of alchemy to the general populace; where Meruru is no longer a princess, but still absolutely devoted to both her alchemy studies and the wellbeing of Arls; and where Rorona is a 35 year old mother. The mother of our new heroine Elmerulia “Lulua” Frixell, to be exact.
“I told [Arland character designer] Mel Kishida a long time ago that I wanted to make a sequel,” producer Junzo Hosoi told Japanese magazine Weekly Famitsu in October of 2018, when the game was first announced. “Lulua’s design took some time. There is a balance between how much she does and doesn’t resemble Rorona. Mel was extremely particular about things like her key hair ornaments.
“While it may be surprising that Rorona is a mother,” he continued, “we don’t want to betray everyone’s expectations or destroy the feelings of fans who have watched her grow thus far, so please rest assured.”
The astute can probably read between the lines of that statement and draw some conclusions, but let’s save any discussion of that particular side of things until we look at the game’s narrative in detail. For now, it should suffice to say that while certain aspects of Lulua’s personality, appearance, mannerisms and mode of dress make it abundantly clear that she is most certainly Rorona’s child, she’s definitely not a clone of her mother, either — and she stands alongside her three predecessors as a memorable leading lady in the Arland series thanks to the many things that make her delightfully unique.
Unlike the previous Arland games, Lulua is not immediately presented with a time-limited crisis of some description to resolve. Instead, we join her as she’s been spending some time studying alchemy under an energetic, cheerful young woman named Piana. Those who played Atelier Totori through to its conclusion will recall that Piana is the girl that Totori accidentally “kidnapped” from the remote Frontier Village on the snowy eastern continent while attempting to track down her mother’s whereabouts, and was clearly something of an independent free spirit even at an early age. In the intervening years, it seems she studied alchemy under Totori, and proved herself to be a highly capable alchemist in her own right — and she, in turn, is in the process of passing that knowledge on to Lulua without any sort of pressure on either of them.
Piana’s background raises a worthwhile point: with nearly a decade between installments, one might wonder how accessible Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is to those new to either the Arland series or Atelier in general. And the answer is “very”. The gap in time between the events of Atelier Meruru and the beginning of Atelier Lulua allows for something of a “reboot” of the series; the game doesn’t assume any knowledge about the previous narratives or recurring characters on the part of the player, but those who have been following the Arland games since Rorona synthesised her first Supplement in 2009 will find plenty of series fanservice to enjoy as the narrative unfolds.
Not all of the familiar characters from past installments put in on-screen appearances, sadly — Cordelia’s absence is keenly felt — but pretty much every major character from the previous games gets at least mentioned at some point, so we know what they’ve been up to. And in the cases of those who do return — Mimi being a prime example — they have their own entertaining (and completely optional) little side stories to explore that, in turn, pay homage to some of their optional events from previous games. It strikes a nice balance between providing accessibility to newcomers, and rewarding those who have stuck with the series for so long. But I digress.
The relaxed opening for Atelier Lulua sets the tone for the game as a whole, and those who have perhaps shied away from the Arland series in general due to its time-limited gameplay will be pleased to hear that Atelier Lulua has no time limit whatsoever. This is something that the series as a whole has been experimenting with since the third Dusk game (and sixteenth Atelier game) Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, and it was a very deliberate choice during development of Atelier Lulua. Since the game covers a much larger geographical area than any of the previous games — the game world covers Arls, the Arland area and a little more besides — the team decided to allow players ample time to explore to their heart’s content.
Interestingly, the removal of the time limit coincides with a change to the overall time system compared to the previous three Arland games. Instead of everything unfolding in intervals of a day at a time, Atelier Lulua features a full day-night cycle somewhat similar to that found in the Mana Khemia games, with in-game hours passing according to the actions you take. Simple alchemy syntheses might only take an hour or two now, while you can manipulate time out in the field by getting into fights with monsters; each battle causes a few hours to pass. This latter aspect is important on a few occasions throughout the game; certain enemies and ingredients only appear during the daytime or night, so understanding how to successfully fiddle with the clock is an important part of learning how to play Atelier Lulua.
Despite the lack of time limit, the calendar system is still present, though. This is because certain things in the game might take a few hours or days to occur — and also because there are certain special events that happen at the same time every year. The rare “Dunkelheit” ingredient only flowers in November, for example, while every December Arland plays host to its annual festival, during which you can win prizes and arm-wrestle Sterk. The important thing is that missing either of these events is by no means critical — neither of them are essential to story progression, and even if you do feel you missed out, you can always just wait until next year.
So if Lulua doesn’t have some sort of time-sensitive crisis to deal with, what is she doing? Well, much like her predecessors, she’s an adolescent girl learning about her place in the world and figuring out how alchemy might fit in with all that, and as such the majority of the narrative concerns her attempting to discover what her life’s purpose really is.
Thankfully, she has a bit of assistance in this regard; early in the game she comes into possession of a mysterious book named “Alchemyriddle”, which always seems to answer her questions exactly when she needs it. Or rather, it always promises to provide those answers if Lulua is willing to put in a bit of work for herself.
Alchemyriddle forms one of the main means through which you progress through Atelier Lulua. Whenever Lulua is presented with a challenge or some sort of question, Alchemyriddle provides her with some “riddles” to decipher. These take the form of written passages with missing words, plus clues as to what those words are. Lulua must then fill in the blanks by synthesising the correct items, visiting the appropriate locations, defeating the proper enemies or obtaining knowledge from specific people. Completely deciphering a riddle provides Lulua with new alchemy recipes, special abilities or game mechanics to explore.
Alongside each chapter of story-critical riddles, Alchemyriddle also provides a series of optional tasks for Lulua to attempt. These also provide substantial rewards for the thorough — and, as you might expect, completing an entire chapter is also eminently worthwhile from a progression perspective.
In terms of structure, Atelier Lulua is by far the most freeform and open of all the Arland games, but Alchemyriddle provides a much-needed sense of direction to it all. It’s always very clear what you need to do in order to move the main story on — but at the same time, the lack of time limit means that you always know you can take your time over trying to figure out everything — including the optional objectives — for yourself. In most cases, the answers are obvious, but there are a fair few over the course of the game where figuring out some particularly obtuse clues is immensely satisfying. Give your brain a chance to figure things out before immediately reaching for the walkthroughs this time around.
It’s also a game that lends itself well to self-imposed challenges. Indeed, one of the game’s possible endings is largely dependent on you figuring out quite how much you can “break” the alchemy system and go well beyond what might initially seem possible within the confines of the game’s mechanics. But more on that when we look at the alchemy system in more detail.
Suffice to say for now that Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is an excellent Atelier game in its own right, as well as being both a worthy successor to its three prequels and a good starting point for those new to the series. It’s a bit of a shame that its release was completely overshadowed by Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout, which came out just six months later — but then one could argue that game is the one specifically designed to get new people into Atelier, while Lulua is intended primarily for series fanservice and a welcome return for some beloved characters.
Either way, there’s plenty worth talking about with Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, so over the next few parts of the Atelier MegaFeature we’ll be exploring the game’s distinctive approaches to alchemy and combat, as well as diving into the narrative in detail. Until then, happy synthesising!
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