Given that there was a gap of eight years and six games between Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland and Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, it will doubtless not surprise you to learn that the latter’s mechanics aren’t just a rehash of the former’s.
Instead, upon the game’s initial announcement in Japan’s Weekly Famitsu, Gust revealed that the new game would feature an alchemy system that blended elements of the classic Arland games with more recent additions to the formula — specifically, incorporating some elements that had proven popular from the primarily PS4-based Mysterious series.
The result is a mechanical core to the game that is accessible to newcomers but filled with a considerable amount of hidden depth — and which feels fresh and interesting to series veterans, even if they’re coming to Atelier Lulua directly from the previous three Arland games. Let’s take a closer look.
The fundamentals of Atelier Lulua’s alchemy system follow the basic conventions of the previous three Arland titles. In order to synthesise new items, Lulua needs recipes. Recipes consist of a list of ingredients, each of which can either be a specific item or a broad category of item. The final result of a recipe varies depending on the specific properties of the ingredients Lulua chooses to put in the cauldron. All pretty straightforward.
Where things differ significantly from the prior Arland games in Atelier Lulua is in how it becomes possible to draw out the various potential effects a synthesised item can have. While in the first three games, this was usually dependent on having a specific quality of a specific item, here in Atelier Lulua it’s all about elemental affinity. And this is where the majority of the depth lies.
While crafting an item, you’re usually presented with several meters reflecting the possible effects you can create using elemental power. Sometimes these meters simply build up in one direction; on other occasions, opposite elements cancel each other out; in some cases, adding too much of the “wrong” element to the mix can result in a completely broken item!
Let’s take a practical example that becomes immediately relevant right from the start of the game. Like in the previous Arland games, one of the first items Lulua learns to synthesise is a Craft, a spiked bomb that she can fling into a group of enemies to inflict damage. While choosing the ingredients to put in to her Craft, the higher the elemental affinity for fire Lulua can apply, the more damage the final item will inflict. Conversely, if she puts too much lightning elemental energy into the item, the synthesis will fail completely. Completely separately from this equation, Lulua can apply additional effects to her Craft according to whether she favours earth or ice elemental energy.
When building up these effects, you can quickly and easily see how much is needed to produce each “level” of the effect, as it’s marked with a larger notch on the meter. In the aforementioned Craft example, Lulua needs four levels of fire element in order to upgrade the basic “Physical DMG XS” effect to “Physical DMG S”.
Thankfully, there’s no guesswork involved. Each ingredient has four clear indicators showing its elemental value for fire, ice, lightning and earth, and the inventory system allows you to sort by elemental value for any of these four elements. One thing you will have to bear in mind, however, is that sometimes an item with a high value in one element might end up having some of those points cancelled out by another element, depending on the recipe; in the Craft example above, if you put in an expensive item that has a value of 5 on its fire element but also a value of 3 on its lightning element, all but two of those fire elements will be cancelled out by the lightning, making the ingredient no more valuable for that recipe than a cheap, common item that simply has a flat value of 2.
The system may sound a little complicated and that it will take a bit of getting used to, but the lack of guesswork in creating effects sets Atelier Lulua’s synthesis system well apart from its three predecessors. The interface gives clear and helpful audio-visual feedback while you’re putting the ingredients in so you can see at a glance what the effect on both the elemental affinities and the final item quality will be, and the ingredients aren’t used until you finalise the synthesis. There’s no element of random failure in Atelier Lulua, unlike its predecessors; you’ll have seen any broken items or piles of ash coming. And interestingly, the game actually takes advantage of this fact — one specific important item later in the game actually requires these “failure” items as its main ingredients!
Sometimes when creating items, the effects on the final product are actually things that will be passed on to subsequent creations. This is most commonly seen in the case of metal and cloth items which, like in the other Arland games, must be taken to your friendly local blacksmith to turn them into usable equipment. In most cases, material items like this have one element that can be built up for a large increase to specific stats (such as attack power in the case of weapons) and a separate element to build up all stats by a smaller amount. Ideally you want to build both of these up by as much as possible, as this will make the piece of equipment the best it possibly can be; the actual quality level of the material is a little less important this time around.
Some of these “passed-on” effects even relate to the categories the item is filed under. This is mostly useful when working on more complex recipes later in the game, as it allows you to substitute a wider variety of items than would normally appear to be available. For example, let’s say you have an item that calls for a “(Vegetable)” type item as an ingredient, but you’re having trouble gathering actual vegetables of high enough quality. You can instead bake a “Plain Pie” item with a high level of ice affinity and quality; this causes it to add the “(Vegetable)” category to itself, and thus become available as an ingredient for the recipe you were struggling with. Truly mastering Atelier Lulua’s alchemy system demands that you get used to the idea of coming up with creative solutions to your problems like this!
Tying in with this system is a mechanic known as “Awakening”. Every item in the game has several “Awakened Effects”, which apply when they are put into a particular recipe at a particular time, and the exact effect which applies depends on the type of item the recipe will create. Awakened effects vary a great deal, from simple increases to quality or elemental values to additional effects being applied. For example, using a Magic Sword item as an ingredient for something else increases the lightning element of the final item if you’re making an ingredient, applies the Curse effect if you’re making an attack item, heals the Curse effect if you’re making a healing item, or increases damage from skills if you’re making equipment — but only if you put it in an Awakened slot while assembling the recipe.
Awakened ingredient slots are clearly marked in the interface, and taking advantage of their effects is optional — so if you find these extra effects are actually getting in the way, you can simply discard them without penalty. This is particularly useful if you’re trying to make an item with a high affinity for one specific element and the Awakened effects could potentially introduce an unwanted second element. If that’s the case, you can — thankfully — simply cancel them before producing the final item if you so desire.
Before you finalise the synthesis of an item, you have the option of using a single “Boost Item” to fine-tune your creation. The first of these you acquire simply raises the final quality, but as you progress you’ll find (and be able to craft) a variety of items that let you manipulate the elemental levels even further. Some of these allow you to simply “swap” the values of two elements around; others might eliminate one element altogether while increasing another; and the valuable Dragon’s Eye items allow you to immediately boost an element up to its next main “level” on the meter.
The more powerful effects in this regard sometimes have a tradeoff; eliminating a troublesome element, for example, tends to reduce the final quality of the item, while if you boost the quality you’re unable to do anything further with the elemental levels. Experimenting to find the optimal ways of doing things can prove to be a surprisingly compelling little metagame in its own right — you’ll often find that doing things in a slightly unconventional way pays off bigtime.
The final piece of the puzzle when it comes to alchemy in Atelier Lulua is the Traits system. This functions largely like it did in the previous Arland games, allowing you to pass on various effects from ingredients to the final item. There’s an important difference, though: the maximum value of Traits that can be applied to an item is no longer determined by the ingredients, but rather by Lulua’s alchemy level.
Traits add an element of variety and randomness to alchemy, because unlike the elemental and Awakened effects, they’re not fixed. One piece of Magic Grass might have one Trait; another of similar quality will have a completely different one. Choosing the right Traits to fine-tune your creation is important in the late-game — particularly if you’re going for the challenging “Curry” ending, which requires you to make all of the possible curry recipes in the game at quality levels so high you almost certainly won’t have accidentally achieved them during the main bulk of the story.
On paper, it may seem like Atelier Lulua’s alchemy system is considerably more complex than that found in the earlier Arland games, and perhaps it is. It’s testament to the game’s excellent design and well thought-out interface that it never feels daunting or confusing, however. At no point during synthesis in Atelier Lulua will you ever feel like you’re leaving things up to fate; you’re given all the information you need to make decisions about ingredients, elements, boosters, Awakened effects and Traits before you actually craft the item, so you’ll never find yourself wasting valuable ingredients if you’re paying attention.
It’s a puzzle to be solved, in other words, and being designed in this way helps make these important mechanics really shine as one of the strongest aspects of Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland as a complete game. It’ll take you time and experimentation to figure things out completely — but once you finally nail that 999-quality Lululu Curry, you’ll be on top of the world. As will Lulua; that girl really loves her curry.
Next up, we’ll take a look at how Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland handles combat and exploration; much like the alchemy mechanics, there’s an interesting blend of old and new, providing comfortable familiarity to Arland veterans while simultaneously feeling fresh and interesting. Until next time!
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