In keeping with how Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland’s alchemy mechanics aren’t just a straight rehash of the other Arland games, the battle and exploration mechanics also feature a pleasing blend of old and new.
By taking the basic structure of battles from the earlier Arland games and then supplementing this with a variety of brand-new tactical considerations, Atelier Lulua provides us with an enjoyable combat system that keeps things consistently interesting for the game’s duration. And some really nice “quality of life” features mean that the whole game feels nicely streamlined and efficient to play without sacrificing any sort of mechanical depth.
That’s how you do a good follow-up — from the perspective of game design, anyway. Let’s take a closer look at these specific elements of Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland.
Outside of Lulua’s workshop, Atelier Lulua takes an approach quite similar to both Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru, in that it divides the world map up into distinct “nodes”, with specific pathways unlocking between those nodes as you progress through the game. Sometimes these pathways will unlock as part of the story, while at other times you’ll need to engage with the “Alchemyriddle” mechanics to unlock them. In these cases, you’ll often be tasked with finding a specific piece of scenery using a pictorial clue, and perhaps supporting this find by consulting with a particular character somewhere in the world.
At no point are any plot-critical locations locked off in this way, for those who don’t trust themselves to be able to find a particular table with a lamp on it using only a faded sepia-tinted picture, but this side of things really helps with a sense of exploration and discovery. It’s also handled a little differently to both Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru in that in those games, discovering new areas through exploration was simply a case of leaving a zone through the correct exit. Here, you really get the feel that Lulua is discovering secret and long-forgotten pathways into mysterious new locales, and consequently stepping into a new location for the first time is always a highly gratifying experience.
Once into an area, you can explore freely. One key difference in the way that Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland presents itself when compared to its predecessors is the fact that the game no longer unfolds from fixed camera angles; instead, we have a third-person camera floating behind Lulua (with variable zoom levels, though no first-person option) that allows you to examine and admire the environment as you see fit.
Functionally, exploration is still pretty similar to how the earlier Arland games worked; while the new camera functionality makes the game feel a lot more “open” than its predecessors, the areas are still self-contained and keep you strictly to predefined paths. That said, the fact that the game is designed for the next generation of console hardware over the previous three games means that these environments can be larger and more complex; there are a number of areas that Lulua will explore that feature multiple levels and a variety of routes through them. Deciphering the top-down map and determining how that translates to the 3D world can be surprisingly challenging in a few locales!
Atelier Lulua features a system that tracks how thoroughly you’ve “explored” an area. By this, it means what gatherable ingredients you’ve discovered, and which monsters you’ve fought. In other words, to “fully explore” an area, you need to have fought every monster that appears in that area and gathered every possible item that appears in that area — bearing in mind the fact that some monsters and ingredients might only show up at specific times of day or, in a few rare cases, only at specific times of year.
There’s no real reward besides a sense of self-satisfaction for getting a 100% exploration rating for an area, but there is an incentive to engage with this side of things at least a little: as you explore an area and discover more about it, the rather barren map will update with helpful information such as treasure chest locations, gathering points and even a monster radar. Since there’s no time limit on the game as a whole, it’s worth your while to spend a bit of time in each new area gathering what items you can, and fighting at least a few battles, because that way when you come back, you’ll be able to go straight to the things you’re looking for.
This system is supported by a solid Library function in the game’s menus that allows you to look at any location you’ve visited and see what enemies and ingredients are available there — even, in some cases, ones that you haven’t encountered yet. And to complement this, you can look up any ingredient or monster in the game and find out information about it — including some delightful colour commentary from the cast of the game, unique to every single entry. And yes, there are plenty of in-jokes throughout these little text-only exchanges. Ba~rrel!
Atelier Lulua also incorporates a few nods to earlier Atelier games throughout its exploration sequences. Perhaps most notably, a number of chests throughout the game are locked with either silver or gold locks, requiring Lulua to synthesise the appropriate keys using her alchemy. This is a system straight out of Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny — though unlike in that game, you only need to craft each key once rather than once per chest! As you might expect by this point, acquiring the recipes for said keys is dependent on her completing the appropriate sections of Alchemyriddle to obtain the appropriate knowledge.
In a similar manner to the Atelier Iris games in general, Atelier Lulua features the ability to carry a number of “exploration items” with you. These are either consumable or permanent; items like mining bombs can be used up, while tools such as pickaxes, the aforementioned keys and fishing rods only need to be crafted once — though “better” versions do become available later in the game, allowing you to acquire more or better quality items from the locations that require their use.
The fact that some of these items are consumable brings up an important point that is relevant to both combat and exploration: the fact that Lulua doesn’t necessarily need to keep crafting the same items over and over again in order to keep herself fully stocked up on supplies.
There are a couple of ways in which Lulua can keep her Basket full of useful items. The first is through the Wholesale system that has been present since Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, and which builds on the Bazaar system found in Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy. In simple terms, this allows you to register a particular item with a vendor in the game — in this case, Lulua and Piana’s homunculus assistant Chim Dragon — and then buy it back whenever you need it. Chim Dragon will produce up to 10 exact copies of an item every in-game week, so as long as you have the money to spare, you can keep yourself stocked up on commonly used items or ingredients.
The more convenient and cost-effective approach for consumable combat and exploration items is simply known as Restock. Through this system, the game remembers the state of Lulua’s Basket when she leaves on an expedition, and upon returning to her workshop, presents her with the opportunity to pay an appropriate fee to completely replenish everything she used. Obviously, as you might expect, restocking more powerful items costs more money, but it still works out a lot cheaper than using the Wholesale system for the same job — plus it doesn’t restrict you to a limited number of available item slots. As such, Wholesale is generally best left for duplicating alchemy ingredients that might be a pain to get the correct combination of quality, traits and effects on, while Restock means that Lulua only needs to make a couple of each usable, consumable item in the game to remain self-sufficient.
Make no mistake: this doesn’t mean the game sacrifices any depth in the alchemy system. It just means you won’t find yourself having to continually craft consumable items before heading out into the field, and you can instead focus on creating as many different items as you can over the course of the game — or improving your existing items.
With all this in mind, then, let’s talk about combat. Much like the previous few games in the series, Atelier Lulua makes use of a symbol attack system, whereby enemies are visible on the field, and giving them a good thwack with Lulua’s staff allows you to start a battle with the advantage. Once into combat, you’ll see that, as usual, a single enemy on the field actually represents a party of foes, and from there it’s time to fight.
Atelier Lulua’s combat is all about preparation and party formation. While the choices you make in the heat of battle are, of course, important, the majority of your combat effectiveness will be determined by how you set your party up before you actually start fighting. And this goes much deeper than just ensuring everyone has equipment with the highest numbers on it.
For starters, there’s a system called Primal Arts, which allows passive bonuses to be applied to the three front-line fighters based on the combination of characters you have in play. For example, if mother Rorona and daughter Lulua are in the front line together, they both share any positive effects one or the other acquires; similarly, if you have an all-alchemist front line with Piana, Rorona and Lulua all together, the power of any items you use will increase by 30%. These effects can, of course, be combined.
In a similar fashion, the two back-line fighters stand between the three front-line fighters and offer their “Assist” skills to the two vanguard characters either side of them. Assist skills trigger based on specific conditions, and range from follow-up attacks to quick heals and status effect cures. As characters level up, they acquire multiple Assist skills; with proper party setup, it’s possible to unleash multiple Assist skills in one turn.
For example, if the ever-reliable (and ageing) knight Sterk is supporting an alchemist character, he can, under the correct circumstances, provide four follow-up attacks: once for the alchemist using an item, once for exploiting an enemy’s weakness, once for inflicting a status effect on the enemy and once for stunning an enemy using an item. As I’m sure you can imagine, getting multiple extra attacks in on an enemy in a single turn can make a huge difference — particularly when each of those extra attacks hit multiple times and have their own added effects.
These “Assist” attacks, although automatic rather than manually triggered, feel somewhat akin to the character-swapping attacks in the Mana Khemia series. And, in fact, this isn’t the only way that Atelier Lulua’s combat mechanics resemble this particular part of Atelier history: as noted above, it’s possible to stun enemies, causing them to skip their next turn, by inflicting enough damage on them — but be warned; the same can be done to your characters! This becomes quite an important mechanic in the late game, particularly when you start facing powerful boss-level enemies that might otherwise be able to get multiple attacks off in a row. If you can stun them before that happens, they’re much easier to deal with.
You might wonder how it’s possible to stun an enemy between two attacks performed in immediate succession. Well, that’s where Atelier Lulua’s other new mechanic comes in: the Interrupt system. Using this, any of the alchemist characters in the front line — Lulua, Piana and/or Rorona — can jump into the turn order before the next character or enemy takes an action, and make use of an item. This is obviously a pretty powerful option, so there are limits to how it works: firstly, the character’s Interrupt bar has to build up over time; secondly, the character can only use the item they have equipped in their special alchemist-only Interrupt equipment slot; and thirdly, said item can only be used a limited number of times in a single battle. Interestingly, the item is never consumed, however; after the battle is over, the number of available uses returns to its initial maximum with no expenditure required.
The Interrupt system can be used as you see fit. Most practically, it’s used to deal additional damage, but when dealing with the aforementioned bosses or more powerful late-game enemies, it can be used to manipulate the turn order, or even sneak in a quick heal or buff before a big hit you know is coming. This is particularly useful against the challenging final boss, who has a habit of rattling off a series of devastating attacks in rapid succession if you don’t take decisive action as soon as possible!
Alongside all this, each character also has their own unique lineup of skills that they can use. Unlike some other Atelier games, even the alchemist characters have various skills they can use without being dependent on items — and some of them are extremely useful. Rorona’s ability to manipulate the resistances of enemies makes some of the later battles in the game much more straightforward, for example, while Niko’s tanking skills can take a lot of the pressure off the more fragile members of the party.
And, of course, what would a console -style RPG be without ridiculous, over-the-top Ultimate attacks? You actually acquire these rather late in Atelier Lulua, but they certainly don’t disappoint when you’re able to pull them off; each features not only its own unique animation, but also a lovely rendition of the character’s theme music while it’s going on. The only tricky bit is actually charging up the special “AP” meter to be able to use them; if you’re fighting effectively, you’ll likely find all your foes hitting the floor well before you achieve the required 100 points by attacking enemies and taking damage. The price you pay for being Good At Video Games.
All of these different elements give Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland’s combat a pleasing sense of dynamism and energy, even though, at heart, it’s a strictly turn-based system. It’s absolutely not a game where you can simply spam the “Attack” option and hope to win, even in combat against regular enemies — but at the same time, these systems all interlock with one another so elegantly that taking full advantage of all the mechanics available to you is consistently an absolute pleasure. The game never feels like it’s overcomplicating matters, but it rewards active engagement and experimentation with the options it offers. And, over time, you’ll doubtless develop your own distinct, preferred fighting style.
So Lulua is good at both crafting things and kicking ass… but why is she doing these things in the first place? That’s the next subject for us to explore!
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