I Still Know What You'll Make This Summer.
Ah, the 'alchemic RPG'. Here in the States, it's still something of a fairly lesser-known indulgence—on the order of deliberately paying a restaurant tab with two-dollar bills, dating a ganguro girl on your overseas vacation, actually turning off your personal electronics when the stewardess asks you to, or some equally-oddball activity. (BTW: Yes, yes, and yes, and just don't even ask.)
[image1]In Japan, it's the kind of game that will chart a dramatic sell-out on Day One in Akihabara—and in fact, that's exactly what the Japanese release of Atelier Rorona: Alchemist of Arland did. If its Stateside release gets anywhere near the scores of its Japanese counterpart, why, many gamers might even temporarily forget to check on just what the hell 'atelier' even means.
As with previous games in the series, Atelier Rorona is an alchemic RPG—meaning that the core gameplay maintains the alchemy-based, item-crafting traditions of the earlier games, along with the use of alchemy to fight enemies. Characters, storylines, and background will still retain their heavily animé-influenced approaches, of course—it is a Gust/NIS title, after all—and will also sport a newer cel-shaded style to the animation.
While Atelier Rorona is the eleventh—read it again, eleventh—game in the series, it is also the very first installment developed for the PlayStation 3 platform; and while the previous games employed strictly 2D sprites, Rorona will finally utilize true 3D graphics. Atelier Rorona will offer a mix of four types of gameplay, including 'field' world-maps, the series' now-obligatory alchemy system, the good old standby Battle Screen, and last but not least a 'visual novel' component. (NIS America seems to be on a slow but certain campaign to introduce this latter game-form to the North American market -- most faithfully and blatantly in the form of their forthcoming release Disgaea Infinite.)
Players move about the game world in static-art maps which illustrate the town of Arland (not Arlen—that's a completely different game, I tell you what) as well as nearby locales. The 'field' maps depict the town, the surrounding forests, and other settings as more physically-tangible, realistic environments in which player-character can collect items (there are also over 100 special items to craft), talk to NPCs, and come across enemies. Unlike large numbers of other RPGs, Atelier Rorona allows the player to see potential enemies on the field-map view—and thus gives him/her the option to avoid certain hostile encounters altogether. If the player chooses to face the enemy, the aforementioned Battle Screen comes into play.
[image2]Thankfully, Atelier Rorona has not fallen to the seemingly-epidemic scourge of Formerly Turn-Based RPGs Suddenly Going Annoyingly Real-Time For No Readily Apparent Reason™. Rorona's battles will be turn-based—traditionally so, in fact, to what we shall call, for lack of a better term, a 'fault'—and rage in the tried-and-true, back-and-forth fashion, with fallen party members 'fainting' off one by one in battle while the others fight on. Should the worst happen to the entire party, the player simply winds up back in town—defeated and lumped-up, but wiser. Perhaps the old ways are, in fact, best.
The Atelier Rorona story is broken up into a dozen or so segments, each representing three months of in-game time. For each segment, players either will or will not complete a designated Task within this fixed 'time limit'; if they fail, it's a game-ender, requiring a fresh start from an earlier game-save. While the majority of the plot moves via 'visual novel' elements that involve a bare minimum of per-se interaction—it's mostly a text/dialogue affair, with occasional decision points—the overall game also has over a dozen primary plot lines... which translates to some incentive to replay the game, tackling different tasks for the game's full cast of characters.
While the Japanese version released in June 2009, the North American and European versions are slated to hit this summer. In fact, if you somehow managed to locate, pay for, and plow through one back-catalog Atelier Series game every week or two, starting right now, you might even be completely up to series-universe speed by Rorona's launch day. But you'd also be one exhausted animé-styled puppy, and between you and me, it doesn't sound like a good idea. We'll conjure up our own Full Alchemic Review when Atelier Rorona ships for North American gamers in June 2010.