Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of Rorona's life.
Salutations, everyone! It's time for a history lesson with Prof. Josh (I wanted to go for the eminently cooler Dr. J, but I think that's been taken already). The real world art of alchemy had less to do with one-armed or suit-of-armor brothers (shocking, I know) and more with turning base metals into gold. There were other motivations, like the pursuit of wisdom and longevity, but mostly it was the gold thing.
[image1]Of course, as evidenced by the fact that the world today doesn't look like El Dorado, alchemy wasn't what you'd call a successful practice. But hey, they were just doing it wrong. Turns out that all you need to pull alchemy off is a big magic cauldron to toss all your ingredients into. Why, it's so easy, even a ditzy little girl can do it!
Case in point: Atelier Rorona's titular hero, Rorona, is drawn from the standard JRPG stock of characters. She's the slightly dumb, sunny-dispositioned, and “supremely unconfident in the face of simple menial tasks” brand of heroine. And yet she makes all kinds of things like a pro (she's especially good at making pies with the magic pot… and no, that's not a euphemism).
Rorona finds herself one day thrust into the unexpected position of workshop owner, because her alchemy master is kind of a bitch who just doesn't care enough to take care of the shop herself. There's no epic quest to save the world here; Atelier Rorona is an RPG in the vein of Harvest Moon, in which all you're really trying to do is get by in life and maybe have a little fun while you're at it.. Rorona is tasked by the kingdom to complete 12 assignments over a three-year period or face closure. Yes, you will play every single day of those three years over the course of the game.
The passing of time is central to the mechanics of, well, everything in the game. Making items, gathering materials, traveling, resting — everything you do will burn through that calendar. Since you have (on average) 90 days to complete each assignment, Rorona's daily life becomes a constant balancing act between making items through alchemy, exploring and battling for new materials, and running around completing quests.
[image2]At first it doesn't seem too difficult to complete your assignments within these time constraints, and truth be told it's not. What is difficult, however, is doing this alongside quests for the townspeople and your friends. You can beat the game by just finishing the main tasks, but there are multiple endings based on how well liked you are by everyone else. Don't let the cutesy candy-colored exterior fool you; this game is a real challenge if you want to do everything just right and will require very careful planning (along with a healthy dose of multiple save files).
When you venture out of town to gather materials you'll get into some pretty simple battles: the commands consist of attack, defend, items, and skills. The battles are clearly not the focal point of the game; they're more like a side activity to the item synthesis, which, come to think of it, is a pretty neat reversal from typical RPGs.
Your party is made up of Rorona and two others whom you hire for a fee. The price depends on your friendship level with the party members, which you can raise by doing quests for them. It really goes to show how literally everything in this game is interrelated in one way or another. And of course, the characters have the standard level of JRPG clichés with a touch of weirdness.
Most females in Atelier Rorona fall into one of two categories: royal bitch or overly shy and naïve. The males typically mean well but have a hard time expressing themselves clearly. Everyone seems to have some ambiguous designs on Rorona (I constantly scratched my head at the dialogue, wondering if a character wanted to get into her pants or just accidentally sounded that creepy). Of course, this is all slightly uncomfortable for the player given that Rorona looks like she's 12. Ah, Japan — the old standbys are still working for you, aren't they?
[image3]The game has vibrant, if not outstanding, cel-shaded graphics alongside detailed 2D portraits, much like the Tales series. The soundtrack is surprisingly enjoyable, varying from cheery town and shop music to a quirky, fun battle theme to downright weird fusions of traditional Japanese sounds with modern techno ones. The English voice acting is fairly decent for the genre, but that's sorta like saying your toy poodle doesn't look quite as divine as the one that just won best-in-show. And you have the option to change from English to Japanese voice-acting whenever you want, so it doesn't really matter anyway.
So after all is said and done, is this a good game? Tough question. Atelier Rorona has a pretty small target audience (at least in the US). If you like Harvest Moon, but like making stuff instead of farming it, this is your cup of tea. Gust didn't attempt to broaden the game's appeal to a wider audience, and I commend them for it. But that still makes it difficult to recommend to the general gaming populace. Still, one man's lump of lead might be another man's lump of gold.