What if I told you not every JRPG had to tell the story of a young hero chosen by destiny to save the world from evil? Or that a JRPG is allowed to tell a much smaller and personal story with characters you don’t have to take seriously?
Welcome to Atelier Rorona Plus! A refreshingly light and upbeat JRPG following the exploits of the alchemist Rorona. As the name implies, this is a remastering of the original Atelier Rorona and vastly improves the visuals, upgrades the crafting system and adds new playable characters to the roster. But how does the game hold up?
Mixing it up
Atelier Rorona Plus is an interesting JRPG as it bucks many trends of the genre. As mentioned above, it forgoes an epic tale for a much simpler goal. Rorona is an apprentice in the local alchemy store which is on the verge of being shut down. However the King is kind enough to give the shop a chance to prove it’s actually an asset to the kingdom and Rorona has 3 years to turn the business around.
It’s here where our adventure begins. Rorona will receive an assignment roughly every three month, meaning a total of twelve assignments to complete for the kingdom before the game ends. These will include using alchemy to craft weaponry, healing items and food, or hunting troublesome monsters in nearby areas.
You can also unlock extra rewards by completing additional objectives and side quests. The various side quests are mostly alchemy related and increase you reputation around town and affinity with certain residents, resulting in better opportunities to make money and discounts from the stores or when hiring help.
The assignment structure of the narrative is quite refreshing because while the goals will remain static over the course of the three month period, how you use your time is completely up to you. You can focus exclusively on completing the assignments to get a great rating, or focus on side quests to improve your affinity with the town and get monetary rewards.
Given that the ending of the game is influenced by how well assignments are completed and your relationship with the town, it means your decisions have a lot of weight and you’ll soon find yourself carefully thinking about how to allocate your time.
Everything that Rorona does in the game will deplete precious time you need to complete assignments. Crafting anything with alchemy, healing yourself with sleep and exploring dungeons for ingredients eat away the limited amount of days you have. By doing this, Atelier Rorona Plus dispenses with the combat focus of most JRPGs in favour of time and resource management, not unlike what you might experience in Harvest Moon.
Atelier Rorona Plus has gorgeous character design. Every single non-NPC character Rorona interacts with has a highly detailed anime style. The girls tend to wear very pretty dresses with cute accessories and frills while the boys wear very sharp uniforms that would make anybody swoon.
The characters themselves are quite entertaining to watch. As mentioned earlier, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously so the people tend to be more fun, making jokes at each other’s expense. They do tend to fill a lot of tropes familiar to any anime fan and may turn off some players. For example, Rorona is the naïve and sometimes stupid lead character who is kind and earnest to a fault.
There are many more characters but clichéd or not, I found the cast enjoyable enough to continue playing the game to see what new people I would get to meet and what dynamics they would add to the ensemble.
The voice acting is quite good and all the actors project whatever emotion their characters have quite well, which helped absorb me into Rorona’s story. The soundtrack conveys the games lighter tone effectively. The town themes are warm and relaxing to listen to as you explore the city or craft in Rorona’s workshop. However the battle music is terrible, but this is forgivable since you will be spending minimal amounts of time in combat.
While the dungeons are varied as you explore forests, caves, tombs and lakes, the designs are quite bland and boring with mostly linear paths and simplistic detail. Luckily they also have branching paths and hidden areas to help break up the monotony as you will be revisiting most areas multiple times.
Of course, as you might expect from a game about an alchemist, Atelier Rorona Plus has quite a sophisticated crafting system that stands out. As the game progresses, you will collect recipes that will yield a huge variety of items. You can craft: weaponry and offensive items such as bombs to assist you in battle; healing items to keep your characters in tip top shape; accessories and armour to customise your characters; or even key ingredients used to make other items.
There is a lot of room to experiment with alchemy as well since the ingredients you use will affect the quality of the items, increasing or decreasing their selling price and effectiveness. Most ingredients will carry positive and negative traits which will also affect the usefulness of the things you make, boosting attack power or reducing durability.
Though the alchemy is quite absorbing, you will largely ignore the intricacies early in the game as enemies are quite easy to dispatch and no strategy is needed to defeat them. However, as you progress and the monsters become more sophisticated and assignment requirements become more demanding, the importance of the traits and qualities of your healing and offensive items will become apparent.
This works in the games favour as the alchemy system can seem daunting at first. But by easing players into it with simple tasks they can slowly learn the complexities.
Overall Verdict 8/10
Atelier Rorona Plus is a refreshing JRPG which eases players into its deep item crafting system before steadily increasing the difficulty. Its assignment structure to the narrative gives players a good degree of freedom as you interact with beautifully designed characters. It is only let down by clichéd character traits and bland dungeon design.
Keep in mind this game has niche appeal, so only anime lovers or fans of JRPGs looking for something different should buy this game. Anyone who has played Recettear: An Item Shops Tale should check this game out, as well as fans of Harvest Moon or similar games.