Atelier Rorona Plus Review: I’m excited about cabbages
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What was once “Baby’s First Sid Meier’s” quickly becomes a multi-faceted web all its own, deepened further by late-game items and mechanics that overhaul much of the game. Wholesale, for example, allows you to register and purchase multiples of an item you’ve created, obviating synthesis grinding by making high quality basics readily available, provided you’ve got the Cole. Much the same is true of Gardening, which allows you to breed unique plants bearing fruit with otherwise unobtainable traits.
This may sound overwhelming—and at times, it is—but Rorona Plus knows its pacing. In keeping with the game’s modus operandi, new features are divvied up. The start of each chapter brings new tasks and tools, preventing information overload while giving the player something to look forward to.
The same philosophy is applied to the narrative, a loose but entertaining batch of character relations. It is neither tear-jerking nor disheartening, but it will get you laughing. Hom the terminally out-out-touch homunculus and Esty the demanding knight, in particular, consistently put a stupid grin on my face. On the whole, it’s Rorona’s three-year journey of maturity, throughout which she finally gets a handle on her self-esteem. As a character, she plays the flustered card one too many times, but as a main character, she’s a treat to watch.
My personal favorite, Homhom, and her partner Little Meow. Shut up, it's cute. (image via Zerochan)
The characters in your party affect the dialogue you view, as do the selections made when multiple conversations are available—not what is said in conversation, but when deciding who to speak to. The detailed character art of these conversations places the cast in its most flattering light, with this version’s new 3D models close behind. Contrastingly, character voices, particularly those of the male cast, can’t keep up artistically, ranging from whiny schoolboy to overly gruff curmudgeon, though a few stand out as well spoken.
Let’s be clear: Atelier Rorona Plus is a PS3 and PS Vita rerelease of the 2010 original. This is a game that was designed from the ground up to improve upon a product, and in several gameplay aspects it absolutely does. However, the fact remains that it is a second attempt. Yet it is still, still riddled with technical and optimization oversights for which there are no excuse.
The gathering areas of Rorona Plus sit awkwardly between 2.5 and 3D. Sometimes this isn’t much of a problem; paths, enemies and resources are generally obvious enough. A brow goes up, however, when you’re punished for not noticing the umpteenth hidden path that you are, unbeknownst to the visible spectrum, able to traverse. Not being able to rotate your viewpoint also hides enemies and items behind the foreground, leaving you with the ugly option to run in what you think is left. This is compounded by the fact that the terrain itself lacks the shading necessary to properly distinguish depth, at some angles leaving a terraced hillside with all the detail of a chalkboard.
I could continue bemoaning the many hurdles the game crashes headlong into. So I will. Enemies have terrible AI and love to run aimlessly about in bizarre patterns. Combat is subjected to heavy screen-tearing during intense animations, pile-driving the game into the single digits of frame rate. Likewise, there are noticeable pauses during certain situations—the situation being such unlikely events as opening your inventory—which can make the game flow like a revolving door with a wrench in it. Fortunately, this is not a constant occurrence. A much more frequent but equally damnable problem would be recolored and pasted enemies, a transparent attempt to spread the game’s dozen enemy models across many locales.
Speaking of transparent: Meet Tiffani, the most important shop owner in Arland. (image via Twinfinite)
However, the uncontested pinnacle of failings is a near game-ending freeze point which has risen to notoriety across multiple versions of the game. I was one of the lucky ones able to move past the glitch due to blind luck, a reinstallation, mind-numbing retries and a bit of blind fiddling, but it’s no secret many playthroughs came to a grinding halt due to the still uncorrected issue.
That all of these problems remain even in the second release of Rorona is appalling. I was genuinely surprised to see a debugging team in the credits. A walking glitch here or frame rate dip there is hardly game-breaking, but with quantity rivaling that of its synthesis options, Rorona Plus takes technicality too far.
Ironically, Atelier Rorona Plus could be better, plain and simple. The core gameplay is incredibly compelling, with an amusing narrative to match, but every last aspect is diluted by QA blunders. For all her charms, fans of Disgaea or Shin Megami Tensei will almost certainly be disappointed if they come to Rorona seeking the same complexity or difficulty. With that said, for an ostensibly casual JRPG, Rorona Plus is deceptively addicting and tense, and delivers enough variables to get even genre veterans scratching their head.
If nothing else, take this away from this review: I became so incredibly attached to my alchemical status that, upon receiving several dozen top-tier cabbages as a reward, I was genuinely excited—a fact I found so embarrassingly funny I had no choice but to admit it in the title.