Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland Review
Growing up as a social outcast in the god-forsaken 90s, I found myself quickly drawn into the world of Japanese animation, helping to brand myself as a mega-nerd for the rest of time. And though I now believe that the art form I once championed has since devolved into the realm of stunningly offensive mediocrity, there's still something about those wide-eyed teenagers and their neon-colored hair that calls to me.
This is why I'm able to enjoy Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland un-ironically, even though I am a grown-ass man who should quite frankly be repulsed by the adventures of magical fourteen-year-old girls. It's not that I claim to be some paragon of manliness, but it's obvious this shiny coloring book of a game is not intended for the Call of Duty boys club of which I am a card-carrying member. The point is that though it's definitely not a top tier game, Atelier Totori is quite a bit of fun, and quite frankly, about as adorable as a kitten circus.
Atelier Totori follows the adventures of its titular protagonist Tortori, a 14-year-old girl studying the rare art of alchemy: combining various items into strange new magical creations. The story follows her attempt to prove herself as an adventurer, along the way making friends, overcoming her fears, and attempting to discover the truth behind the disappearance of her adventurer mother.
The game itself is really quite simple, with the only apparent goal being to raise your adventurer rank by performing various tasks, either hunting down dangerous monsters; collecting alchemy materials to transmute into various items; or searching out special landmarks. Each area is small, usually about two screens wide, making it about a five-minute ordeal to clear the area of monsters and hit up each marked gathering spot in search of materials. At first I was put-off by the lack of any large dungeon areas, but by paring the game down to these small hot-spots, Atelier's keeps its repetitive tasks from feeling like chores.
Given how simple it is to fulfill quests, the only real constraint is learning to budget your time. Each action, whether traveling around the map; gathering materials; or even fighting a battle, expends a certain amount of time. Many quests are time specific, and failing to complete them in time results in lower-ranked quests being offered. Not to mention that the adventurers guild requires a certain level of progress every few years; stripping the license from lazy adventurers; and gamers hoping to avoid a truly bad ending (the game offers fourteen or so endings total) will need to bust their butt becoming a master alchemist.
The combat is simple, but gets the job done.
Obviously the most interesting aspect of the game is the alchemy system, and learning new recipes and seeking out high-powered materials is essential to making any progress. For starters, Totori is practically useless in combat (Try and find a video showing how she runs. It looks as if a stiff wind could snap her spine). So though it's fun to bop baddies on the head with her magic fairy wand, she's much more dangerous with an inventory full of powerful bomb concoctions, alongside healing potions and other useful tools. The item-crafting also offers some ridiculous levels of complexity, as each potential ingredient offers a stunning variety of rank-boosting traits. Use a certain type root and a usually-perishable item may gain a skill allowing it to last another month or so, use higher-ranked versions of common ingredients and your spiky bomb might gain something like the "cute" attribute, which improves how much it can be sold for.
Taking on an alchemy quest. The better the item you turn in, the better your reward.
Despite how well it's been put together, Atelier Totori's core gameplay isn't terribly complex, and though it can be addictive, if you stripped out the 3D graphics you could probably cram the whole thing into a pretty decent iPhone game. Thankfully, the game's polished storyline is what justifies the retail release. Atelier Totori is really just a visual novel tacked onto a competent item-collection simulator, with fun cutscenes and character skits triggering from such minor events as entering an area or returning to town.
Again, if you've no interest in watching a little girl make friends and comically blow up her workshop time and time again, then start running for the hills. But frankly I found the plot to be a lot of fun, the kind of lighthearted comedy I'd expect of a children's movie. The graphics are simple but polished, with most character interaction handled by beautifully drawn 2D portraits. Though the 3D exploration and town areas are often small and lacking in detail, they work just fine. More impressive are the wonderfully animated 3D character models, which all look as if they've jumped right off the page. But the feature that really sold me on the game was the fantastic voice cast, who really brought these fun characters to life, and I never even considered switching over to the included Japanese language track.
Really great artwork and voice acting make the numerous character skits fun to watch.
Again, Atelier Totori is definitely not a sprawling RPG adventure, but more an anime storybook with some simple and addictive gameplay to propel it along. My mind is not blown by any part of it, though there's few parts of the game lacking in polish, and the overall experience definitely appeals to myself and similar social rejects. In short, if you're a terrifying otaku with no sense of shame, definitely check Atelier Totori out! Or, you could consider the repulsive nature of your lolita fetish and strive to better yourself!