Review: Atelier Lulua is the epitome of efficiency
Different installments in Gust’s Atelier series can find themselves known for different things. Atelier Firis was about getting more places to go. Atelier Sophie tries to make us realize why each recipe mattered. With Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, it can feel like the theme is efficiency. That extends to alchemy, exploring a world, telling a story and offering an epilogue to one of the better known Atelier trilogies.
Ten years after the debut of Atelier Rorona, an installment that brought the series to the PlayStation 3 and introduced a new pattern of releases and progression, her daughter Elmerulia Frixell is about to make her own splash in the world of alchemy. What happens when a legendary alchemist has a daughter? A daughter who seems to have been left to her own devices for most of her life, to the point that her teacher is actually the student of Rorona’s apprentice, Totori, might I add. Well, she finds herself waiting for the day her mother might come home, trying to make her proud in her absence and hoping to not tarnish her reputation.
Atelier Lulua begins as most entries do, with a young woman who has the desire to learn, but not necessarily all the skills necessary to actually succeed.
Atelier Lulua begins as most entries do, with a young woman who has the desire to learn, but not necessarily all the skills necessary to actually succeed. Fortunately for Lulua, a number of events converge to give her the opportunity to forge her own legend. One is the presence of her teacher, Piana. (People may recognize her from Atelier Totori.) The other is her mother’s absence, since it provides the impetus to get out of the small town of Arklys. But, most important of all is the Alchemyriddle, a mysterious text that fell out of the sky onto Lulua’s head, can only be read by her and seems to develop new potential recipes whenever major plot points occur. It’s all very convenient.
Convenience is a selling point here; the general progression of Atelier Lulua isn’t all that dissimilar from games like the original Atelier Rorona, but a lot has been done to give people the chance to get exactly what they want out of the adventure. When a chapter begins, Lulua will find herself with a new challenge to overcome. Maybe it is learning to create a recipe and provide a client with the project they want. It could involve traveling to a familiar location to renew a license. Actually completing that goal will involve specific items that need to be created. To get that, you need to head to different locations on the map, gather materials by either picking them from spots or fighting monsters, make some money from completing more general requests and complete actions to earn keywords for the Alchemyriddle. Once the two keywords have been found by doing or creating the right things, you can decipher the page, get the chapter’s major recipes, and advance the story.
All of the basic actions have been handled in a way that makes them simple to complete. Before you visit an area, you can check and see which items or monsters lurk within. There are no time limits, though time does pass and there are day/night and weather cycles. When you fight enemies, you have turn-based battles with three active members, two supporters, possible special effects and opportunities for alchemist characters to interrupt and perform their turn sooner to better best beasties. When you’re done in an area, you can press a button at any time to return to the World Map. Arriving in a town instantly takes you to the Wagon Atelier, so you can drop off all the items acquired. Bringing up the fast travel screen in a town has stars next to locations with events to see. Visiting the signpost outside the Wagon Atelier in a town lets you fast travel to a different town. Recipes at the atelier immediately offer a multiple option, and forging something for the first time typically gives you more than one of an item. All of these things are time savers.
The Alchemyriddle can be one of the biggest time savers of all. There are two ways to get new alchemy recipes in Atelier Lulua. One involves visiting certain shops in towns to buy books, which only cost a few hundred in-game dollars, to immediately get some fundamental building block recipes. The other is the Alchemyriddle, which has recipes divided into essential and unessential categories. The ones that are story specific are pretty much impossible to avoid acquiring. It will happen. The others vary between "you should really take the time to learn them" and "yeah, you can skip these." Each one has its benefits, as they can provide new exploration opportunities or make it possible for characters to do better in battles. As long as you make an attempt to visit each location, acquire every kind of ingredient, fight every monster and talk to every NPC at least once, you should unintentionally end up acquiring a good number of them. However, there are a few which act as a fun motivation to keep on exploring.
Convenience is a selling point here; the general progression of Atelier Lulua isn’t all that dissimilar from games like the original Atelier Rorona, but a lot has been done to give people the chance to get exactly what they want out of the adventure.
Atelier Lulua wouldn’t be an Atelier game if there weren’t a few minor fumbles. The day/night and weather cycles can be a bit frustrating. If it is night time or raining, your field of vision decreases. This makes it more difficult to find gathering points or see enemies. The camera can sometimes be a bit finicky in small spaces, offering an occasional extreme close-up of some of the scenery. Some areas seem to have more space than actual points of interest, and it is definitely to your advantage to use the fast travel option in town to get to places you need to go, rather than running through multiple screens to reach objectives.
It also wouldn’t be an Atelier game without fanservice. In this installment, there are two kinds. One involves the usual "ship teasing." There are multiple endings possible, with certain characters pairing up together. Lulua has heartfelt moments with characters like Eva and Aurel, for example. There is nothing racy here, as these moments tend to be of a more wholesome sort. The other kind, the one people who have followed the series for years might want, involves all kinds of callbacks. As an epilogue to the Arland trilogy, everyone is here. Piano, who was an NPC in Atelier Totori, is a major alchemist of her own. When Lulua arrives in Arland, she comes across Lionela. This Atelier Rorona party member is still a performer and has become a prominent business owner. It is the sort of game where there are all sorts of winks and nods.
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is the sort of game you end up enjoying more than you expect. The game lets you get as involved as you want. It ties up loose ends from the Arland trilogy that you didn’t know were there. There’s a huge area to explore and plenty of opportunities to create things. People also get all of the references to past games they could want and memorable moments between Lulua and both old and new friends. It’s a pleasant adventure.
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