Atelier Rorona is one of the weirdest games ever made. Just by looking at the box one can assume that they are in for a cute and delicious RPG with cel shaded characters and environments that shine with artistic flair and anime eye-candy. The good news is that the assumption would be correct. The bad news is that poorly designed gameplay mechanics and the biggest clock of doom since Majora’s Mask are likely to alienate anyone who might have enjoyed the game, and no amount of depraved storyline themes or busty anime girls are going to be enough to save it.
Players assume the role of the “titular” Rorona, a young alchemy apprentice that nobody in the kingdom can seem to control themselves around. Rorona seems to be the object of everyone’s affections, including the king himself. As our story opens, the king has decided that Rorona’s master is not in favor and will have his shop closed down permanently unless Rorona can elevate its status through crafting. In typical RPG fashion, our underskilled and underprepared hero embarks on an impossible journey… or twelve.
The storyline as a whole is solid and entertaining. There are, however, several themes and situations running through the plot threads that will make you either scratch your head in confusion or discard the game entirely, depending on how easily offended you are. Alcohol abuse, sexual predators and horse manure all show up in key themes throughout the title. Yes, the “huh?” factor in AR is way high.
The main challenge in the game is to complete twelve missions for the king using your alchemical skills in order to keep your master’s shop open. Players traverse the land with their merry band, gathering ingredients for recipes and then using said concoctions to create all kinds of things including new equipment for the party. Combat is of the old-school turn-based variety, and, quite frankly, could have been a lot more challenging. The same monsters are seen over and over again, with only a different color to discern them from the last group you faced. The problem with the whole title’s execution is twofold: one, each mission is rigidly timed to a set number of days (which seems completely against the grain of every other RPG out there, where leveling up your character takes hours and hours) and two, the whole process is extremely boring. Yes, Atelier Rorona commits the sin of all sins for RPG gameplay… it’s dull.
The sound effects are strictly nominal and the music can be screechy at times. The voiceovers of the characters are cute at first, but about three hours into the game become extremely irritating. Thankfully, there is an option to turn them off. Rorona’s plight becomes less and less compelling as the hours go by, but many players may find something in the story they enjoy.
Players can expect a solid twenty-hour experience with AR, if they can get past the game’s plodding pace and actually enjoy what amounts to a decent story. There are many side quests to take part in, but most players are going to find themselves too preoccupied with the time limit hanging over their head to actually enjoy them. There are multiple endings to the game, but considering that getting through it once is a great enough accomplishment and the endings don’t offer much in the way of victory eye-candy, owners of the game may not be very compelled to play it from start to finish a second or third time. Even the “new-game-plus” feature falls short, as it only seems to retain your cash and item list.
Atelier Rorona is one of those games that manage a level of quality right between good and bad. Yes, it has most of what players will expect from it, but it also contains a litany of fun-killing design choices that make it extremely difficult to recommend. The fact that it seems to revel in this mediocrity when it could have delivered so much more is a tough point to overcome, and although it had been said before in many ways about many titles, only fans of the genre need apply.