Atelier Meruru ~The Apprentice of Arland~ DX (PS4) Review

Atelier Meruru ~The Apprentice of Arland~ DX was the third, and final, entry into the Arland series of Atelier games which we received in the new Atelier Arland Series Deluxe Pack. Once again, don’t expect anything major if you’ve already experienced it before on the PS3 or the PS Vita as it’s a higher resolution version of the ‘Plus’ edition which launched on the Vita back in 2013. However, what we do see, thankfully, is a lot of the same mechanics which Gust had implemented into the Atelier Rorona Plus edition – which made the whole experience more efficient and fun to play.

As this is the third game in the Arland series, I would be saying this is the final one, one which gives all of the characters we’ve met on our journey one final send-off – as they usually come in threes. However, with a new Alrand adventure coming later this year, we have another journey ahead of us! Personally, Atelier Meruru was the game I spent the longest time playing and the one I enjoyed the most due to certain mechanics and processes. So, let’s see what Gust did this time around as they drew me into a world I had trouble leaving…

Atelier Meruru 1

They also don’t have any clothes apparently…

Atelier Meruru‘s story starts mid-way through the plot in certain aspects, our protagonist, Merurulince Rede Arls (Meruru), is the princess of Arls. Arls is a small kingdom located to the far north of the Arland Republic, so far we don’t even see Arland in this game! Her father and Gio, the ruler of Arland, have been in negotiations in order to merge the two kingdoms so that Arls can finally become part of Arland. It’s at this point where Meruru meets Totori, who is now a competent alchemist, and enrols herself as her student in the art of alchemy at her atelier – whether Totori likes it or not!

However, just like the previous Arland games, we’re not just given an open-ended game to have fun in – we have a timer once again. This time, in order to please our father, as he is against us becoming an alchemist, we must use our skills we learn in order to raise the population of the small city to over 30,000 within a time limit of… Three years. Just like Atelier Totori, the way you go about this is a lot more relaxed than Atelier Rorona as you can do things as fast or slow as you wish, but if you don’t hit that figure, your father will stop you from continuing your hobby/passion. 

One of the reasons I enjoyed playing Atelier Meruru over the other two is simply due to the city building aspect – I love games that do this. As you grow as an alchemist and you complete more and more tasks, you can build new structures which both increase the population and grants you access to new items and equipment. I loved this concept in games like Assassins Creed and I still jump on any game which has this feature today. 

Atelier Meruru 2

Those clothes… Oh yeah, all of my alchemists have been in bikinis and night dresses!

Gameplay
Atelier Meruru is very similar to both Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori in terms of the core mechanics. The game consists of the same four core ‘gameplay’ aspects with an additional one to boot; it has a visual novel, alchemy, exploration, combat, and the kingdom building segments. Let’s take a look at each of these…

Visual novel: If you’re a regular on my site then you’ll know how I’ve become a big fan of visual novels throughout 2018. I’ve played, and loved, games such as Death MarkPunch Line, and The Midnight Sanctuary for their amazing story and interesting settings. Atelier Meruru has a lot of visual novel scenes within it – just like we’ve seen in most NIS games like The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2The Lost Child, and Labyrinth of Refrain.

These tend to trigger when you enter a certain location after a set time or you’ve completed something. The game is fully voiced in both Japanese and English (on the PS4) and the whole thing is really charming and the game is held together by the delightful, and funny, dialogue presented within these.

Alchemy: If you’ve played any of the more recent ‘Mysterious’ Atelier games, the alchemy is much simpler within Atelier Meruru. When in your atelier, just open up your menu, pick the item you wish to create (providing you know the recipe), choose which items you wish to use to create it, and boom – the item is created. Well, as long as you’re at or above the required level and you have enough MP – if not, you’ll probably create some trash!

I found that a lot of the recipe books in Atelier Meruru were unlocked by levelling up and progressing through the story and seeing the various cutscenes. You do get the odd one here and there via buying them, but the majority seems to be progress based. Also, Just like in Atelier Rorona, the synthesis screen has all of the required information at a glance, including your alchemy level! You can also, once again, press Triangle on a component you don’t have if you’re trying to make something, and it’ll take you to that items synthesis process if it’s a created item. 

I know I made a big fuss of this in my Atelier Totori review, but this simple mechanic makes synthesising so much easier! Another new feature is the ability to look at your requests in your atelier and if it’s a synthesis request, or you need a certain item, you can press Triangle whilst on the request page and instantly start the synthesis without looking it up separately. This process was dearly missed in the second game!

Atelier Meruru 3

Best. Enemy. Ever!

Exploration: Just like Atelier Totori, we’re given an actual map this time around, rather than icons which we saw in Atelier Rorona. Only this time, the map is huge! Seriously, as you continue to help people out and discover new locations, the map just continues to grow in all directions as you cross bogs, fields, wastelands, and mines. Unfortunately, the time mechanic is back once again in terms of losing time as you gather or engage in combat – this makes your three-year time limit go by quite fast if you’re out to gather items a lot.

Thankfully, as you progress you’ll begin to unlock shortcuts to various branches of the pathway – this helps immensely as a route which took 10-20 days to get to may only take four or five days as you can cut across a field instead. There’s also a wandering tree for you to fight which moves around every few weeks – I haven’t had the balls to face it yet though!

Combat: The combat style is almost identical to Atelier Rorona in terms of its UI and overall mechanics. It’s your standard JRPG turn-based combat system which your characters have a turn based on how fast they are. You can use items, attacks or skills to combat your foes or join together and perform a multi-attack if you have enough saved up action points. If you’ve played any Atelier game in the last ten years or so, you’ll be completely at home with the process.

Atelier Meruru 4

The monthly newspaper – The headline happened quite a few times…

Kingdom building: This is basically the core unique gameplay of Atelier Meruru, Rorona has tasks given to her, Totori had to pass her license tasks, Meruru has to please the townsfolk (something I did great in Atelier Rorona…) There are three steps to increasing the population and obtaining new skills and items in Atelier Meruru, first of all, you need to check your mail. That’s right, every now and again, the townsfolk will send you letters of requests to your mailbox outside your house – the more popular you become by completing tasks and interacting with people via cutscenes, the more letters you’ll receive. 

As the princess, you can read the letters but it isn’t clear what you have to do in order to satisfy your subjects. So, head over to Rufus, your royal butler/servant, and he’ll decipher just what it is you need to do. Basically, he turns letters of requests into actual quests/tasks for you to complete, such as ‘deliver X amount of Y’, ‘fend off X beast’, ‘explore all of X gathering points’, and ‘defeat all monsters in X so you can expand the kingdom’. These are your progression tasks within Atelier Meruru. As you complete them, you’re rewarded kingdom points – the harder or longer the task, the more points you’ll achieve.

Once you have points, talking to Rufus again allows you to spend the points on new buildings in the kingdom. You can create things such as a school which allows non-playing characters to still obtain experience, a warehouse to lower prices and bring in more stock, or even a new hero area which brings in more requests in the tavern and within this ‘kingdom building’ process. The more you build, the bigger your population and the closer you get to pleasing your father.

Atelier Meruru 5

A simple letter could be up to three tasks – Rufus will decipher these.

Keep everyone happy
Okay, if the above was all the mechanics in play, I’d be a very happy person. I love the city building, even though it’s rather simplistic, and the synthesis feels solid and much better than we saw in Atelier Totori. However, other than the strict three-year time limit, we also have another rather annoying thing to consider – the happiness of your citizens! In Atelier Rorona I blatantly ignored the townsfolk as I didn’t see their meter and I couldn’t care less about them – this resulted in me winning the game but going on to ‘live a boring life’ according to the end screen. In Atelier Meruru you HAVE to satisfy the residents otherwise it’s an early game over. 

That’s right, there’s a bar in the lower corner which constantly ticks down as the time goes by – so moving, exploring, fighting and synthesising will all lower your happiness meter. How do you fill it? You goto the pub and complete requests from the people, requests which only gains you happiness and not kingdom points! However, most of these are easy – kill a few enemies or deliver items which you’ll have tonnes of seems to be the popular ones. If you lose the support of your townsfolk then I imagine the game will come to an end – as it’s right in your face, I never risked it actually reaching zero though.

Once again, it’s not that hard to juggle this with your main tasks and the kingdom building though, as I actually managed to complete this game! Sort of… I completed the three years (I was 2,000 people under the goal but they let me pass), I was granted an extension of two years in order to continue building up the city for the merge with Arland, and I finished strong – or so I thought. Apparently, although I completed the game and everything went smooth, I didn’t make a big enough impact or spread my name across the kingdom enough. As such, we once again faded into obscurity as nobody knew who we were once the monarchy was abolished with the merger. I’m seriously spotting a theme with my playthroughs!

Atelier Meruru 6

The unlikely trio! And yes, Totori is my maid!

Everyone is here…
As I’ve mentioned in the previous reviews, Atelier Meruru is where all the characters re-emerge in order to help out the merger and ensure it goes through smoothly. Arland sends over its blacksmith, Pamela comes back, Rorona’s master makes an appearance, and even both the Hom’s and Chim’s are back! I’ve seen crossovers and gatherings in previous Atelier games, but this one seems to have everyone you’ve interacted with who has a name in the last three games – all of which are hireable as allies to join you in battle. 

Meruru is Totori’s apprentice, so she is here from the start, but what about Rorona… Well – the first time I saw Rorona in Atelier Meruru I didn’t know what to think! Let’s just say that both her and Astrid were involved in an alchemy accident which left them both looking visually and mentally different. It’s nice having them all back once more, but I still don’t know how I feel about what happened – especially when there doesn’t appear to be closure on ‘fixing’ them. Well, I say that but I got a bad ending, there are multiple ones to find so I imagine one will be the return of Rorona’s to her original status. 

Also, just like in Atelier Rorona, you’ll have access to two Hom’s as you progress throughout the story – they will gather and synthesise items for you as you do other things. These are a godsend and I wish I had put them to use sooner! They really help you out when fighting the short time limit. 

Atelier Meruru 7

Living or dead, I’m sure they’ll be happy! What a strange request.

Technical
As Atelier Meruru was technically the last game to be created (ignoring the ‘Plus’ versions), you can tell a lot of care went into the fine-tuning of the mechanics in order to deliver a much stronger and more accessible game than the previous games. Atelier Rorona did a great job with it’s Plus version as it added a lot of Atelier Meruru‘s mechanics, but Atelier Totori didn’t. Graphically, all three games look the same if I’m being honest – the increase to 1080p on the PS4 looks great considering they’re basically minimalistic remasters of the PS3 and PS Vita versions. As with my previous two reviews, I would say the visuals are on par with other PS3/Vita remasters we have seen such as Tokyo Xanadu eX+ and YS VIII.

The big disappointment, no PS4 Pro enhancements to enable higher resolutions or framerates. The framerate is fine, as it’s a turn-based combat game, but it would have been nice to get a bump in the resolution although if we’re playing with PS3 assets then the increase could look pretty bad I guess. 

Audio-wise, Atelier Meruru sounds amazing. The music is so delightful and charming, the voice acting is great (and in both English and Japanese), the overall sound effects are spot-on, and the entire game feels very ‘Gust-like’, which is as you’d expect. You can also re-assign literally every piece of music from your atelier background track to the music you hear in battle, these can all be set to one of the hundreds of tracks from the last 20 years of Atelier games! Gust never ceases to amaze and impress me with the quality of their work, this remastered port is no exception.

Atelier Meruru 8

Awww, both Hom and Chim living in harmony!

Personal Opinion
Atelier Meruru was probably my favourite game in the Arland trilogy. It had a subtle main story with one key component – build up your kingdom so that you can merge with Arland. However, branching off from that were countless side events, mini-stories, interactions with new and old allies, and a great sense of progression. That’s the main thing for me, I like progression and seeing the kingdom get built based on my actions was great. Sure, the previous games saw us complete tasks and obtain new licenses, which was pretty much the same thing, but this one just felt different and on a more grander scale. 

I’ve seen a lot of polarising reviews and opinions on this game on the internet, people not liking it due to the simple story and kingdom building mechanics, but I can’t agree with them. I’m a massive Koei Tecmo fan and I own pretty much everything Gust has put out this generation – Atelier Meruru easily sits up there as one of my favourite games I’ve played from them in the last five years. Sure, the world isn’t as colourful and beautiful as we saw in Atelier Lydie & Suelle, but I love the character and enemy designs, the very big branching map, the immersive cutscenes, and the vast number of characters you can recruit. The fact I actually managed to ‘win’ this game may also be pushing my opinion in the positive direction as well!

Out of the three games which are currently out in the Arland trilogy (the fourth one is out later this year), Atelier Meruru felt like the most accessible, the most relaxed (as it let me pass with less than the required amount of people), the most fun, and the most addictive. Once I started the game, a few days ago, I didn’t play anything else until I had seen the end credits – this meant I basically passed out at around 6 am for a few days as I totally lost track of time. All three games are great fun and I’m incredibly thankful Koei Tecmo has brought them to modern consoles, but if they only gave us one, I would have loved this one over the others (although Atelier Rorona is also a great game!)

PS3 Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Atelier Meruru ~The Apprentice of Arland~ DX was the most addictive and enjoyable game I played in the Arland trilogy. We have the same core mechanics we saw in Atelier Rorona yet there are a few small enhancements here and there which makes the game much more accessible and easier to pick up and play. I thoroughly enjoyed the kingdom building aspect, even though it was rather simple, as I enjoy games where I can see my progression and hard work in physical format. The timer is much more relaxed in this third title when looking in comparison to the others, this is a major plus in my opinion as I don’t like restrictive timers.

For a third time, the magic of Arland drew me in and captivated me into its addictive and entertaining story. Literally, every named character from the previous two games is here to lend a hand as you restore the kingdom to its former glory. I’m sad I’ve come to the end of my adventures (until I replay them), but considering the enjoyment I had in this title, I can’t wait for Atelier Lulua ~The Scion of Arland~, which is due out later this year!

A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Atelier Meruru ~The Apprentice of Arland~ DX

£32.99
9.5

Final Score

9.5/10

The Good:

  • - Great dual vocals and extensive soundtrack
  • - Fun, yet simplistic, story with an empahsis on building up a small kingdom
  • - The map is very big with lots of places to discover and explore
  • - Great mechanics which speed up synthesising and makes it more accessible to new gamers to the franchise
  • - The time limit is here but it's more relaxed and has wiggle room upon the deadline

The Bad:

  • - Some people don't like the kingdom building aspect supposedly (I liked it)
  • - The story is rather simplistic this time in terms of the main story, but there are lots of mini stories and cutscenes which occur
  • - Rorona's 'condition'...
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