The direct sequel of my GoTY 2011 is finally here! I eagerly spent 50h on it during 12 days and here it is : Atelier Meruru totally lives up to the already fantastic Atelier Totori and even surpasses it because everything, from alchemy to battles, has been refined to perfection.
The only critic I could voice is that the background modeling is still really poor, and the various environments actually looked better in Totori. On the other hand, the characters’ 3D models have further improved, looking especially fine during battles.
The alchemy system is back with little improvements here and there likes shortcuts, warnings and, thank God, a container up to 1’999 items. Synthesis is therefore quicker and more pleasant than ever, but also because the progression system, a mix of the previous episodes, features assignments like in Rorona as well as challenges inspired by Totori. The return of the delivery assignment system makes Meruru more alchemy-centric than Totori, which was much more about exploration. As Princess Meruru, you’ll have to develop the kingdom of Arls by making its population increase. To do that, you will use alchemy of course, but also build new facilities and pioneer new lands. This Sim City-like approach is really interesting and gives a 3rd and new approach to the series. In addition to your population and popularity index, you have to take into account additional parameters : time, money, quantity, quality and your companions’ friend level. Atelier Meruru is in fact an amazing management/reflexion game as much as an JRPG, which will melt your brain as soon as you have to deliver items made from items themselves made from others items etc. Requests are back but have been scaled back and dramatically simplified by removing the deadlines, and I kind of miss them because it was part of the fun of the game imho.
But the domain in which Meruru shows spectacular improvement is battle. Still quite difficult, those ones mustn’t be taken lightly and you’ll have to carefully plan your strategy and prepare your equipments/items every time you sortie. Boss fights are extremely brutal, and it’s not uncommon to spend hours synthesizing adequate equipment before facing the most powerful opponents. Victory begins at your workshop before you can secure it on the battlefield. As your progress in the story, you’ll find increasingly rare materials with increasingly effective skills : keeping up with the adversity is a constant process of tries and failures in making the perfect gear. The array of possibilities is so enormous that it makes the battle system highly strategic and complex. Atelier Meruru nevertheless feels more accessible than Totori or Rorona, in which it was difficult to progress in the story and in the characters’ development in the same (limited) timeframe. Battles have also been made considerably more dynamic and impressive, thanks to refined graphics and awesome music. With all those improvements and the huge challenge involved, the most prominent fights made me shiver of pleasure.
The story feels a bit mundane after an emotion-packed Totori, but that’s more than compensated by the more-awesome-than-ever character design. The new looks for Gino, Totori, Gio, Esty are terrific and Mimi is just… (faints). That said, I still think Sterk was better in Totori, and the level/map design is not as good as before also.
Those little regrets here and there are nothing compared to the enjoyment I had playing this latest entry in the series. True pinnacle of the Arland trilogy, not only is Atelier Meruru my favorite game this year, it’s also one of the best games ever created.