Atelier Lulua – The Scion of Arland: Switch Review
Ever since Atelier Ayesha, the best of the PS3 Atelier games, in my opinion, the series has been on a bit of a downward spiral. The removal of the time limit to complete the game took away one of the series more interesting and unique aspects (I am aware I'm in the minority on this it seems), the crafting systems haven't been as interesting and engaging, the games started feeling easier, and overall the story and characters were never as engaging. With a return to the Arland games, the trilogy that kicked of the PS3 generation of Atelier, I figured I”d jump back in after having missed the last few games.
And sure enough, Atelier Lulua has actually gotten my interest in the series going again. It really was everything it probably should have been as a return to the Arland game with all the returning faces, the crafting system more resembling what it was in that series and all the other things that made that trilogy of games unique. Well, outside of the time restraints, the game still doesn't go back to that and lets you take as much time as you want.
You follow around Rorona's Daughter as she is learning to become an Alchemist, though she has no natural talent at it as, overall, kind of sucks. This starts to change when she gets a mysterious book she calls Alchemriddle, which seems to always have an answer for her when she doesn't know how to proceed. As a result, her skills as an alchemist seem to begin to grow rapidly. It's a bit of a shame it was to easy to guess who sent her this book, I pretty much pegged it from the beginning of the game, but it ends up being interesting all the same.
Now it's not perfect, and there are problems that drag the game down a fair bit in terms of the narrative. The big one is that the main story ends up revolving around a character you meat named Stia, who has been sealed inside of some ancient ruins outside of town. A lot of the plot requires you to care about her in order to be invested, but she ends up being one of the least interesting characters in the game which makes the main conflict a bit hard to get behind.
And while we're at it, the cast is good overall but isn't really the strongest of the series either. It has a bit more to do with what could have been though. This is mostly pointed at Ficus, who I can't even point to or hint at why he frustrates me so without a huge spoiler for his own character story. It ended with me just having more questions than anything else about how he ended up the way he did, and the lack of any real answers just leaves me frustrated. The short version is I feel his story could have been a game in and of itself.
Beyond that most of the game you aren't specifically working towards one goal, but a variety of goals that come and go as the story progresses, even if the end result is to resolve the plot of Stia. Nothing new for the series, but the individual plot threads to stay pretty enjoyable. Overall it's a very relaxing and charming story, though it can be a bit diabetes inducing at times. The sweet and charming nature of the story and characters aren't going to be for everyone.
As far as the game's mechanics go, it's a return to the old Alchemy system of Arland as mentioned before, with its own share of twists. Not only are you now needing to watch the elemental properties and inheritable traits of the materials you are crafting with, but awakened effects and synthesis effects. Certain items, if crafted properly, may be used to enhance synthesis with effects such as 'Quantity +1' meaning if this item is used to synthesize has a limited number of uses, it goes up by one. For items that don't have four inherent effects, the extra slots are filled in by 'awakened' effects, which vary based purely on the item. There are so many different ways to create the same item it's incredible. Even going back and remaking items with better materials found later in the game can yield you far more powerful gear. Atelier has always been known for its amazing crafting systems, and this is no exception with how it builds on the original Arland games.
What you need to know though is Crafting is the main focus of the game. You will be sitting down and plotting out your crafts more then anything else you will be doing in this game, so if you don't like to craft you will hate this game. Don't expect to skimp on alchemy in favor of just grinding levels, because your gear overall has more impact on combat then your character levels do.
The combat is pretty straight forward turn-based RPG stuff and is nothing you haven't seen before. The big thing is being able to use your alchemy items in battle and due to the versatile nature of the crafting, you have an incredible amount of options for approaching battles in this game. The other thing the game does that's interesting is inherent bonus's granted depending on who is in your active battle party. For example, you eventually get Rorona in your party, and there is a Mother and Daughter bonus if both her and Lulua are in the battle party, any stat buffs that effect one effect the other.
And the combat is pretty easy for the majority of the game, with a ridiculous spike near games end. I loved that the game did finally give me a challenge since even on Hard difficulty the game was pretty easy, but I never liked when it comes out of nowhere like this, especially so late in the game. It's nothing absurd, but it's definitely enough to keep you on your toes, even if the difficulty could have been paced out a bit better.
Something I do wish these games would drop is the carry limit and travel limits. These all made sense when you were under a time crunch to complete the game, as they became aspects of time management to take into account for planning your actions going forward. Without the time constraints, does it matter it takes X amount of time to travel to the forest? Or that you have an inventory limit when you can just run back to town and drop it all off and travel back out? With I time constraint just mindlessly stocking up meant that trip back to town was eating into a valuable resource, without the time constraint it just turns it into pointless busywork. Something I would praise in the original trilogy becomes a nuisance here. I couldn't really find this happening to other people while searching the topic, so I don't think it's a common occurrence at all, but save as frequently as possible.
Another thing to note, and why this review took me a while, is about four different times the game crashed on me. Over a 80 hour run time that isnt' to many, but each time I lost a few hours. The last time I had to step back from playing the game for a couple days since it had irritated me so much that I would have just been angry playing it more.
The final big thing is if you didn't play the original Arland games, you are going to miss out on a lot of things the story here has to offer, but there is enough here to warrant the play on its own, just know you'll be missing out on quite a bit of context that would otherwise add to the experience. If possible I”d say play the other games first, but that would be three really long RPG's to have to make it through. But as a game for long time Atelier fans, it's definitely a good purchase, anyone else I'd say it's a good entry into the series, just go in with some tempered expectations.