Title: Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice of Arland
Release Date: September 3, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Tecmo Koei (Gust)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, and Use of Alcohol
Much ado is made about the number of ports the Vita is seeing. Yet, when a port comes out as good as, say, Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice of Arland, it’s difficult to complain. It’s a perfect transition from the PS3 to the Vita, adding a number of bonus features, like new areas, gameplay tweaks, character costumes and previously DLC characters included for free. Another solid, JRPG is always something to celebrate, and Atelier Meruru Plus is a game to pick up.
The alchemical princess
Meruru is princess of the Kingdom of Arls. That should be quite an accomplishment, but it really isn’t that big a deal. That’s because in five years, Arls is going to become part of the Arland Republic. It’s hard to be excited about being a princess when the status is only temporary, and she’ll never really get to be a queen.
Fortunately, Meruru isn’t letting that get her down. She has another dream she wishes to pursue. Totori, from Atelier Totori Plus, came to Arls to work alchemy and Meruru has decided to become her apprentice. She wants to become a full fledged alchemist as well, wandering the world and helping people. Her father doesn’t exactly approve, but they come to an agreement.
Atelier Meruru Plus starts with Meruru getting a three year deadline. If she can get 15,000 people to settle in Arls by improving the kingdom through alchemy, she can continue learning with Totori and become an alchemist. If she fails, then it’s game over. Fortunately, she has her teacher and her friends to help her face this challenge.
Portable Meruru works well
Like all Atelier games, Atelier Meruru Plus is split into two parts. Half of a player’s time will be performing alchemy, fusing items to meet requests or helping to improve the Kingdom of Arls by building the appropriate facilities. This means taking items found from the gathering portions, following recipes and delivering them on time. While it sounds time consuming, this is actually only accounts for about 20% of the game, and doesn’t take up much of Meruru’s deadline to improve Arls. The majority of time is spent gathering.
Gathering involves going out into the field. Time is spent traveling to a location. Meruru then enters it, and can either collect alchemical materials from gathering points or battle enemies. Gathering involves pressing a button a spot and choosing which materials to bring home. Battling is a turn-based affair, with Meruru and two of her companions fighting against a group of enemies. All alchemist characters, which means Meruru, Totori and Rorona, are capable of using weapons or items. All other characters can use standard attacks or special skills, and often have some kind of ranged attack that hits more than one enemy at a time. Beating enemies grants experience points, as well as an item that can be usually used in a recipe.
I’ve played Atelier Meruru before, and since Atelier Meruru Plus is mostly a direct port, everything said before holds true. Atelier Meruru Plus is the best, most well-rounded installment in the Arland trilogy of games. Meruru still acquires most of the story-centric recipes as part of a mission, missions are easy to see in her journal, and thanks to special accessories and items, it’s easy to efficiently work towards making Arls big and beautiful. The pacing works well, and I never felt rushed or stressed as I sent Meruru off to accomplish goals. Most importantly, it was fairly easy to create new equipment for Meruru’s companions, which meant it was easier to explore high-level areas in Atelier Meruru Plus than it was in other installments. Not to mention, it looks just as good on the Vita as it did on the PS3.
It’s the adjustments made to Atelier Meruru Plus that make this version of the game shine. I thought the original game was nearly perfect as-is, but Gust has managed to make the port even better. It isn’t just the addition of new areas and costumes, and the inclusion of the PS3 DLC characters. It’s the little things. For example, you can register accessories with vendors. It’s slightly easier to build some facilities. I found it easier to get better items, and it seemed like there wasn’t as steep a difficulty hike when it came to fighting battles against enemies. My party seemed more capable at lower levels than it did before.
All that being said, Atelier Meruru Plus still possesses the same faults as the original Atelier Meruru. Mainly, that this is a two playthrough game. The best ending is only going to be seen in a New Game+ runthrough, and most of the first playthrough is spent accumulating the best weapons and a large cache of cash. That, and some of the English voice acting is a tad grating, but players can switch over to the Japanese voice acting at any time, or even turn the voice acting off, so that’s hardly a problem. No, it’s more about knowing that, as wonderful as this game is and as good as you’re doing, you’re only going to be the best Meruru you can be on the second or third run through the game.
Atelier Meruru Plus makes magic on the Vita
I’ve always believed the Atelier games work best on the go, as they’re the kind of games that can be played for any duration and have the unique ability to borrow under your skin, making you want to play at all hours. Just five more minutes. Just ten more minutes. Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice of Arland is a perfect portable game for JRPG lovers. The steady pace and constant delivery of new quests and alchemy recipes will keep players continually coming back for fifteen more minutes so they can get those last few ingredients, level up one more time, make that item or build that facility. It’s addictive, to be sure, and adds another solid and well executed port to the Vita game library.
Site [Tecmo Koei]