A Step in the Right Direction
I’ve been very upfront about how big of an Atelier fan I am for quite some time. Beginning with Atelier Iris (the first in the series to hit the US) and following it up until this very point, the Atelier series is one which I’ve been following for a good portion of my life. This closeness has turned me into the kind of fan that’s always excited to talk about the series with friends and jump for joy whenever a new title is announced, but it’s also turned me into one who feels confident speaking up (as far as reviews go, anyway) when I see something that I don’t like so much. And the Mysterious trilogy — the most recent Atelier trilogy to end — was something that I ended up not being wild over. It wasn’t bad, but there was something about it that, in addition to being ridiculously saccharine, felt stale. I was ready for something different. Something new. And then, I got Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland.
Technically speaking, Atelier Lulua is something different and new. It’s a Part 4 to the the Arland trilogy — a trilogy that ended almost a decade ago. Now, normally I would be all for this. The Arland games were great, and I would have eagerly accepted a fourth game after Meruru. But that was back in 2012. The series was in a different place — a place much less dedicated to metaphorical frills and cheesecake, and much more so to English dubs. I was worried that Lulua would feel the effects of coming straight after the Mysterious trilogy, and I ended up being right — but only partially so. While Atelier Lulua still feels very much like a contemporary Atelier game, it’s obvious that GUST is trying to take things in a different direction — and it’s that desire to do so which ultimately won me over.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Atelier Lulua follows the journey of one Lulua Frixell, a young alchemist-in-training, and daughter of the esteemed alchemist Rorona Frixell. Being Rorona’s daughter, you might think that Lulua would take after her mother in terms of talent with alchemy. And you be right! Lulua is just as bad with alchemy in this game as Rorona was in the beginning of hers. But that isn’t destined to last. While running errands in her hometown of Arklys one day, Lulua is literally struck with inspiration when a mysterious (no, not that kind of Mysterious) book materializes and falls on top of her head. Simply titled “Alchemyriddle”, the book begins to feed Lulua a steady supply of alchemy related knowledge and always seems to come up with specific recipes right when Lulua needs them. But just what is Alchemyriddle? And why are its abilities so convenient? It’s these questions and more (and the fact that her mom forgot to renew her Atelier license) which ultimately drive Lulua to begin traveling around Arland, thus setting off a chain of events which would ultimately lead to untold growth and self-discovery.
When it comes to narrative assets, Atelier Lulua‘s greatest one is the fact that it has three games, and an entire world, to build upon. Being the literal scion of Arland (hence the sub-title), and not having any kind of time restriction placed upon her, Lulua’s journey is one which allows her to grow based upon the past experiences of all three of Arland’s greatest alchemists, not to mention her teacher, work together nicely to help guide the game’s narrative — as well as Lulua herself — along nicely. The focus on older characters does mean that some of Atelier Lulua‘s newer party members don’t get as much time to shine as I feel that they should have, but this compensation isn’t so overbearing that it erases their existence completely — and, on the plus side, it also helps to balance out some of the Mysterious-esque cutesy-ness that worked its way into the newer parts of the game’s narrative.
Unfortunately, I also couldn’t help but feel as though the relationship between Lulua and Rorona was somewhat weak. Or, at the very least, it was weaker than I would have liked. By placing an emphasis on Lulua being the daughter of a previous Atelier protagonist — a first for the series — Atelier Lulua had the opportunity to create a type of character bond that hasn’t been explored within the series before. Instead of Lulua and Rorona feeling like a loving mother-daughter couple, however, we got something more akin to the student-master relationships that are already very present (and for good reason, of course) within the series. A student-master relationship that feels more familial than most, mind you, but a student-master relationship nonetheless. I have my theories as to why this may be, with… erm… “emotional accessibility” for a specific demographic of players in regard to Rorona being at the forefront (especially since I know what I know about the game’s story), but I’ll leave it at that in this review.
This Land is Your Land, this Land is Arland
When looking at the sum total of Atelier games, Atelier Lulua‘s core gameplay doesn’t offer anything that causes it to stick out among its peers. That changes, however, when viewing it purely as a part of the Arland trilogy. Rather than slapping a time limit on the player and only giving them a handful of places to go that, while small in size, eat through the clock as hungrily as Lulua does curry, Atelier Lulua adopts a much laxer stance. Taking on a style that can best be described as Atelier Sophie-like (in contemporary terms, anyway), the the fourth Arland installment provides players a generous number of areas to roam around in, many of which are quite visually diverse and appealing, in order to allow them to do the one thing that alchemists do best. No, no, not alchemy. The other thing that they do best — gathering!
As per the Atelier norm, many of Atelier Lulua‘s explorable areas serve less as story-related places that need to be explored in order to progress the narrative (although there are several exceptions), and more as places in which players run wildly around, collecting everything — from clumps of grass to magical crystals — that they can get their greedy little alchemist hands on. While gathering is still primarily used in order to prepare players for item synthesizing, it also serves another purpose uniquely related to this game, and, more specifically, Lulua’s Alchemyriddle. Acting as a literal plot device, the Alchemyriddle fills up as players synthesize items, fight monsters, and, you guessed, it, explore new lands and collect new items. While having the game tell you that you have to find certain areas and objects before you can progress might sound troublesome at first, it honestly ended up being an incredibly seamless experience that I wouldn’t mind seeing again in the future.
Alchemy for Alche-You
There are plenty of things to like about Atelier Lulua, but, if you ask me, the biggest improvement to this game comes in with its alchemy. Taking a huge step away from the Mysterious trilogy’s panel system (thank goodness), Atelier Lulua‘s alchemy goes from being a literal puzzle to simply being puzzle-like. A slightly more complex version of the synthesis mechanics found within Lulua’s mother’s game, Atelier Lulua‘s pseudo-back-to-basics approach has players focusing on not only the aclchemic staples such as quality, effects, and traits, but on attributes as well. While attributes aren’t new to the Atelier franchise as a whole, Atelier Lulua‘s attributes have the potential to actively work together if not handled properly — thus cancelling each other out. Because of this, making a high-quality item won’t work by simply looking at quality alone; the proper attribute values could mean the difference between crafting an all-powerful item or creating literal garbage.
GUST has been tweaking synthesis mechanics since the Atelier series first began, and I feel like Atelier Lulua is incredibly close to a happy medium. Alchemy is still complex enough that you can’t simply slap things together and hope to make something nice, but not so intricate that you feel obligated to spend an entire day just crafting away in your atelier. I’m sure that the next Atelier title will work differently in terms of synthesis mechanics, but I can only hope that they don’t stray too far from what Atelier Lulua is offering to its players.
Bomb, Bomb-Bomb BOOM!
Although it doesn’t deviate from its immediate predecessor quite as much as alchemy did, battles in Atelier Lulua have also undergone some tweaking. While it still features a 3-man vanguard, the way in which the supporting mechanics works have changed. The back line, which now consists of only two characters, will follow up with one of a number (or even multiple!) special attacks when specific conditions are met (such as buffing or using a physical attack). Unlike with Atelier Lydie & Suelle, however, these support skills can be used an infinite number of times, allowing for more complicated setups to be performed with more consistent results.
Atelier Lulua also adds in the Primal Arts and Interrupt mechanics. Once again borrowing from the Mysterious twins, Primal Arts are passive skills which automatically activate when certain party members are on the field together — such as buffing items when Lulua and Piana are fighting. While neat in concept, and a big help when they’re active, Primal Arts are ultimately too constrictive to my liking. I’ve never been one to just shoehorn all of my alchemists into my party, and, because Primal Arts are largely centered around alchemists, I never got much use from them. Fortunately, the Interrupt ability is much more versatile. As opposed to letting a back-line member jump in and attack, Interrupt allows any alchemist in your party, regardless of placement, to use an item. Not only is this immensely helpful due to the fact that you get a free turn whenever you choose, but the items even automatically re-supply after the battle ends — how cool is that!?
Improving the Recipe
I won’t deny that the Atelier series has been stagnating as of late, but Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is a very enjoyable title that appears to be a promising step in the right direction. So long as GUST continues to polish the series from here on out, I think that things will be just fine. Oh, and adding back English dubs wouldn’t hurt, either. (Seriously, though.)
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4 ; Publisher: KOEI TECMO AMERICA ; Developer: KOEI TECMO GAMES CO. LTD., GUST Co. Ltd.; Players: 1; Released: May 21, 2019; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.