Changing it up a bit, and maybe with a nod to our fellow MangaDen columnists at Unbeaten Games, Lily is looking this week at a video game franchise, Atelier, and it’s recent turn down the yurilicious path.
Let’s start by saying this: if you hate item creation in RPGs, specifically JRPGs, look no farther: Atelier is the bane of your existence. For over twenty years and fifteen title,s Atelier has been the source that Star Ocean, Tales, even Final Fantasy have drawn from in the pursuit of item crafting. The closest Atelier has ever been to the JRPG standard of plucky heroes chosen by destiny to save the world was Atelier Iris 2, that notwithstanding the franchise has been much more lighthearted and whimsical, instead being about a plucky shopkeeper chosen by pretty much no one to make cool things and keep the art of alchemy alive. Does this sound a lot like Recettear? Do you not know what Recettear is? The point is, it does. And that’s because Atelier inspired a subgenre of JRPG all its own.
Since this is about three games, this article is kind of long, so bear with us.
The Arland trilogy starts with Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland. Rorona (Rorolina Frixell) is a young alchemy student working to pay off the debts of her remarkably irresponsible parents to the slightly creepy, quite lazy, remarkably talented and hyper-lesbian alchemy master Astrid Zexis. In order to shirk her responsibilities, Astrid hands her workshop over to Rorona, who as the new proprietor must keep up with assignments, work orders and so forth from the Castle and the citizenry. In order to get new recipes, money and alchemy components, Rorona and her companions, including her tsundere best friend Cordy, must go out into a monster-ridden world and harvest ingredients. And Astrid and Cordy both spend most of the game hitting on Rorona, much to the disappointment of brave knight Sterk who wishes Astrid who at one point laments Astrid’s gayness. The airhead Rorona must race against time in the series of assignments to keep the workshop open, while forces not too crazy about alchemy conspire against her. Often, though, the game expresses itself like the rest of the franchise, through cute and whimsical interactions between characters.
Rorona, after the events of her game, takes on an apprentice, Totoria Helmold, in the second installment Atelier Totori: Adventurer of Arland. Totoris mother was a famous adventurer who went missing years ago, so over her sister Ceci’s objections, Totori goes off to become an adventurer and try to find her mother. Of course, Totori is laughably weak. So, she makes friends(and more) with noblewoman adventuress Mimi Houlier von Schwartzlong; Totori becomes Mimi’s personal alchemist and in exchange Mimi and a bunch of others help Totori seek Adventurer status. Eventually, Totori outdoes anything awesome her teacher Rorona ever did and builds a freaking ship with alchemy. With Mimi and Rorona at her side, Totori sails across the sea seeking rumors of her mother’s fate. Old faces from Rorona return to help her student, like the ghost girl Pamela or the bald weaponsmith Hagel, or the chef supreme Iksel.
And Pamela and Hagel join Astrid in following Totori to the neighboring kingdom of Arls for the final part of the trilogy Atelier Meruru: Apprentice of Arland. Meruru is Princess Merurulince Rede Arls whose task is even bigger than both her teacher and her teacher’s teacher combined: Meruru must grow the kingdom of Arls into a respected force before it applies to merge with the Arland Republic. Growing from a citizenry of one hundred to an almost-empire of near a million over the course of five years takes an alchemist’s touch, for certain! Aided by the girl who adores her completely Keina, some of Rorona and Totori’s old pals and a few people from her own kingdom, Meruru must deal with some unique problems of Arls like a volcano near eruption and a walking forest before her uncle, the Prime Minister and former King of Arland, can admit Arls to the Republic. And, of course, the return of Astrid brings mischief, like the fact that Rorona is now an eight-year-ld due to Astrid’s a-little-too-strong youth potion, something she invented because “no one wants a thirty-year-old Rorona.”
The games are tied together with mechanics as much as characters, and the localizers at NIS brought their A-game with voice acting, making the Arland trilogy memorable. Racing against time, deciding where to spend your days (the workshop, the road, filling requests or exploring the countryside) make for a lot of replay value, especially when considering the dozen or so endings each game has available and the remarkably open way you can spend your time.
The Atelier franchise is remarkable. That’s all there really is to day about it. And if you’re going to be in the Detroit area over Halloween weekend, Lily Girls is partnering with a friend of ours to present a panel about the franchise as a whole at this year’s Youmacon, so if you can make it, we hope to see you.