A year with a new Disgaea release is a good year for NiS America. They are one of the few companies such as Working Designs before them, that are dedicated to localizing games of a more obscure, distinctly Japanese flavor, some being more niche than others. Atelier Totori could fairly be described as one of their more obscure games, coming from the lesser known Atelier franchise of RPG's. Though it will certainly be overshadowed by the recent Disgaea 4 and other big name titles coming out around this time of year, does it truly deserve to be?
Stopping To Smell The Roses
A Calm Walk In The Park- Atelier Totori is a very different kind of game. You won't find an Earth threatening storyline with oodles of dramatic, heartbreaking moments here because Atelier Totori does something that is fairly unique among games in the genre; it provides a fairly relaxing, almost completely casual experience. The change of pace is nice among a vast sea of more complicated games, and players may find it a nice break from the usual world-ending drama. Non-anime fans need not apply however, but for those who appreciate Japanese humor, the odd cliché, and a soft and colorful world, Atelier has these things in spades. It is nice to see a game that tries to be different, and it lends a level of uniqueness to the game that it otherwise perhaps would not have.
Keeping A Strict Schedule- The game itself is a test of time management more than it is brute strength or level grinding. The world of Atelier is all about adventuring, and this is justified in the explanatory dialogue in a logical and reasonable way. Atelier is not kind to players who waste time, however; a three in-game year time limit is set and players who do not use their adventurer’s license wisely cannot proceed past that to see the end of the game. Atelier Totori rewards intelligent decision making, and the time limit feels more like a guide than a looming punishment. I certainly appreciated this sense of direction.
A Million Recipes- Item crafting is the meat of Atelier Totori. Just about everything you collect can be used to synthesize items, and that is how you upgrade character equipment and collect useful healing items and the like that you will need to survive. The crafting system really opens up after a couple of hours of play, and becomes an addiction unto itself; a good thing, since you will be spending a lot of time doing it. I always found myself mindlessly compelled to complete “just one more quest”, and experimenting with different item combinations was always entertaining.
Picking Sour Berries
Fighting To Stay Awake- Atelier Totori is a bit dull in other areas, namely the combat. This is a fairly straightforward turn-based battle system that uses a ho-hum “defense” mechanic where the player can press a button during a prompt to have the other members of the party protect the main protagonist of the game. Luckily, there are only as many battles as there are materials you need to find, and since a lot of materials are found by searching the area, a lot of them can be avoided. But the combat, which is essentially the other half of the game, is a bit of a drag nevertheless.
As Bloated As A Book- The storyline, characters, and dialogue are catered to a very specific type of gamer; those with a very high tolerance for Japanese animation. Not such a problem if you are already attuned to that sort of thing, but for myself, I ended up skimming quickly through large chunks of the games dialogue, which seemed to go on forever when it did appear. As much as this is an RPG, it is also a Visual Novel, and I found the pacing of the game challenged because of this.
My final thoughts on the game are quite simple. I found Atelier Totori to be entertaining, but felt that it could have had a bit more zest. Everything works well from a mechanical standpoint, but the flavor of it all was just a little too bland. Item crafting is always an interesting element, but if it never feels like it is helping to aid the other, better elements of the game, it just sort of feels like an exercise in redundancy. Atelier Totori lacks any sort of threat or tension, and because of this, I found it hard to become emotionally attached to the characters or story. I recommend Atelier Totori to fans of visual novels than RPG's, and I wouldn't recommend it at all to almost anybody else; it is most definitely a niche title which will be enjoyed only by a fairly small handful of people.
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