Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland
THE Atelier series has churned out a game just about every single year since 1997, and with reason. Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg, its first offering, wound up being a critical and commercial hit, in the process serving as a solid foundation. And, creditably, developer Gust has taken nothing for granted since then; improvements that serve to strengthen the brand have come with every succeeding release. And, in this regard, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland lives up to billing; it’s an excellent Japanese role-playing game that meets fans’ expectations in delivering a healthy blend of combat, exploration, and creativity, with a light-hearted story weaving all the elements together.
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is a direct sequel to the Arland subset of the Atelier series, and, as such, picks up a few years from where Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland left off. It sees Elmerulia Frixell (Lulua to friends and daughter of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland titular character Rorolina) embarking on an adventure that take her and her friends (and mentor) far beyond the boundaries of her native Arklys. Her quest to fully comprehend the “Alchemyriddle,” a book-cum-artifact only she can read, opens her eyes to the history of, and mysteries behind, the Arland Republic and ultimately gets her closer to fulfilling her dream of becoming a better alchemist than her famous mother.
Needless to say, the Alchamyriddle is at the heart of Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland. It drives the narrative forward by essentially providing a roadmap to the completion of chapters; through riddles that have to be deciphered, tasks are handed out. Only main objectives are required to be met, but optional goals can also be set and prove to be no less fulfilling; gamers have complete discretion on how they want to progress, especially with time-based components, previously intrinsic to the Arland subset, eliminated altogether. And, make no mistake, the rewards in grinding by way of the elective assignments are myriad; more items and recipes for crafting and potion making are gathered, not to mention more locations unearthed to rinse and repeat the process.
Parenthetically, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland affords gamers the freedom of choice even for combat. Enemies can be confronted or avoided depending on disposition. Deciding on the former will get three members of the party taking turns within clearly defined action frames, with two others on standby and ready to assist with special attacks or take over in the frontline depending on circumstance. Apart from the healthy variety of antagonists and ample spoils of victory, engaging in battles becomes worthwhile in and of itself because of the system’s fair difficulty measures and finely tuned mechanics.
That said, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland’s biggest draw is the same as that of the three previous installments in the Arland subset: alchemy. Materials are processed for use in exploration, with said materials acquired — by purchase or by defeating certain adversaries — and combined with reagents to produce powerful items. While synthesis may seem intimidating at first glance, it’s actually easy to understand, even for newcomers to the series. Moreover, its complexity, or lack thereof, is entirely dependent on the gamers themselves; those so inclined can go for max stats by micromanaging the exercise and even delving into a novel Awakening feature that produces heightened effects.
Again, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland provides gamers with the power of choice. Nonetheless, there’s something cathartic about the very act of fabrication and the fulfillment of its purpose, about properly blending materials and then using them when needed. Moreover, the sight of Lulua in front of a cauldron constructively concocting crucial components presents a nice counterbalance to exploration and combat. Neither pressuring nor particularly difficult, creation becomes a worthwhile recreation.
On the technical side, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland represents a not insignificant breakthrough for Gust. While previous releases of the Atelier series on the Nintendo Switch suffered from graphical compromises and performance issues, the latest does not. In fact, it’s a decided plus, running at a smooth 30 frames per second with nary a hiccup and exhibiting a vivid anime art style with little to no softness and shadow. Gameplay is crisp, even during bursts of action, and the music and sound effects give off the proper vibe. If there’s any negative, it’s that the localized subtitle track show the occasional grammatical error — made all the more apparent by the lack of English voiceovers.
All told, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland winds up being the best in the series to date. It’s certainly without equal on the Switch, boasting of an intuitive interface, a pleasing audio-visual experience, an engaging storyline, and, above all else, a compelling gameplay that keeps gamers engaged while dictating their own pace. As an outstanding offering that holds its own even with the hybrid console undocked, it proves well worth its $60 price tag. Highly recommended.
• Engaging storyline as a sequel to the Arland subset of the Atelier series
• Compelling gameplay that allows gamers to pace themselves
• Technically outstanding
• Colorful visuals and vibrant soundtrack
• Slow start can be off-putting to newcomers to the series
• Subtitles have occasional grammatical errors
• Completionists will need to retrace steps to complete optional quests
POSTSCRIPT: Gamers who want to experience the first three releases in the Arland subset of the Atelier series can do much worse than purchase them on Steam, where they’re currently being offered at a 25% discount. Their personal computer versions are decidedly superior to those available on consoles, and offer precise controls and sharp feedback even on entry-level rigs. Note, though, that playing these titles after Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland could show their age, and not simply because they seem personal and less pressing by comparison.
The flipside, of course, is that every title in the Arland subset is as much self-contained as integral to the appreciation of the overarching narrative. Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland has the main character scrambling to save her Atelier from being shuttered by the Kingdom by fulfilling the latter’s quarterly requests and ultimately gaining recognition. Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland begins eight years after the first game and finds Totooria Helmond, Rorona’s student, venturing beyond Alanya in search of her mother Gisela. Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland follows Princess Merurulince Rede Arls as she aims to make her kingdom part of the Arland Republic by increasing its wealth and influence and ultimately claiming support for the development.
Significantly, each game in the Arland subset becomes progressively better than its predecessor. That said, all releases share elements that underscore their standing as parts of a whole: exploration and combat are crucial features, but the emphasis on crafting and alchemy is obvious. How studiously and steadfastly gamers tackle the latter may well determine the endings in store for them. As an aside, the imposition of time limits to tasks does make proceedings artificially difficult, especially when juxtaposed with the strides Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland has made in eschewing them altogether.
Still and all, the Arland Trilogy is a can’t-miss affair. If nothing else, going through them provides gamers with a much better perspective of the Republic and characters in the subset, not to mention the entire Atelier series.