The name of the latest young heroine in Los Angeles based import publisher, NIS America’s newest offering may sound like a Scooby-ism or something from the Aaron Burr milk commercial but, pronunciation difficulties aside the conclusion to the adventures in Arland is the most complete effort yet. Meruru is pronounced Meru-ru, not Me-ru-ru, if that helps. Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, in what will please many longtime fans, also brings back many favorite characters from the earlier games for a curtain call.
Atelier Meruru is set in the tiny kingdom of Arls, located in a remote area on the northeastern border of the Arland Republic. Since Princess Meruru met the Adventurer of Arland, Totori Helmond all she could think about was becoming an alchemist. Not a typical career path for a princess, initially her father opposes what he assumes is latest fancy of his immature and unrefined daughter. It’s not until her determination is confirmed that he relents by allowing Princess Meruru to study alchemy on the condition she uses it to serve Arls.
All of the Atelier games consist mainly of turn based combat, resource collection and item synthesis and yes, Atelier Meruru still has them. The combat while pretty simplistic compared to other Japanese RPG series has a few new wrinkles this time around. Of course, no one would expect a princess to do all of this solo, let alone a protective father. Princess Meruru can travel with two companions though this is only indicated in battle. The rest of the time, she can actually find and talk to her companions.
To start your party consists of her young lifelong nanny and the reluctant younger brother of the King’s butler/chief advisor. They serve as a healer and warrior respectively. A new time card system allows for a little more strategy and quick assists to balance out the effectiveness of your team. Each character is limited to the choice of attacking, using a skill, guarding or fleeing from the battle area. Prior to the battle, enemies roam around the areas and can be preemptively swatted to start the battle with the upper hand.
The real improvement to the game borrows a bit from the Level 5 classic, Dark Cloud. Because Princess Meruru has the dual responsibility of improving the kingdom, many of the quests she fulfills will alter the map. In addition to unlocking new areas, her efforts improve and provide needed infrastructure to Arls. Early adventures result in the addition of basics like a weapon shop. To travel around all of these areas Atelier Meruru offers a quick travel system that allows the princess to instantly teleport almost anywhere and saving from the world map view.
Even with all of these improvements, Atelier Meruru is not for everyone. The mostly subtle sexualization of young teens will turn many off and though never overt, the fixed camera and occasional pans are strategic. The art direction and previously pastel heavy palette has been brightened and adjusted to give a more typical fantasy feel. There are also more and better animations but a good chunk of the story is still told through static panels, most without voicing, available in English or the original Japanese. On the subject of sound, the saccharine music is still just as likely to annoy gamers or those in the room while you’re playing.
Atelier Meruru on the whole, elevates the series and is the swan song of the adventures in Arland. At this point, so many RPGs use item synthesis in some form or another that in order to draw in new fans, the Atelier series really needed to do something else with it and has. Atelier Meruru offers the most compelling story of the trilogy and offers ten different endings. NIS America has also promised DLC to add not only costumes but additional adventures for your last alchemist from Arland to extend what already offers plenty of reasons for replay.
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol.