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Review: Atelier Rorona -The Alchemist of Arland- DX (Switch) ~ Crafting The Adventure With Alchemy.

atelier-rorona-featureWikipedia page

On my top 10 games list of 2018, I talked about Atelier Rorona. I talked about how this game got me interested in the Atelier series. Now, it’s time to give my full opinion on the game. Why did I place this game on my top ten list and why wasn’t it higher on the list? I think it’s time to talk about crafting and exploring. Adventuring and RPG’ing. And as usual, feel free to leave a comment with your opinion on the game and/or the content of this article in the comment section down below.

Get of your lazy bum

atelier rorona screen 1The story of this game has a simple premise. You play as Rorona, a young girl who is an apprentice at a local alchemy shop in the Arland Kingdom. Her master Astrid is so lazy that business isn’t going well at all. In a matter of fact, she didn’t get of her lazy bum for so long, the kingdom is considering to close down the shop. Rorona doesn’t want this to happen so she takes on the challenges provided by the kingdom. She gets a deadline of three years. During these three years she has to prove that she can run the alchemy shop and make profit. If she fails one of these challenges, the shop will be closed without any further question.

On the surface, the story of this game isn’t anything special. It’s one that has been done various times before. Yet, the story actually changes a lot on your actions. It depends on who you take with you on your journey, how good you craft your items, how you interact with the characters and how you run your alchemy shop. The one that lazy Astrid sort of gave to you because she wanted more sleep but didn’t want the shop to be closed.

This makes the story quite a lot of fun to play through. Because each and every playthrough is going to be different, you will have a different story. This game has various endings that all depend on how good you did during your missions provided by the kingdom. When I had beaten the game for the first time, I got a very generic ending that didn’t give the closure I felt that the story deserved. Because of that, I feel motivated to replay this game with so I can get an even better ending.

The writing of this game makes replaying this game even more enjoyable. While I was playing this game, I posted a short clip on my Twitter showing off the voice acting. The game has a lot of funny and charming moments. I actually fell in love with the characters of this game. Now, depending on how good you play this game, the characters you interact with get more character development.

Now, during my playthrough the story was quite enjoyable. While it didn’t have a lot of moments where I sat on the edge of my seat, it was quite relaxing. Maybe the other endings have more thrilling moments, but over all I enjoyed the story quite a lot. The writing, the pacing and the voice acting make for an enjoyable experience. I can’t wait to see how the game plays out on my next playthrough.

With that said, how do you actually go about saving the shop? For that, Rorona needs to gather ingredients from various locations and craft various items. Depending on the quality of the items, you get better items. Now, I do have one thing I felt mixed about in terms of the gameplay.

Running that shop

atelier-rorona-the-alchemist-of-arland-dx-screenshot-01-ps4-us-04dec2018

Yes, this is a screenshot from the PS3 version, but the Switch version looks the same apart from the different buttons.

While the story pacing is quite good, the pacing of the game is … let’s just say, strange. Because the game gives of a relaxing and casual vibe, the game can feel extremely slow. But this is very misleading. Because you have a strict time limit; you shouldn’t waste time at all. You have to play every move extremely carefully. The more mistakes you make, the worse your ending gets. The depth in this game is crazy. You do get an assistant in the middle point of the game. This mechanic saved me various times. You can assign this assistant to go and explore for you or craft items for you.

Be warned, the tutorials of this game only scratch the surface of the mechanics of this game. Something I recommend is that you use the save system to your advantage. I had various saves at various points. So, I can go back when I felt I was able to finish the missions with better results.

Talking about the save system, the fact that this game got ported from a PlayStation system really shows in the UI. If you have played a game on a PlayStation you will recognize the typical save and load UI easily. The only thing that annoys me is that I’m unable to name my saves. This would have helped quite a lot.

So, you have to explore, fight monster and craft items. This sounds like your typical RPG fair. You do have side quests that can help you to get a better relationship with a certain character. Some of these side quests have the potential to improve the reputation of the shop which also has a big influence on the ending of the story.

All in all, the biggest challenge of this game is time management. Use your time wisely and try to waste as few days as you can. I always tried to finish the assignment of the kingdom as fast as I could. When I finished that, I used the remaining days to explore new area’s and improve my relationship with the other characters.

The gameplay immersed me quite a lot. I really felt like a shop owner trying to find the best strategy to get my shop up and running and to try to get as many customers as I can. While the game isn’t too difficult to get the most basic ending, the challenge for this game hides in trying to get the best endings.

A normal playthrough of this game will take you somewhere around 20 hours. But, if you want to see all the endings, you will get a lot more out of this game. On howlongtobeat.com, there are reports of players taking 60 to 100 hours to fully complete this game. Now, this is for the PlayStation 3 version. On the time of writing this review, the website has no listing for the Nintendo Switch version.

Now, the meat of this game is in exploration and the crafting. First of all, let’s go a bit more in-depth about the exploration. During your exploration you can take two allies with you. Certain allies require a certain price to hire. This price needs to be paid up front. So, make sure you have enough gold in the bank to hire them.

During the exploration you can go to various locations. Each location has several area’s you can explore that provide different items. These items aren’t randomized, so if you find herbs in a certain area, you will be able to find those herbs every time there.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that you have an inventory limit. If you reach that limit, you have to throw out items. Also, you need to keep in mind that certain items can lose their freshness. For example, if you collect berries and don’t put them in your storage in the chest in the shop, the quality will drop.

During your exploration, you can see certain spots where items can be gathered. In the meantime, you see the enemies roaming around. When you interact with them, you can start a fight with them. The battles are turn-based. It’s the system you see in a million other RPG’s. But there are a few differences.

One difference is that only an alchemist can use items. So, only Rorona can use healing items during the battle. Another difference is that you can use certain characters to defend you and make combo attacks. In each battle, a meter builds up. When that meter is full, you can use the shoulder buttons to defend Rorona. A similar mechanic counts for the combo attacks.

One thing you need to keep in mind during the exploration is that moving between locations and area’s takes valuable time. So, make sure you know which items you need and where you can find them and plan accordingly. Otherwise you might get into trouble and you aren’t able to craft certain items.

In addition to that, keep in mind that you have a limited amount of MP. MP is also used to craft items. And this brings me on the second part of the gameplay I want to focus on, the crafting. This is something I didn’t always paid attention too. Each item can have certain properties that make a huge difference during crafting. Each item has also a quality level that changes the outcome quite a lot as well.

Something I found extremely tricky was looking for high quality items. For some reason, I always found mid tear or low tier quality items. I’m quite sure that this was one of the reasons that resulted in me having a mediocre ending. Now that I know that, I know what I should look for in a second playthrough.

Anyways, the crafting system itself is a bit basic. You can select various ingredients to craft an item. If you don’t have a certain sub ingredient that is craftable, you get forwarded to the craft menu of that item. One thing that I found really annoying was that it wasn’t always clear which ingredients were missing. For example, the icon of the missing ingredient was a flame. But I had a few ores that looked extremely similar. Yet that wasn’t the ingredient I needed. It turns out I needed oil.

Something I really liked was that in the crafting list, you were able to sort ingredients in terms of quality or rarity. Also, you had various symbols that gave information if you were or weren’t able to craft a certain item. For example, a triangle means that you are able to craft the item but you have to craft a sub item first.

One thing that I would like to mention is that this game can be repetitive. It’s quite easy to fall in a loop for every assignment or mission. Explore, craft, rest. Explore, craft, rest. Explore, craft, rest. And repeat. Each assignment has a different theme like preparing for a festival or helping to craft medicine.

I didn’t mind too much, but I feel that a bit more variation in the gameplay would do the game some good. For example, a bit more assignments where you needed to defeat a certain number of monsters or collect a certain amount of ingredients would do the trick.

Arland is saved

atelier-rorona-the-alchemist-of-arland-dx-screenshot-03-ps4-us-04dec2018Let’s talk about visuals. This game looks quite nice in my opinion. While the game could have benefited from a free camera, I actually didn’t mind too much since the camera allowed me to watch the nice city and fun dungeons in great detail. Some enemies suffer from the recolor syndrome, like the slime enemies. There are at least 3 variants and only the color has been changed. I wish those games added a few extra details. Oh well. At least I never had slowdowns during gameplay and I was able to play the game at a decent frame rate.

In terms of animation, this game is good. While the cut scenes would have benefited from some more character animation instead of gorgeous looking 2D artwork. Now, if the game came out in a previous generation, I would excuse this…. oh, wait… that’s right, this game is a port of a PS3 game. Then again, the PS3 is capable of so much more. Oh well.

Now something that bugged me a bit is the rather awkward jumping animation. I think it’s missing a few frames near the end where Rorona’s feet almost snap into place. It also looks strange when you adjust your jump in midair. Since Rorona sort of floats awkwardly. It’s hard to put into words but while the jump works great, it feels off and looks a bit off.

Jumping in itself is easy to do and control. You just press the jump button and voila. I don’t have any complaints about the controls. I really like how there is a dedicated button to cycle through Rorona’s animations. The game controls great and I didn’t have need to spend time getting used to them. The UI explains it so well, I got the hang of it right away. One minor nitpick is that the prompt for running is a tad confusing. When the UI shows a button for “running ON” and you press that button, Rorona actually starts walking. So, that promt in the UI actually shows the status if you are running or not.

Now, the UI has some amazing things I really liked. Like how easy it is to sort items or the great and easy to use crafting system. But I have a few complaints. First of all, I wish I was able to see which ingredients where at a certain location before I actually travelled there. I would have been able to save so many days…

Secondly, while I totally understand why the developers did this; I wish I was able to see how many days it would take to go to a newly discovered gathering area. The reason why they don’t tell you this is most likely for immersions reasons.

And my final and third complaint is when you buy armor, you can’t see if it would increase somebody’s stats or not. This was quite annoying, especially when the armor shop rarely has new items because the game really wants that you craft it yourself.

The music and sound effects for this game are good. The soundtrack really fits the mood of the story quite well. It’s relaxing and rather melodic. It helps to get immersed into the game. I even added the soundtrack to my playlist for when I want to relax. Now, the sound effects are great but I wish there were a bit more of them. For the whole crafting system, the use the same effects and I would love some different ones for food or bombs. Also, one for days passing while the clock ticked over would be the cherry on the cake.

Oh, and here is something nice, you can totally change the whole soundtrack. Yes, while interacting with the book in the atelier, you can change each and every track to another track. You can choose between a pretty long list of other games in the series. Now, this is an amazing feature but it could have used some additional features. Like a reset to default option and one where you easily see which song you have selected since in that menu there is a lot of unused screen space. And the biggest missing feature is in my opinion a preview of what song is currently playing. Oh dear, they were so close.

In that same menu, you can access the different costumes for Rorona. As far as I know these are only cosmetic. You can do save file management and decorate the atelier to a certain degree. You can also access the options menu where you can adjust the sound mix to your liking. In here, you can also change the language of the voice acting to Japanese or English. So, if you want Rorona to greet you in Japanese in the main menu, you can do that.

After you have finished the game, there is a postgame chapter. I won’t spoil what the chapter is about but it adds some additional story. But after this post game, there is no free roaming. So, you can’t experiment with the game… This is a real missed opportunity since I would have loved to try and experiment with the game to learn and have a better run next time. Yet, on the other hand, I totally understand why they did this. Because the game has so many different endings in which different characters aren’t present, it would have been a hell to program.

Interestingly, during me writing this review and posting it; the game got a small update. I have no clue what has been added, but I wanted to mention it, just in case something in my review doesn’t make sense anymore.

With that said, I have said almost everything I wanted to say about this game. I did leave some things out for you as a surprise if you decide to play this game. But, it’s time for the conclusion of this review and my final thoughts.

Conclusion

The bad:

  • The jump animation looks awkward.
  • The game can be repetitive.
  • There is no free play in the post content.

The good:

+ Enjoyable story, writing and voice acting.

+ Amazing charm.

+ Great UI.

+ High replay value due to the different endings.

+ Relaxing soundtrack and you can change it to your liking!

+ ….

Final thoughts:

I don’t know exactly how this game compares to other games in the Atelier series. Since this game is the first game in the series I have played. Nevertheless, I did enjoy my time with this game quite a lot. The game is on the surface a relaxing game with a lot of charm. But, don’t get fooled, this game can become quite hectic in a good way.

The game is quite enjoyable to play but difficult to master. You really need to plan every single move to make sure to you get yourself in a difficult situation.

This game is perfect for everybody who is looking for an RPG with a crafting system or somebody who is looking for a shop simulator. While I can totally understand why some people won’t enjoy this game too much, it did click with me.

But the game is far from perfect. Don’t get me wrong, this game is quite good but it has some flaws that hinder the gameplay in my opinion. Like the strict deadlines and the repetitive nature of the game.

Personally, I recommend that you give this game a try. If only there was a demo of this game you could try out and judge for yourself if this game is for you are not. I bought this game because the screenshots and descriptions looked interesting on the Nintendo eShop and I wasn’t disappointed.

Now, I can’t wait to play the other games in this trilogy to see if they improved the mechanics in the other games. Maybe they crafted an even better adventure while they kept everything that worked quite well in this game.

Do keep in mind that I’m not saying that this is a bad game. It’s a good game with some flaws. It’s up to you to decide if these flaws would hinder your enjoyment of the game or not. Since this game has a lot of depth so you will be able to have a lot of fun with this game.

With that said, I want to thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in a different article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Score: 70/100

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Review: Stella Glow (3DS) ~ Swansong

SGCoverRGBOfficial website

Around a month ago, I was looking for a new 3DS adventure to sink my time into. So, I downloaded a few demo’s from the Nintendo eShop. When I played the demo of Stella Glow, I wanted to give the full game a try. Later that day, I talked to my friends over at ButtonSmashers and something happened. I was asked to review this game and I got a review copy. So, that was a very lucky thing. Also, the subtitle of this review has a special meaning. This game is published by Sega, Atlus & NIS America but it has been developed by Imageepoch. Sadly enough, they are bankrupt now. So, they made this TRPG (tactical RPG) about music as their final game. Is it any good? Well, I had high expectations. And as usual, feel free to leave a comment with your opinion on the content of this article and/or the game. 

Note: I want to thank NIS America & ButtonSmashers for giving me a download code for this game.  

Swansong

SG-06.jpg

In this game, you play as Alto. A boy who got adopted and lost his memories. One day, when he was out hunting, he encountered a mysterious woman that warns him to leave the village. He refuses and not too long after, all hell breaks loose.

This is how the game starts. There were a lot of cliches in the story, but they didn’t weaken the story one bit. The writing of the characters is excellent. You really get to know the large cast of characters in this game. Both in the main story and in the side missions, all characters well developed. Every character has his/her own personality and they can be very relatable.

The only negative I have for the story is that it introduces too much new major plot points in the final three chapters. So, the pacing of the story isn’t the best in the end. But hey, it’s a minor thing in my eyes since it keeps you at the edge of your seat.

Something that really helps in the story department is the voice acting. Man, the voice acting is top notch. All the actors did an amazing performance for this game. I have nothing bad to say about the voice acting of this game.

Read the full review on ButtonSmashers, since I got this game from them.

First Impression: Boom Blox (Wii) ~ Demolishing with Strategy.

BoomBlox_EAwii_TfrontWikipedia entry

If you haven’t noticed by my nickname (NekoJonez), I’m a huge fan of Indiana Jones. When I found out that the director of that movie series had his hand in a puzzle game, I was interested. I started searching for it, but everywhere I found it… It was a bit too expensive to my taste. And when I found it cheap second hand, the disc was too damaged to play the game. Yet, everything changed when my sister called me a few days ago. She found a copy on a yard sale for 10€ (~ 11.5 USD) She called me up and I said she could buy it for me. When she came home, I popped it in my Wii and started playing it. So, what did I think of it? That’s the reason why I wrote this article. And as usual, feel free to write a comment with your thoughts on this game and/or the content of this article. 

More than just destroying

351309-boom-blox-wii-screenshot-try-to-knock-down-all-these-gem-bloxThis game has a story mode. When I started playing this game and came across the story mode, I was surprised. The story isn’t over the top or just dumb, it’s silly and it works perfectly for a causal game of this kind.

I won’t talk about the story that much since I haven’t played it enough to give a proper comment on it.

What I love the most is that the gameplay is extremely simple, yet very addictive. Other reviewers describe it as “try to get a structure to fall over”. Which is only half of it. Some levels in this game are more a puzzle where you need to pull blocks out carefully so that some blocks don’t fall to the ground.

Some blocks give you negative points and they are extremely nicely placed in certain puzzles. This game can be extremely difficult and will be challenging. Thankfully, this game teaches you the ropes before it gets too difficult.

You have so many different modes in this game, it pleases me. From you tossing a block around with a sticky hand or throwing balls… It’s all great fun. Each mode has its own challenges. But the game can get “nasty” on you. In one level I had to defend a castle and they surrounded spawn points with bomb blocks which were close to the castle I had to defend in the first place.

Presentation

351314-boom-blox-wii-screenshot-red-bomb-blox-explode-when-hit

If the designers of this game reads this article, you guys and/or girls deserve a pat on the back. This game is eye candy and it’s extremely charming. The actual attention to detail is well done.

Also, I love it when you miss a throw and the blow continues flying in the background… well, the audience will jump away from the ball. Or when you manage to hit an audience member, they will do the same animation as a single block being hit.

The animation of this game, well, that’s a hard one. There isn’t that much animation in the game when you compare it to different games. The falling and flying of the blocks is really well done, it would be a shame if it wasn’t.

I have only one complaint with the presentation. It might also be with the controls. The button to advance the menus has a function in game. It caused some accidental throws.

Also, during my playthroughs, I missed an option to bring up how many throws would give you gold, silver or bronze.

So, now that we moved on to controls; well they are pretty good. Apart from not registered throws, I didn’t have any game breaking issues with it.

Multiplayer

351322-boom-blox-wii-screenshot-remove-blocks-one-by-one

Some modes I haven’t tried out yet. There is a multiplayer mode in this game, which makes the game that more interesting. Without looking it up or anything like that, I guess it’s either random mini-games or you trying to compete in puzzles to get the highest score.

The other modes I haven’t tried out yet are some puzzle modes. Since I was mostly interested in the sticky hand one and the one where you had portal blocks that disappeared when you hit them.

Like the coluorful and happy visuals, the soundtrack and sound effects are happy and enjoyable. They put you in a really amusing mood and really help to set a nice and light-hearted atmosphere.

I didn’t want to say this, but I think I have to mention it. Did you guys know that this game was made by EA? I don’t play a lot of EA games since most of the games they produce aren’t in my genres I play often. Yet, I beg you EA, bring this series back one day. It’s underrated and it should be more in the spotlight.

Before I forget to talk about it, the physics engine is the star of this game. Since I learned how to write some basic code, I am always amazed by how games like this work under the hood. How gravity is programmed into the game. The gravity in this game is really well implemented. I wish I could see this game with Wii Motion Plus, but alas. This game was released before that.

So, that was everything I wanted to talk about in this first impression. While it’s a bit shorter then usual, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to welcome you in another article, but until then, take care~ Jonez.