System: Nintendo DS
Back in 2011, Atlus made an RPG that was basically an Atelier game in everything but name. There are slight differences due to not being constraint by series traditions, but the music, game system, and atmosphere around the characters is highly reminiscent of older Ateliers. I also find it more satisfying than the one DS Atelier game I’ve played (Atelier Annie). The game doesn’t seem to have sold very well, but it does have a good degree of polish, addictiveness, and replayability, along with the charm of the lighthearted fantasy atmosphere.
The focus of the game is on item-making and fulfilling requests of the villagers by giving them items. Of the Atelier games I’ve played, I’d say the crafting system is the most like Atelier Marie’s, where you need to buy specific tools separately in order to create different items. There are three methods of item creation, the first of which being the self-explanatory synthesis, where ingredients are combined to make a new item. In addition to synthesis, Nora introduces decomposition, which allows you to split certain items into its base elements. Some items are obtainable only through decomposition of another ingredient.
The third and most unique method of obtaining items is through time manipulation. Nora can advance or rewind an object’s time through the use of a special liquid (which will be as commonly used as Atelier games’ supplements), causing the object to take the form of itself from a different time. For example, Nora can advance time to turn seeds into flowers in a day where it would normally take months, or rewind the time of a worn-out object to back when it was new and recognizable. Advancing the time of a bullet will cause it to turn into a magical bullet, and turning fruits into dried fruits will double its healing power. It’s a rather interesting take on item-crafting.
The dungeon aspect is where the development put the least amount of budget into, as the dungeon crawling and item gathering aspects are limited to a point-and-click interface. Clicking on a gathering point either gives you some items, or brings you to a battle. Gathering points give random effects, such as increasing the chance of getting rare items, or enemy encounter rate up/down. It’s simple and fast, and pre-PS2 and handheld-original Atelier games were never about the dungeons anyway, so I personally don’t have a huge problem with point-and-click.
Battles are turn-based and take place on a 3×3 grid for both the ally and enemy side. Nora can take up to two allies with her into battle, and there are three positions of front, middle, and rear to take. Items are important in boss battles, although most normal battles are manageable through smacking enemies with combat-competent allies. Items don’t have quality and traits like the PS3 Atelier games, so the combat aspect isn’t as deep. While the game isn’t hardcore difficult, it’s also not a cakewalk as I constantly found myself having to retreat from extremely overnumbered groups of enemies. Come on guys, it’s like 3 against 8 at times! There was one difficult boss battle I encountered that had an enemy who dealt high AoE damage and was next to impossible to hit with physical attacks, so I had to mess around with positioning and defeated it with items, but other than that it’s mostly dragons that require the same strategy each time.
You have slightly less than three years in the game, and time progression is pretty much identical to Atelier games. It’s sightly more lenient on time, as travelling on the world map doesn’t take up time (you can travel between towns without consuming any time), and there aren’t anything outside of customer requests that have a time limit. Nora does do the multiple endings thing well, giving each character a separate ending. There’s also no need to waste days until the time limit, as satisfying a character’s ending requirements and talking to them one last time brings you straight to their ending. There are also general endings that require you to play until the time limit, and there is no super difficult ending with ridiculous requirements that are next to unobtainable on the first playthrough. Friendship increases slowly since there is no need to be friends with absolutely everyone, but in return, multiple playthroughs are a must.
Music is decent and follows the lighthearted style of Atelier games, and the character design is done by the Etrian Odyssey artist so expect the same kind of cuteness, but in a softer coloring style. In-game graphics are mostly colorful 2D sprites and backgrounds, not unlike the actual NDS Atelier games. It’s not super impressive in the graphical department, but the simplicity gets the job done.
Overall a solid item-crafting RPG that brings back the feeling of older, simpler Atelier games with more polish. It’s more relaxing and lenient than the newer games with their higher complexity and True ending requirements, having a system closer to Atelier Marie than Rorona and beyond. The character interactions are a tad more simple as well, but they have their charms. Also, Etrian Odyssey art! The first playthrough is doable blind in less than 15 hours, and I finished with Karuna’s ending and the True end. Ponytail swordswomen are wonderful. New Game+ lets you keep your money, but none of your items or equipments, which is a shame because I went through the trouble of acquiring some damn fine equips that couldn’t even be sold.