Atelier Meruru doesn't really change Gust's standby gameplay formula - collect materials, fight turn-based battles, and fulfill villager requests - but it does try to shake things up by improving its development system. You'll travel the map and earn development points by completing goals, which can be as simple as clearing out all the enemies in a given field, or as complicated as creating defensive weaponry through alchemy. This is actually where the game captures a lot of its fun – as you complete certain goals, you'll then see its direct effect on the area. Suddenly, the land transforms from an open field to a thriving locale with majestic structures. Additionally, in vein of the expansion theme, Meruru can construct buildings which have bonus effects, like population increase or extra battle EXP. While the land development feature really was is engrossing, other gameplay systems just don't offer the same lure.
Let's start withFor starters, there’s the heavy focus on fetch quests – while you work on developing the land, the game provides you with the opportunity to embark on quests for extra money. These quests complement completing certain objectives, but they then lose their appeal as they repeat after initial completion. Now, there are character-specific quests, but those too are fetch quests that merely unlock a cutscene once you complete a set for a said character. If Meruru featured a few quests that weren't just about collecting doodads and defeating monsters, it'd take away the tedium.
Meruru is also rough around the edges in more than a few places. Particularly, at the start of the game, the audio mixing is particularly poor - so much so that you can barely hear the characters over the music. Granted, this only lasted for the few first hours of the game, but it's still unacceptable. Also, while although Gust isn't a dev house with a budget the size of Square Enix’sTriple-A development house, there needs to be more impressive environments to explore, especially since the game forces you to revisit a lot of its bland places for quests and development points. Voice acting is pretty solid for the most part - the voices match the characters well. Regrettably, the soundtrack is mostly unmemorable, especially with its recycled tracks from past games.
It's odd to say goodbye to a trilogy on an entry that's a bit of a step back. While some gameplay improvements up its engagement level, there are still many necessary enhancements that didn't happen. Add in a story and characters who fail to create an impact, and it's hard not to be disappointed in the finale of the Arland arc. If you have a soft spot for the Atelier series, you probably will enjoy Meruru quite a bit. But if the series hasn't impressed you yet, this entry surely won't change your mind.