you're too cute for words. You've got a heart of gold and we can't help but
root for you. You capture the essentials that make a JRPG tick perfectly – tons
of exploration, quirky party banter intermingled with deep characterization,
and you pull us in with your addictive time management system and heaps of
quests. The problem is, you take your sweet time to get going, holding our hand
for a bit too long. We just want to get the party started and embrace all you
have to offer. Yet you take three in-game years to get there, and not many will
stay around to see the magic of your story. That's a sad tale, since later in
the game you turn out to be quite the charming JRPG.
Totori enters with a bang when she causes an
explosion while testing her alchemy skills. For series followers this might
remind you of somebody else... like, perhaps, the star of the previous game:
the clumsy but well-intentioned Rorona. Soon it's revealed that Rorona was
Totori's mentor, and as they say: like teacher, like student. Totori’s
currently all alone, as Rorona’s traveling the world and Totori’s mother has
gone missing. Totori believes deep in her heart that her mother is still alive
while her sister, Cecilia, knows logically it's more likely she's not. Totori decides
to become an adventurer in hopes that she'll cross paths with her mother again.
Atelier Totori's biggest problem is that its
story runs all over the place. One minute it will focus on Totori's doubt in
herself, next on her missing mother, then it'll jump to helping the bartender
keep his establishment. It’s like a bad episode of Family Guy - full of
non-sequiturs. Your party members also have their own backstories which are
hard to keep track of, especially in the first three years, where the narrative
is still in its infancy. With the formulaic bent of Totori’s adventure,though,
the complex plot becomes a good thing, as skits provide a nice break from the
tedium. Most skits are deeply rooted in the characters' personalities, which
are really hit or miss (and sometimes inappropriate). Rorona fans will be
pleased that some characters from her venture have also returned – Iksel,
Cordelia, and Pamela, to name a few. The story is far from masterful, but its
interactions, rather than an epic arc, leave it charming and lighthearted
enough to be memorable.
The gameplay is much deeper in Totori than
Rorona. The road of an adventurer is one paved with killing various monsters,
gathering synthesis materials, and, obviously, performing alchemy. Totori has a
time restriction on her adventurer's license: she has three years to reach a
high rank or it expires, so time is a major focus, though you'd be wrong to
think the game ends in three years. Unlike Rorona, where days simply passed by
traveling the world map, Totori has time passing during every action –
gathering items takes a fixed portion of time while battling enemies takes a
variable amount of time. Everything takes precious ticks off the clock, which
appears worrisome at first, but it’s difficult to fail at time management
unless you’re actively trying. The game doesn’t trust you as a player and so holds
your hand throughout those first three years.
In the dawn of your adventure, your main concern
is raising your rank by completing certain milestones such as traveling,
finding artifacts, synthesizing items, defeating enemies and taking down bosses.
With each rank more areas open for exploration. Also, there are always two
spots in your party you can fill with recruits and change the party dynamic.
Atelier Totori's basic structure
extends to its turn-based battle system. Party members can actively guard
Totori or counterattack - all by timing a button press. This interactivity precludes
an option for auto-battle, but that doesn't mean you won't yearn for it. Half
your quests are about killing a certain amount of monsters, so the repetitive,
boring battles left us yawning. The quests don't help with the tedium because
they are all similar - you’ll even complete duplicate quests.
Here's the saving grace: after the three year
mark, many problems start to dissipate. Travel becomes more convenient, quests
get more story-oriented, and more varied dungeons open up. Totori's biggest
issue is that it will turn off the players who don't have patience, and it's a
shame. Were the pacing better, getting to the rewarding portions of the game
wouldn’t be so frustrating. JRPG diehards will no doubt tolerate the slow
introduction, and it's hard not to admit that there's something addictive about
Totori despite its simplicity.
While the simplistic gameplay is reminiscent of
eras gone by, the beautiful anime-styled graphics are a constant reminder that
we’re playing a PlayStation 3 title. The game is just gorgeous to look at,
incredibly vibrant, and always filled with the most intricate details to give
each character a unique identity. The only gripe is that while each area is
detailed, sometimes they can seem too similar. The flute-driven music
follows suit: while quite pleasing, it’s overused. The voice acting also has
its highs and lows. The female voices are done quite well, especially Totori's,
whose voice actress fully embraced her innocence and child-like charm. The male
voices are mostly awful - the actors try to mimic a prepubescent pitch, but
it's grating instead of realistic. Remember Emil from Tales of Symphonia: Dawn
of the New World? Expect annoying voices
like that. There are some stand outs, though, such as Sterk, who hits his
enigmatic lines flawlessly.
Atelier Totori is a solid RPG, but it's far from
an excellent one. It's like the party you'll attend because you don't have much else going on. You may find it more enjoyable than expected, but then you'll
slowly be reminded why it wasn't high on your priority list. There's definitely
an addiction to be found here, but the pacing nearly destroys that fun.
Totori's almost cute enough to let the first three years slide, but looks can't
get you everything.
Sep 30, 2011