Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice of Arland is the third game in the Arland trilogy and the 13th title in the Atelier series. Like the games that have come before it, Atelier Meruru Plus has a focus on item creation, synthesis and the art of alchemy. Does this PlayStation Vita game successfully combine a bunch of different elements in order to create a great gaming experience? Or does it suffer from not having the right ingredients?
The Apprentice of Arland's titular main character is Merurulince Rede Arls, the Princess of Arls. Her nickname is Meruru, but that's not much better, is it? She's the apprentice of Totori, the heroine of the previous game in the series, Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland. Under Totori's tutelage, she learns the ways of alchemy and how to create great items by combining different ingredients together.
Unfortunately, her father would rather that she take her duties as a princess more seriously, instead of frittering away her youth on pursuits like alchemy. However, he grants her a compromise and tasks her with helping develop their small kingdom of Arls through alchemy. He gives Meruru exactly three years in which to help the kingdom's population grow by assisting people with her alchemy and making sure that the land is built upon.
Helping out Meruru on her years-long quest are her friends, her handmaiden Keina, gate guard Lias and even her master, Totori. This revolving door of comrades accompany her out onto the fields of Arls, where Meruru can find nodes that contain items for her to gather, enemies for her to hunt and people who need help and can bestow quests.
There's plenty for Meruru and the crew (the Meru-crew?), to do in Arls, so you won't have to worry about idle time. You'll find that your central base will be Totori's workshop, located in the outskirts of town. Here, you can store all of the items you've collected on your travels, sleep in order to regain your strength, put your alchemy skills to use to combine items and save your progress.
You can fast travel around town via a menu brought up by hitting the right shoulder button. Some places of interest include the tavern, the study in the castle and the blacksmith. At the tavern, you can pick up quests that can be turned in for money. The study is where Rufus, the King's advisor, hangs out and is available to help Meruru draft up development plans. And the blacksmith is where you can purchase items and equipment. However, if you stroll around town, you'll find that there are other vendors that offer different goods that can be used as ingredients in your alchemic endeavors.
Quests from the tavern task you with either hunting down a specific number of monsters or creating a certain number of items through alchemy. It's very possible to pick up quests and then turn them in immediately, providing that you're already carrying the right amount of items the quest requires. Hunting down monsters in the field is pretty straightforward, though the only problem is that hunts have the potential to let a lot of time pass by.
In Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, collecting items for alchemy and traveling between different points in Arls advances the passage of time by a few days, depending on the distance traveled and the amount of items collected in the field. Since Meruru only has three years to complete her goal, you'll have to be very judicious about your movements. It's also important to note that your inventory can only hold so much, so you don't want to pick up a bunch of items of lesser quality since you might come across some high quality ingredients later on.
But once you do collect your items, either through purchasing them or picking them out in the outside world, you'll be able to engage in the main focus of The Apprentice of Arland: Alchemy! As long as you have the recipe for an item, as well as all the necessary ingredients, you'll be able to create all kinds of things in the workshop. You can make anything from healing items like Healing Salves to items you can use in battle, like cannons. Yeah, you can make cannons to take into a fight. Each ingredient will be graded by quality and will oftentimes come with traits that can be carried over to the resulting item in order to get a boost in quality grade. There are tons of items to create and experiment with in Atelier Meruru, so it's up to you to find all of the recipes and help the kingdom grow by making items that the people need and using them to drive out monsters from the land.
On the subject of monsters, battles with them are pretty straightforward. While in the field, you'll come across these beasties, just hopping around. If you go up to them and strike them with the square button, you and two of your buddies will be taken to the battle screen. From here, you can look at the turn order queue on the side and decide how you want to tackle the opposition.
As an alchemist, Meruru won't have any special skills, but she's the only one who can use items (aside from other alchemists), making her a very powerful enemy in battle. She can use anything from healing items to offensive ones to help out in a pinch. If nothing else, Meruru can act as a fine healer and throw up potions and revives while the rest of the group focuses on offense.
Though the number of items in Meruru's arsenal can make battles interesting, they are ultimately very cut-and-dry and aren't really the most exciting part of the game. Still, it's fun to see the wacky animations and how Meruru and her party can link attacks in succession.
At its core, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is a decent, anime-flavored role-playing game with a deep item creation mechanic, lovely visuals and interesting characters. It suffers a bit from not having a really compelling plot (would have liked a Big Bad to take care of, at least), but if you view it as more of a sim game like Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing, then it becomes a very interesting experience.
It may not be the groundbreaking role-playing game that shakes up the PlayStation Vita, but it manages to take a bunch of good elements and craft them into experience that can be enjoyed in small increments, like visiting some quirky friends every now and then. Just make sure you don't burn yourself out on the item creation and you'll have a good time.
This review was based on a digital copy of Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice of Arland for PlayStation Vita that was purchased for review.