With the Vita’s recent popularity in Japan we’ve seen a lot of games being remade and ported over to it, and the Atelier series is no exception. Atelier Meruru Plus is the second game from the Arland series to be ported over to the Vita, with the first game following later this year at the time of this review. But does the port hold up to it’s PS3 counterpart, and does it justify another purchase for those who already have it?
Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice Of Arland (Vita)
Developed by Gust – Published by Tecmo Koei (USA and Europe)
In complete contrast to the games before it, Meruru begins not with a workshop in peril, or with a missing mother, but with a princess who’s a bit bored and needs something to do, right here is the game’s first and arguably biggest problem. The plot takes a considerable nosedive from previous entries, while the plot of the Atelier games are never anything to write home about, Meruru takes it even further by giving the main heroine ridiculously vapid motivation, this is somewhat remedied by her headstrong attitude, but its really sad to see it come up so short in this department.
Your goal is to increase the population of your kingdom by a sizable amount in a 3 year time span, do well enough and you get a 2 year extension. And this is where the main draw, or detraction comes in: the time system while less daunting than Rorona or Totori, still serves as a bit of a drag. From traveling to different areas to performing alchemy to gathering ingredients, everything you do consumes a set amount of time. This is both a positive and a negative as it forces you to use your time wisely, but also comes across as very restrictive.
The core of Meruru’s gameplay differs greatly from the previous 2 entries in the series, you’re given a set of development goals that range from delivering a set number of items sometimes with specific traits or with a certain quality level, to clearing out a certain number of monsters on a specific field, to taking on bigger and more difficult bosses. There are also certain miscellaneous quests as well such as using items a set number of times, or fleeing from battle. This is where Meruru truly sets itself apart from Totori this system is constructed in a way where you always have something to do, but at the same time allowing yourself plenty of time to take requests or boost your battle/alchemy levels, it manages to be focused without being too restricting, really striking the perfect balance that the previous 2 games lacked.
The main draw of the game is its alchemy system, it’s gloriously deep alchemy system. There are tons of items to synthesize, each with different traits that can be used to give items different effects. That’s the gist of it, but don’t let my bare bones explanation fool you, this system is immensely deep and once you start messing around with it you’ll see why, however you can’t simply synthesize forever, every item you make will take up a certain chunk out of Meruru’s MP, the max value of which can only be increased by leveling up in battle, making a balance between the two key.
Events are very plentiful, very very plentiful…there are a TON of events in this game, and all of them feature hideous, lazy 3D models which I’m honestly convinced should be a war crime. They’re made more bearable by the fact that the colorful cast of characters and their interactions are very fun to see, but there are simply too many of them. It gets even more annoying as you get more invested in the game, being deep in synthesis or needing to get to a shop only to be interrupted by a very long event gets very frustrating.
Meruru Plus doesn’t bring too many new features to the table, it comes with all of the DLC that was in the PS3 version, including Rufus, Pamela, and Hanna as playable characters, a huge library of music from past Atelier games that you can customize and get to play at various points in the game, plus an additional dungeon which adds another obstacle for dedicated players to clear. There are also balance tweaks, costumes, and some lame feature where you can “interact” with her by touching the back touchpad, but all of these just feel like lazy add ons designed to justify another purchase. However where Meruru Plus really shines is in the fact that it simply works better as a handheld game, a game where you can sink plenty of hours into a play session, or simply pick it up for a bit to knock out on or two tasks really shines on the vita, somehow selling it more than its lazy add on features ever did.
Overall Meruru Plus shockingly does a better job than expected of justifying its purchase. Owners of the PS3 version will find themselves appreciating the game more in it’s new portable format, and people who have never played it will find themselves not wanting to bother with the console version of such an addicting timesink. Sadly with it being pretty much the same game, it does suffer from the same flaws its PS3 counterpart did, but none of these are enough to keep Meruru from being an amazing Atelier game, and certainly the best in the Arland series, a fitting end to the trilogy.