by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
I know what you’re thinking. “Another Atelier game? There was one released just a few months ago!” Well, first of all, that was a spin-off title, and secondly, the series has become an annual tradition at this point, with each game usually a part of a trilogy of interconnected titles. Well, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is slightly different, in that it’s actually the fourth game of the Arland series, which also happens to be one of the (former) trilogies most beloved by fans. The question most fans would have in this situation is how does it fare against its predecessors? Are we going to see familiar faces, or is this a whole new experience?
The protagonist in Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is Elumerulia Frixell, daughter of renowned alchemist Rorolina Frixell, who starred in her own game, Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland. Like most heroines of Atelier games, Lulua (as she goes by with friends, acquaintances, strangers, pretty much everyone she meets, it seems) is a budding young alchemist seeking to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Of course, her mother is in high demand, so Lulua trains under another Arland veteran, Piana. One day, a strange book appears before Lulua, one that only she can read. This book also happens to help her alchemy truly push forward.
The controls for Atelier Lulua are fairly simple. You have your action button, which interacts with objects, talks to people, etc. You can also swing your weapon, which is useful in getting the jump on enemies, as well as gathering certain items. You can also jump, though I found almost no use for that in the game whatsoever. All in all, though, the controls are responsive and intuitive, even if I found myself accessing the wrong menu constantly — for whatever reason I transposed the system and character menu buttons in my head.
Meanwhile, combat in the game is what I’d refer to as pseudo-ATB. While turn-based, your character’s position in battle can be seen on a bar on the upper portion of the screen, along with your enemies. Actions push you back a varying degree on this bar, so you might be able to squeeze in multiple actions before an enemy can act. To further manipulate the gauge in your favor, you can utilize repeated skills (and item usage for your alchemists) to eventually stun an enemy, which forces them to skip their next turn. Just be careful with this, because attacking an enemy that’s stunned before their turn occurs will remove the stun, and they’ll be free to attack, leaving you with a feeling of disappointment that you didn’t get to capitalize on their weakness.
One of my favorite aspects of Atelier games is its collection aspect. Every field and dungeon in the game has loads of collection points to gather from. Some do require specialized tools like bug nets or fishing poles to be able to use, but most are just ripe to take with Lulua’s two hands. You’ll need plenty of them too, because the main way you’re going to succeed in the game is through item synthesis. In as simple of terms as I can manage, it revolves around using items you’ve gathered in specific recipes in specific quantities to create items, weapons, armor, and much more. These items can then have additional traits put into them, based on whether or not the ingredients you used can pass their own traits onto the item you’re creating. Not to mention the fact there is an elemental system which rewards you for building items with higher elemental modifiers.
It does sound a bit complex, I’ll admit, but I also found it vastly easier to create items compared to playing item Tetris in Atelier Lydie & Suelle, for example. It’s much more straight-forward, easier to understand, but still allows for a high amount of customization for everything you create. For example, your first bug net might only have the ability to catch more or better quality insects with what you have available at the time you get the recipe, but as you get better quality items and materials with different modifiers, you might be able to craft a net that can do both, and at a much greater capacity than your original. It’s extremely helpful to go back from time to time to see if you can improve certain tools you made earlier in the game, thanks to this system.
The cast of characters in the game is about as colorful as the game itself is, too. Lulua herself is hopelessly optimistic, and hopelessly obsessed with curry. Her best friend Eva works at the orphanage they were raised in, and uses a cannon as a weapon, because why not? Piana is stern and strict, but also possessed of a kind heart and a willingness to teach, even she fails to realize she does nothing to help clean and organize. Every character has their quirks, even the variety of NPCs you’ll meet along the way. It makes the game world feel that much more vibrant and alive, even if veterans to the franchise have seen a good number of them before.
Progression wise, I noticed you seem to gain levels a lot faster in Lulua than in previous Atelier games. Levels never really mattered much, however, since it’s all about what skills you’ve put on your equipment and what items your alchemists can use. Still, I was pretty shocked to see the rapid development of each character in terms of levels, especially as 10 hours into the game you’re still using your default weapons, and a minor upgrade here and there for your armor. I also found relatively few accessories along the way, mostly from the gem shop in the starting town. I know the options do open up significantly later on, mind, but giving new players little choice in their equipment can turn many people away. Thankfully, your party’s HP and SP are refilled every time you return to town, meaning you’re free to utilize most of your special abilities to get through battles faster.
Final Verdict: Good (3/5)
On the whole, I did enjoy Atelier Lulua, and especially on the Nintendo Switch, given the grab and go nature of the console. That being said, it does have some major problems. For me, the color palette seems very washed out compared to previous entries (especially compared to Nelke). The game’s story is charming, but simplistic at times and convoluted at others. I ran across several grammatical and spelling errors littered across the game as I played it. Little things, for sure, but they all added up pretty quickly. Items ranged from weak and pointless (the starting attack item, Craft, for example, does less damage than one of the components you use for it — albeit Craft has an area-of-effect), to obscenely strong if you can get the right modifiers early. There’s also the issue of locking story-line significant characters behind DLC, and the idea of three season passes for a game that’s in a series that’s on an annual release schedule, and niche to boot. That’s not to say the game’s without its charm though. The characters are quirky, adorable, relatable, and warm. Item synthesis feels much more rewarding. Veterans of the franchise will probably have already picked up the game, but if you’re on the fence about things, it might be wise to wait for a sale or a complete edition.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland Screenshots