In 1997, Gust corporation kicked off the Atelier series, which would go on to span a whopping twenty-two platforms (including the WonderSwan) across the thirty-seven titles that comprise the series. Unlike your standard JRPG, Atelier games are typically not concerned about the fate of the world or something serious to that effect, rather these titles are focused on the ideas of alchemy and synthesis, usually with much smaller, more personal stories that centre on one of many main protagonists. Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is a follow up to the Arland trilogy of games that initially saw a release on the PS3 (and are conveniently now also on the Switch), mixing together elements from those titles and aspects of the ‘Mysterious’ series as well to provide a final product that stands as one of the better entries in the overall franchise.
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland follows the titular Lulua, an aspiring, young alchemist who’s the daughter of a previous protagonist, Rorona. Headstrong and perhaps a little too overconfident, Lulua’s alchemy education is going by passably when she’s suddenly hit in the head by a heavy book that materializes out of thin air. Oddly enough, only she can read the pages of this book – called the “Alchemyriddle” – and recipes to items and objects she needs begin to magically appear on the many blank pages. Armed with this mysterious new tome and accompanied by her friends and teacher, Lulua sets out on an adventure through Arland to uncover more of the Alcehmyriddle’s secrets.
The story is admittedly not the strongest aspect of Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, if only because of the rather hit-or-miss writing present here. Though many tired anime tropes are trodden here, the characters are likeable and have enough charisma to keep you invested in the various plights and predicaments they find themselves in. The plot certainly thickens as the chapters wear on, but certain sub-plots and character relationships feel rather tacked on or unearned, and this makes the narrative feel a bit too cheap in some places, almost as though the writers ran out of ideas.
Still, one doesn’t necessarily come into an Atelier game for its thought-provoking and in-depth story, and there’s something oddly refreshing about an RPG that doesn’t take itself very seriously and is simply concerned with standing firm in its unique identity. Make no mistake, this is ultimately a ‘girly’ story about young girls in pink dresses running around and fighting woodland creatures while they pick flowers and snag beehives to mix together in the cauldron. Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland understands this, and rather than try to play to audiences that likely aren’t interested to begin with, it instead focuses on creating goofy or entertaining mini-arcs that play host to plenty of sufficiently hammy performances from the voice actors (all Japanese by the way, no dub here).
The core of the gameplay progression is ultimately centred around the Alchemyriddle, with each page containing a series of objectives that, once fulfilled, will reward you with a new recipe to further your alchemic exploits. Sometimes these pages have to be cleared to push the story further ahead, but most of the time you’re simply after it to get much better gear to make your journey that much easier. The objectives you have to fulfil can range from visiting new locations to speaking with certain NPCs to using a specific item enough times, and though none of the tasks here move very far beyond standard JRPG questing tropes, they nonetheless create a rewarding feedback loop that has you always pursuing multiple objectives. Often, you can’t complete a page all at once, so you’ll have several half-finished pages at any given point while you keep your eyes open for something that might fit the cryptic hints each objective gives you. The Alchemyriddle is an interesting concept for sure, as the engine that keeps the game moving at a brisk pace, but the real draw of the gameplay lies in the famed crafting system.
All your exploits throughout Arland are ultimately in service of you getting a wider variety of better things with which you can mix together back in the Atelier, and the crafting system at the heart of this is significantly more in-depth than equivalent systems in most other games. See, each recipe calls for a certain number of objects from various ‘classes’ – such as vegetables or threads – and each of these classes has a huge number of items that can potentially be used. Each type of these items has differing elemental qualities, such as a “snow stone” contributing ice or a “phlogiston” contributing fire, and the amount of an element in the final product will have an effect on the kind of abilities it can express. Things are made even more granular when you then consider that multiple copies of the same type of item will have unique quality stats and transferrable traits, such as a percentage buff to healing or the ability to inflict a status effect on an enemy, and that after mixing all these things the recipe needs together, you can then use ‘Boost’ items to add additional modifiers to the final product.
To say that synthesis can be overwhelming is a bit of an understatement given how you can effectively control every tiny stat point and trait of each item you craft, but what’s nice about the system is how it doesn’t force you to min-max everything you make. You can just pick anything that works, slap the item together, and be on your merry way; you won’t have to really focus on getting it just right and maximizing potential until way later in the game when fighting against some brutal bosses.
But, for those of you that love to get lost in kitting out a party in the very best of the best gear, there’s seemingly no ceiling to how far you can push those numbers. It’s all a matter of finding the absolute perfect balance between the items available to you for mixture, and once you’ve unlocked the deeper aspects of crafting and built up quite a reserve of items, it can be easy to spend quite a bit of time fooling around with different recipes to see what you can concoct. The crafting is brilliant, to say the least, and the small quality of life features like robust sort and filter features to cut down on the tedium go a long way towards making this a legitimately enjoyable part of the game.
Naturally, you’re going to have to go out at some point to get stuff to craft with, and this is where the more traditional adventuring portion of the game comes in, as your party traipses its way through all sorts of gorgeous locales in an endless search for more items. The world map is divided up into an interconnected series of isolated areas, each containing their own enemy and item types, and more areas are gradually unlocked as you keep the story moving forward. Each area is smartly laid out, and though there isn’t much in the way of puzzle-solving to be found here, there are several ‘pick up points’ that require some extra gear, such as needing a fishing rod to catch marine life or a bug net to catch insects. One minor nitpick here is that it’s a bit annoying to have to press the ‘A’ button and watch the animation as Lulua grabs the object every single time you want to pick something up, especially given how often you have to do it, but you do learn to ignore it as the hours roll by.
When you happen to encounter one of the many enemies in the field, things then shift to a battle screen in which a turn-based system takes centre stage. At the top of the screen, a timeline lists out exactly when each character will get to take a turn, and depending on the action performed during their turn, a character will be placed closer or farther on the queue for their next turn. One notable way in which you can change things up, however, is through the “Interrupt” system, which allows Alchemist characters in the party to act outside of their turn and use a pre-equipped item. It takes a couple turns to passively charge an Interrupt for a character, but these can allow you to do things like toss out a bomb to kill an enemy before they act or heal up a character who’s about to take a beating from oncoming blow, and judiciously using them can enormously turn the tide of a battle.
At any given point, you can only have three characters actively taking part in battle, but you can also have two characters behind them in the backline offering support abilities. Backline characters don’t get a turn, but every party character has a passive skill which will be triggered under certain conditions when they’re in the back. Who you pick for the backline and who you position them behind will have a significant effect on the outcome of a turn, and you can swap any of the five members between the front and backline on their turn. This backline system proves to be an elegant way to ensure that you keep a solid rotation of party members going – rather than simply focusing on just a few for the whole game – and the strategic options that it offers, when coupled with the Interrupt system, keep the turn-based battles from becoming too stilted and boring. Combat hasn’t always been a strong suit in the Atelier series, but as far as Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is concerned, you probably won’t be disappointed with what’s on offer here.
From a visual perspective, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland proves to be a delight, employing a sweet and cutesy anime art style that perfectly fits the tone of the narrative and gameplay. There are hardly any dark colours to be seen here, everything is gleaming and bright, with the hues taking on a certain watercolour-like look that calls to mind the stellar CANVAS art style employed in the Valkyria Chronicles series. Environments are pleasingly diverse, whether you find yourself in the mysterious advanced ruins of an ancient civilization, the blackened and hot interior of a volcano, or the golden fields of wheat beside a humble farmhouse, and a rolling day/night cycle does an impressive job of drawing some unique views out of these places. Also worth mentioning is that the technical performance remains excellent whether you’re playing on the go or on the dock, with solid framerates and crisp resolutions making up most of your experience. Matching the wonderful visuals is a soundtrack that in some ways calls to mind the charm of the Kirby series, as multiple tracks of sweet and relaxing tunes wash over your ears. It’s not a very catchy soundtrack, but this is still one that you may want to use the headphones for in tabletop mode.
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland proves to be a great entry in Gust’s long-running series, and much like the many concoctions made by Lulua, this is a refined final product that reflects several of the best traits of the predecessors that came before. If you can get past the ho-hum storytelling and learn to master the intimidating crafting system, you’ll find that Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland has plenty to offer in its surprisingly involved combat system, gorgeous locales, and rewarding gameplay loops. We would give this game a strong recommendation to both longtime fans of the series and to those looking to see what it’s all about; Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is one of the best entries in the franchise and it’s a wonderful RPG that’s certainly worth your time.